He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Fair Questions: Why does the Buddha put morality before mindfulness?

One of the things that surprised me when I started reading significant portions of the Pali canon was that the Buddha's teachings were very grounded in the reality of the human experience.  To a large extent, Buddhism had been presented to me as a religion with a laser-like focus on the mind, a religion that emphasized, in typical Western parlance, mind over matter.

As with many things about how Buddhism was presented to me initially, this turned out to be incorrect, or at the very least quite incomplete.  It is certainly true that understanding the nature of the mind, transforming the mind, and liberating the mind feature heavily in the Buddha's teachings.  But the emphasis of Westerners on the importance of mindfulness seemed disproportionate to its importance in the Buddha's teachings once I started reading his discourses in earnest.

The frequent repetition of his admonitions to basic moral fortitude did not fit the narrative I had been presented with about Buddhist teaching.  What was even more unexpected is that the Buddha presented correcting our immoral behaviors as the first step on the path to the liberation of our minds, as we can see from the beginning of the following discourse which uses the analogy of the process of refining gold and purifying it to explain how we ought to refine our minds and purify them.

"There are, O monks, gross impurities in gold, such as earth and sand, gravel and grit. Now the goldsmith of his apprentice first pours the gold into a trough and washes, rinses, and cleans it thoroughly.  When he has done this, there still remain moderate impurities in the gold, such as fine grit and coarse sand.  Then the goldsmith or his apprentice washes, rinses, and cleans it again.  When he has done this, there still remain minute impurities in the gold, such as fine sand and black dust.  Now the goldsmith or his apprentice repeats the washing, and thereafter only the gold dust remains.
He now pours the gold into a melting pot, smelts it, and melts it together.  But he does not yet take it out from the vessel, as the dross has not yet been entirely removed and the gold is not quite yet pliant, workable, and bright; it is still brittle and does not lend itself easily to molding.  But a time comes when the goldsmith or his apprentice repeats the melting thoroughly, so that the flaws are entirely removed.  The gold is now pliant, workable, and bright, and it lends itself easily to molding.  Whatever ornament the goldsmith now wishes to make of it, be it a diadem, earrings, a necklace, or a golden chain, the gold can now be used for that purpose."

As usual, the Buddha has laid out a sequence for us to follow with regard to refinement and purification of materials that will apply to the purification of the mind.  The Buddha is extremely adept at articulating the principle in mundane terms and showing us how this principle operates to lead us toward the liberation of mind.

Also as usual, the Buddha has employed an analogy which suggests that the purification process will be painful, that the cleansing of our mind by repeated washing and its purification in fire will be a painful process which is all a part of the cosmology of suffering, though it will lead to peace and freedom from suffering.

"It is similar, monks, with a monk devoted to training in the higher mind.: there are in him gross impurities, namely bad conduct of body, speech, and mind.   Such conduct an earnest, capable monk abandons, dispels, eliminates, and abolishes.  When he has abandoned these, there are still impurities of a moderate degree that cling to him, namely, sensual thoughts, thoughts of ill will, and thoughts of harming.  Such thoughts an earnest, capable monk abandons, dispels, eliminates, and abolishes.  When he has abandoned these, there are still some subtle impurities that cling to him, namely, thoughts about his relatives, his home country, and his reputation.  Such thoughts an earnest, capable monk abandons, dispels, eliminates, and abolishes.
When he has abandoned these, there still remain thoughts about the teaching.  That concentration is not yet peaceful and sublime; it has not attained to full tranquility, nor has it achieved mental unification; it is maintained by strenuous suppression of the defilements.  But there comes a time when his mind becomes inwardly steadied, composed, unified, and concentrated.  That concentration is then calm and refined; it has attained to full tranquility and achieved mental unification; it is not maintained by strenuous suppression of the defilements."

This all begs the question of why the Buddha would prescribe moral discipline first.  Why would he prescribe the abstaining from sex and lustful thoughts, for example, before prescribing the mental disciplines of meditation?  Why would he suggest that the moral disciplines support the mental disciplines?  Why does he present a freedom from defilements (immoral behaviors) which does not require the suppression of our transient desires as a result of a process of moral discipline?

I would like to suggest some possible answers to this question from my own direct experience.  One of the things I've learned from my practice of moral discipline, whether it was fasting from certain foods, abstaining from sex, or sacrificial charitable giving, is that the greatest benefit of moral discipline is that it ends the dominance of the ego over our lives.  And the benefit of ending the dominance of the ego over our lives is that it begets amazing improvements in one's clarity of mind.

When the mind is no longer busy constructing complex rationalizations for what the brainstem has been urging it to do out of basic instinct, the striving for immediate gratification is alleviated and right concentration is made possible by the new stillness of mind, a mind which is no longer constantly disturbed by its cravings for actualizing transient desires.  At that point the mind can be trained.

The Buddha explained how our transient desires hinder the higher mental training necessary for liberation to a brahmin on one occasion with another analogy.  The brahmin asks a question we can all relate to, the question of why we remember some things out of the blue without any effort at times and at other times struggle to recall something we have taken great pains to learn.

"Then the brahmin Sangarava approached the Blessed One, exchanged greetings with him, sat down to one side, and said: 'Master Gotama, why is it that sometimes even those texts that have been recited over a long period do not recur to the mind, let alone those that have not been recited?  And why is it that sometimes those texts that have not been recited over a long period of time recur to the mind, let alone those that have not been recited?'
Brahmin, when one dwells with a mind obsessed by sensual lust, overwhelmed by sensual lust, and one does not understand as it really is the escape from arisen sensual lust, on that occasion one neither knows nor sees one's own good, or the good of others, or the good of both.  Then even those texts that have been recited over a long period do not recur to the mind, let alone those that have not been recited.  
Suppose, brahmin, there is a bowl of water mixed with red, yellow, blue, or crimson dye. If a man with good sight were to examine his own facial reflection in it, he would neither know nor see it as it really is.  So too, brahmin, when one dwells with a mind obsessed by sensual lust, overwhelmed by sensual lust, and one does not understand as it really is the escape from arisen sensual lust, on that occasion one neither knows nor sees one's own good, or the good of others, or the good of both.  Then even those texts that have been recited over a long period do not recur to the mind, let alone those that have not been recited."

The point is clear, though the water is not; our transient sensual desires are one thing that keeps our minds from the right concentration that would allow us to have healthy mental function.  The Buddha goes on to name other things which cloud the the mind's vision with transient desires when we allow ourselves to focus on them: ill will, dullness and drowsiness, restlessness and remorse, and doubt.  These are the colorful and distracting dyes which obscure the clear water of the unfettered mind.

It is these things that must be removed from our minds by means of the cleansing fire of moral discipline so that the mind can be free to develop the serenity and insight required for mastering the mind on the way to liberation.  For the Buddha, it is not the case that we can merely achieve the moral apex of boundless compassion that comes with enlightenment without first practicing moral disciplines, because without moral discipline, our minds are not sufficiently free to discern what is truly good.

This is why the Buddhist tradition prescribes doing meritorious deeds and praying for the good of all beings, a corrective for our tendency to have ill will towards other beings.  And why the Buddha repeatedly prescribes abstaining from the use of intoxicants so that we are free of states of dullness or drowsiness and have clarity of mind.  It's why we are instructed to relinquish our clinging to the wrongs that have been done to us or the wrongs that we have done.  And it's why we are instructed by the Buddha to go to him and to the Dharma for refuge so that we can cease our obsession with our doubts.  These are all correctives for the impurity of our minds.

And, to bring it back around, it's also why he gave us frequent admonitions against sexual misconduct which ever re-invigorates our sensual lusts.  These moral disciplines of abstaining from sex, believing in the Buddha and the Dharma, avoiding intoxicants (what we would think of as alcohol, marijuana, opiates, or prescription pain medication, which are widely abused), forgiving ourselves and others, performing meritorious deads, and offering them for the good of all beings are what cleans the water of the mind so that it is bright and clear, enabling us to see what is good and true.

"Suppose, brahmin, there is a bowl of water that is not mixed with dyes...If a man with good sight were to examine his own facial reflection in it, he would know and see it as it really is.  So too, brahmin, when one dwells with a mind that is not obsessed by sensual lust, ill will, dullness and drowsiness, restlessness and remorse, and doubt on that occasion even those texts that have not been recited over a long period recur to the mind, let alone those that have been recited."

But the benefits of moral discipline's dispelling the clouds which obscure the mind's eye are only the beginning.  The Buddha explains that once we have access to the higher training of the mind that moral discipline has opened up for us, the spiritual benefits grow even greater as we grow in the mental disciplines he prescribes for us.  To return to the discourse on the purification of the mind:

"Then, to whatever mental state realizable by direct knowledge he directs his mind, he achieves the capacity of realizing that state by direct knowledge, whenever the necessary conditions obtain.  
If he wishes: 'May I wield the various kinds of spiritual power: having been one, may I become many; having been many, may I become one; may I appear and vanish; go unhindered through a wall, through a rampart, through a mountain as if through space; dive in and out of earth as if it were water; walk on water without sinking as if it were earth; travel through the sky like a bird while seated cross-legged; touch and stroke with my hand the moon and sun, so powerful and mighty; exercise mastery with my body as far as the brahma world'--he achieves the capacity of realizing that state by direct knowledge, whenever the necessary conditions obtain.
If he wishes: 'With the divine ear element, which is purified and surpasses the human, may I hear both kinds of sounds, the divine and human, those that are far as well as near'--he achieves the capacity of realizing that state by direct knowledge, whenever the necessary conditions obtain.  ..."

For the Buddha, the mind can conquer matter indeed, but the the mind only conquers the limitations of the matter of our bodies after the body has been disciplined in the cleansing waters of right action.  In the end, the Buddha teaches us that the cleansing of the matter of our lives is what allows the mind to triumph over it and discover its liberation.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Love it to Death: The Wounds of Love

I am wounded by my love.  I am wounded by my love each day, and not only in those moments of profound heartbreak from which flow the tears of love.  These wounds cover my body with the many small scars which result from the risks of bodily injury I take to accomplish what is necessary to provide for the needs of those I love.  These wounds pepper my heart with the holes left behind from the loss of the love of those I love as they have passed out of my life, sometimes passing into the next.

This is true of all of us who have loved and lost, for all mothers who have suffered the wounds of miscarriage and childbirth, for all fathers who have stood with wounded hearts at the graves of their sons killed in battle, for all children who have cried at the death of those who sacrificed so much to raise them, for every spouse who has grieved for a divorce or a death of their spouse.  It is true in each moment for all the young ones who fall in love with someone who cannot be theirs, for all the siblings who yearn for a deeper relationship with their brothers and sisters, for all those who are alone and friendless.

It is also true for those who are still wounded by our lack of love for those who are made in His image, and for those turned away by the lack of love of its members from the Church who is the Bride of Christ, She who would be Mother to all who are wounded.  The Church is the Mother who brings all the willing to the divine Physician, Christ who alone can heal the deepest wounds of the heart which yearns for the divine love, for every human heart which was made to rest in Him.  It is Christ who lived and died the life of the cross who showed us the path to healing, the via dolorosa.

Christ showed us that our glory lies not in assiduously avoiding all wounds, but rather in accepting our wounding for the sake of the love, in embracing our wounds as a sign of love we bear for all those made in the imago dei, and in looking upon the wounds of others as a symbol of their familial relationship with Christ who showed us how to live fully with great wounds.  Christ reached out with love to those who were wounded, understanding that those who are wounded for love are His least brothers and sisters to whom we should minister in love, that it is all the wounded for whom He came to be wounded on the Cross.

Christ who is Love showed us that to participate in divine love is to be wounded by those we love, that Love reconciles us to Himself in offering healing to us by His wounds.  We are made whole in love by the wounds of Love whose body and heart were broken for us, the Son who died that we might have life eternal with Him in Paradise.  It is through the wounds of Love that we are adopted into the divine household, washed clean in the precious Blood which flowed from the precious Body of the Son whose existence sprung from the eternal font of the Father's infinite love.

It was Christ who showed us that to be fully human is to be wounded and healed, and that it is precisely our wounds that demonstrate that we are healed, and what's more, that we are gloriously alive!  It is in our being wounded for the sake of love that we have life most abundantly as living icons of the Body of Christ, in laying down our lives for the good of our beloved that we shine all the more brightly as an image of God, reflecting the light of His love into the world.

It is by the wounds of love taken as we travel on the via dolorosa that we gradually love to death those parts of us which are not compatible with existence in Him who is Love.  It is by the wounds of love that we die to sin, all sin which is missing the mark of love's target, and grow to live in the light of Love by which we see clearly the heavenly household which is His target for us to reach by cooperating with His grace.

It is by the wounds of love that we are cleansed so that we can enter under His roof, our wounds healed by the wounds of Love, our hearts finding their final rest in Him for whose love we were made.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Love it to Death: The Power of Prayer

When I was a child, I believed in the power of prayer.  I hoped and believed that God would grant me the things I prayed for, even when those things were entirely selfish and trivial, because like children in general I was quite self-centered.  Sometimes those childish wishes would come true, and I believed that this was the power of prayer, this ability to ask and to receive whatever I wished from the giver of all good things.

Naturally, I was sometimes frustrated because not everything I wished for was given, because the giver of all good things seemed to not always agree with me on what was good for me.  Especially in those moments when I was hurting deeply and I prayed for a miracle that never arrived, I was disappointed in the lack of what I understood as the power of prayer.  And when someone I loved was hurting and I prayed for a miracle to save them which never appeared, I had an increasingly hard time believing in the power of prayer.

This is of course not to say that miracles never appeared; sometimes miracles did happen and they were wondrous, but it was clear that I was not able to harness the power of prayer, that I did not hold the reins of the gift horse no matter how often I looked it in the mouth.  It occurred to me that prayer might not have any power, that what graces were given were completely unrelated to any petitions I might make to the giver of grace, that the rain of grace falls upon the just and the unjust alike.

It did not occur to me at the time that the power of prayer might be something quite different from what I imagined it to be, that the power of prayer might be less often found in the changing of our circumstances and more often found in the changing of our hearts.  I have since learned that the power of prayer is even greater than I believed it to be, that I was too timid in my belief in the power of prayer.

I had restricted myself to the belief that the power of prayer was for changing my external situation; it turns out that the power of prayer was to a greater degree for the radical transformation of my will, my intellect, my heart, and my body in the light of divine love.  The power of prayer is the power to reshape our entire being so that we become a reflection of that light of divine love, a mirror which always shows the love of God to all who look into it, a window into the divine household of love in Heaven.

In prayer, we develop a habit of using our will to will the good of the other, providing a valuable balance to our natural tendency to will all that we believe is good for us.  In prayer, we build a habit of directing our intellect to perceive the font of love in a spirit of constant gratitude, providing a valuable corrective to our tendency to focus on our problems and ascribe fault for them to the hate of others.

In prayer, we move our body into a position of humility, habituating ourselves to the act of lowering ourselves so that we can serve others, providing a valuable balance to the immense weight of our instinctive self-serving behaviors.  In prayer, we create a habit of holding in our heart as much love as we can stand for all those we love as we pray for them, gradually strengthening our hearts so that they can hold more love for others more often.

It is in this praying from the heart, with the intellect, and with the body directed by the will toward uniting the soul with Christ that we reform our lives in the shape of Christ's life by the way of the good habits given to us by His Bride after His death and resurrection.  This is the incredible power of prayer, that by it we can gradually become more Christ-like, turning our hearts of stone into hearts for love alone by the grace of Him who gives us all good things.

We are given the power of prayer so that we can unite ourselves to Him in this life and in eternal life in the divine household with the Communion of Saints.  We are given the power of prayer so that we can use the habits prescribed by the divine Physician to separate ourselves from all that separates us from divine love, amputating the parts of our lives which cannot partake of divine love.  We are given the power of prayer so that our lives can gradually become suffused by the fullness of prayer, a constant song of praise and thanksgiving to the one who gives us life itself and offers us life yet more abundantly if we but live with Him.

We are given the power of prayer so that we can love to death the pride which leads us to be ungrateful to the giver of all good things because we do not have power over Him, the pride which keeps us from accepting the best gift of all, the gift of adoption into the divine family which is itself an expression of the extravagance of Love.

The power of prayer is a gift of love which empowers us to accept with gratitude that our entire being and the whole of creation are the endless gifts of love.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Love it to Death: The Communion of Saints

I'm no Saint.  And yet I recently celebrated the Feast of All Saints, because it is my sincere desire to become a Saint.  To be clear, I have no particular desire to be canonized; it is the genuine holiness for which I strive.  I seek to be a man after God's own heart, and on rare occasions, with the help of His abundant grace, it happens.

Becoming a Saint does not happen in a moment; cultivating holiness is a lifelong occupation which requires us to sacrifice all that prevents us from being holy in each moment.  It is a constant struggle against our overweening pride and our slavery to the ego which draws us ever more toward all the transient desires tempting us all the day long; our pride and our slavery to the ego are precisely what keep us from being able to receive the Bread from Heaven when we gratefully accept the inestimable gift of Holy Communion.

Though we do not become Saints in a moment, it is through the process of acting saintly in more and more of the moments of our daily lives that we can become a Saint; holiness is a state of profound love for all in which we can exist in moments, and hopefully over the course of our lives this profound love begins to suffuse most of the moments of our days.  And if we die in this love, then we will live in Love.  This is the Communion of the Saints, this Life of Love which we struggle to put on over our stubborn pride, and this life in Love is life in Christ to the fullest, life in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

Thus the Communion of the Saints is also the Holy Communion which we gratefully receive when we are without the mortal sin which separates us from God so that we cannot live in Love, the reception of our Lord who is Love into our hearts which cannot hold Him unless He give us the grace.  The Communion of Saints who are in heaven is the Bread from Heaven, the Bread of Life spoken of by Christ in the Gospel of John, the Bread which is so wondrous that when we discern it, our hearts cannot help but proclaim, "ECCE PANIS ANGELORUM!"

When, after confessing our sins in the true repentance of love, we approach the priest to receive the Eucharist, thus accepting the gift of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, then we enjoy a foretaste of the Communion of Saints, of the divine life of love of which the Saints partake in Heaven.  In His immense generosity, He allows us to enjoy a foretaste of the adoption into the divine household, a invitation into the family of the Father.  This is a family related by blood, specifically the blood of the thrice-holy Lamb in which we are washed clean, made new by His bloody sacrifice on the cross.

The unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass is given to us as an ever-present institution of the momentous bloody death of the spotless Lamb.  Like the Lamb, we want to offer ourselves to God spotless and unblemished, holy as He calls us to be in the moment in which we embrace Him, holy because we want to give to God the embrace of the heart which is after His own, and we are willing to sacrifice our pride we so often value above everything for Him who sacrificed His only begotten Son so that we might have life abundantly.

And so we confess our sins, repent out of our love for Him, and obey His commands, turning toward Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Confession and repentance are the ways in which we receive the grace to be saints for the moment so that we receive Holy Communion, that profound moment that we let the Son into our life as Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.  Confession and repentance are the heartbeats of the heart which has begun the journey to the life of holiness, the heart which can begin to participate in the Communion of the Saints, a heart which can receive the same Bread of Heaven so many Saints received through the ages.

So let us open our hearts and have the heart of a Saint in the moment we receive Holy Communion through the repentance of love so that we can love to death all that would keep us from entering into full communion our Father in Heaven, with His Son as He appears to us still on the earth, and the Communion of the Saints.

Note: The above is a Byzantine icon of Christ giving Himself to us sinners who are gradually transformed into Saints by receiving Him more fully.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Fair Questions: Is the Catholic Church an ancient artifact?

The Catholic Church has not infrequently been charged with being a relic of an earlier age, an ancient artifact still awkwardly hanging around in the enlightened post-industrial world in which all the serious intellectuals have moved on from such frippery.  For many of these enlightened individuals, the Catholic Church (and institutional religions in general) are tools which humans once needed to protect their fragile psyches from a scary and mysterious world of great and constant danger with the certainty of dogma and the comfort of believing in life after death for themselves and their families, tools which are a mere vestigial embarrassment to carry around today when all mysteries worth uncovering have been shattered by science and all dangers worth fearing can only be conquered by much newer tools.

Are they correct?  I'm not certain, though I would suggest we could examine how various parties treat the Catholic Church and see if the evidence bears out the theory.  It might help to start with self-identified Catholics themselves.  There are some Catholics who do indeed treat the Catholic Church like an ancient artifact; they seek to preserve it in a hermetically sealed container, to ensure that not a chip or scratch or slight bit of weathering alter the artifact.  They respect it much like we respect the ancient artifacts in museums, visiting it frequently and ensuring its display has funding so that it can continue to be protected from the ravages of those who would seek to damage it.  And they dare not let anyone attempt to restore it, lest even the well-intentioned restorer accidentally ruin its authentic historicity.

There are other Catholics who also treat the Catholic Church like an ancient artifact; they seek to replace many of its parts with modern ones so that it functions like all the other tools we use, and many of them see no need to retain the external beauty of the ancient artifact because its form only gets in the way of the convenience of the function.  Yet others want to keep the external forms of the artifact, but don't mind if the parts are replaced with modern ones because the old parts weren't that great anyway and need to be brought up to date.  Some individuals who are not Catholic and/or irreligious agree; they see no harm in keeping the ancient artifact with its forms intact as long as the functional parts are replaced.

Of course, not all Catholics treat the Church like an ancient artifact.  There are some who believe that it is alive and well, ever-new underneath the beauty of ancient forms.  In their insanity, they will carry the ancient artifact with them at all times, believing that as it is weathered by the elements of the world and worn down by those who wish to take sandpaper to its distinctive features it will merely be revealed yet more distinctly, that its full beauty will be unveiled by those who try to destroy it and find themselves unable to break anything but the occasional crust which has built up on the surface over the centuries.  They boldly take a stand, holding it up quietly for all to see, confident that the Sacred Heart of the Church will only beat more strongly as its detractors try to stop it, that it will only become a yet more powerful sign of contradiction, dangerous to the lies of the modern world as it was dangerous to the lies of the ancient world.

And on this point, some of those who oppose the Catholic Church agree; they believe that to attack the Church directly would only make it stronger because She has a persecution complex, that it is better to treat Her like an artifact, to loudly dismiss Her as an irrelevant old relic with a knowing smile, that it is better to let the Church slip quietly into the dustbin of historical artifacts than to try to rouse Her to battle once again.  To them, it is best that She take Her proper place among all the other mythologies of the world which no one takes very seriously anymore, that She go to Her final rest in the graveyard of failed ideas and decay amidst the other ancient artifacts created by the human psyche.

As for me, I will bet that the ancient Church which has outlasted several iterations of the latest and greatest ideas will continue to persist, that it is many of the modern ideas which will be going to their final rest in the graveyard of failed ideas.  I will wager that the failures of Cyrenaic hedonism will once again become apparent, that they will be a flash in a pan yet again, a philosophy discredited by several generations of human experience in attempting to live out what has already demonstrated amply that it cannot satisfy the deepest yearnings of the human heart.

I think it more likely that the Church will bury these new ideas which are actually very old failed ideas as She has before, that She will once again grieve for all those who choose to be buried with the old failed ideas rather than living with the Living One who is always new and unfailing in His invitations to join the divine dance of Love.

I could always be wrong; it's just that I've seen lots of ancient artifacts of humanity in my studies of religion and studied many philosophies which have gone to the graveyard of failed ideas, and the ancient Church does not look like those ancient artifacts to me.  And many of the Church's detractors apparently agree; they are fighting the Church at every step, and one does not fight against a mere inert and crusty ancient artifact.

By User:Julian Mendez - User:Julian Mendez, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2547972

Monday, November 2, 2015

Fair Questions: Why bother switching traditions within a religion if you've found the right one?

A friend asked me what should provide the impetus for a person who has found the right religion (whatever they happen to believe that to be) to move between different traditions within the religion.  For example, why go from Vajrayana Buddhism to Theravada Buddhism, or from Wahhabi Islam to Sufi Islam, or from the Church of Christ to the Roman Catholic Church?

Having done that last one, I could simply answer from personal experience, but I think there are plenty of reasons for that choice, and not all of them were my reasons.  Some of those reasons are better than others, and I think it's helpful to look at a variety of them.

I also think it helps to place the various motivations in categories to help us understand the relationships between them.  To begin, we can examine affirmative and negative motivations.  Negative motivations would be those reasons which impel us to leave our existing religious tradition.  Affirmative motivations would be those reasons which impel us to join a different religious tradition than our current one.

It is important to note that the majority of people who make the switch from one religious tradition to another have both negative and affirmative motivations.  It is rare for a person to have entirely negative motivations, though there are examples.  Atheists might leave a religion entirely because they think that its doctrines are false and its followers corrupt or blind, and they may not choose another religious tradition precisely because they have no affirmative motivations leading them to do so.  Or someone might leave a religious tradition and switch to another tradition because there was some grave moral wrong done to them or their family (e.g. child molestation) by a member of that tradition.  Or they might leave a religious tradition because, while they agree with the doctrines, another religious tradition has the same doctrines and lacks some of the more irritating practices of their existing tradition.

On the affirmative side of the question, a person might make the decision to switch for entirely affirmative reasons, though this is arguably even less common than doing it entirely out of negative motivations.  A person might switch from one tradition to another because, while they see their existing tradition as having some of the truth and many good practices, they see another tradition as having more of the truth and many more good practices.  Or someone might choose another religious tradition because it will protect them and their family from political reprisals in a country in which their existing religious tradition is widely persecuted.  Or they might switch to another religious tradition because it will make their spouse happy and/or bring peace in their family life, assuming that the traditions are equal in other respects.

As we can see, we can further classify these motivations into another set of groups, groups which may occasionally overlap.  Some motivations are about preference, others are about moral concerns with the adherents of the tradition, others are social/familial concerns, and others are about the truth of the religious tradition's doctrines.  The reader may notice that these motivations are no different from the set of motivations for switching between religions completely rather than just switching to a tradition within the same religion.

I would suggest that this is because human beings make all their decisions based on the same rough categories of motivations, and perhaps more controversially, because there is very little difference between how we ought to choose between practicing Baha'i and becoming a Sikh and how we ought to choose between staying in the Church of England and being chrismated in the Greek Orthodox churches.  I realize that this needs some explanation, because we intuitively tend to think that because there is generally a bigger difference in belief and practice between religions rather than among their traditions there ought to be a bigger motivation to make the switch.

I think some examples might be useful for understanding why that might not be true.  For one, we might choose to leave a particular tradition within a religion because we think it's not actually a part of that religion.  For example, a person might leave Sufi Islam because they believe that it has corrupted the teachings of the Prophet and that it is no longer truly Islam.  Or a person might leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints because they come to the conclusion that it's not actually a Christian church, then becoming Methodist.  In such a case, what we might see as a switching between traditions in the same religion is being done by the person making the choice precisely because they disagree that the traditions are part of the same religion.

For two, it's not clear to me that switching between religions is necessarily a much bigger jump in terms of doctrine or practice than switching between traditions of the same religion.  The jump from a prosperity Gospel preaching nondenominational mega-church run by a wealthy pastor to a tiny Roman Catholic parish run by Franciscans who live in poverty and preach a lifestyle of ministering to the poor in poverty would not be all that less large of a jump than if the same person were to jump to becoming a Buddhist monk living an austere life in a monastery in the Himalayas.  In both cases, the jump would be truly immense, and the similarities to the previous religious tradition would be very limited, though real.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that both in terms of belief and practice, it would be an easier transition from being a Trappist monk in the Roman Catholic Church to becoming a Buddhist monk in the Vajrayana tradition than the transition from being a non-denominational mega-church pastor to either of those monastic traditions.  All that taken into account, let's go back to the original question and then on to another one which follows from it.

I'm not going to propose that there is only one factor that we ought to consider when making the decision to switch between religious traditions.  What I would suggest is that we should at least prioritize some concerns ahead of others.  For example, I see truth as a deal-breaker.  If I do not believe that a religious tradition has truth (at least in the sense that it is the most true), then I think that as a person of integrity I ought to leave it and switch to whatever I find to be most true.

But what if we are faced with a choice between religious traditions which are, as far as we can determine, equally true?  In that case, I would recommend looking at the efficacy of the practices in helping us live out that truth.  And what if we are faced with a choice between religious traditions which are apparently both equally true and have equally efficacious practices?  This is the point at which it gets more difficult for me.  In this hypothetical situation, we could just use our preferences as a tie-breaker, but I am suspicious of preferences because they are so often self-serving in the worst ways.

When confronted with that scenario in relation to Mahayana Buddhism and Roman Catholicism, I chose to try to articulate yet another principle to help break the tie, which is to say that I chose the path that would be harder for me and lead me to more radically transform my life.  In part, I was trying to avoid utilizing the self-serving preferences that can so often lead us astray.

If we happen to be in a situation in which our family members or spouse happen to belong to one of the religious traditions we are choosing between, then we might select the one to which they belong in order to bring benefit to the family as a way of breaking the tie.  Or we might select the religious tradition less likely to cause our family to be persecuted in order to break the tie, assuming that all else is equal between the two choices.  Or we might select the one that is simply better for our political career interests, all else being equal.

The observant reader may notice that I have not yet used an example from my previous category of experiencing a moral wrong done to a person or their family by a member of a religious tradition.  That's very intentional on my part.  While I do think that could be used as a tie-breaker when all else is equal, I don't think it's a very good reason for rejecting a religion in general for reasons I've articulated before.

The natural question to ask at this point is: What might prompt us to NOT switch to another religious tradition?  If we believe that all religious traditions are equally untrue or equally true and that their practices are equally efficacious, then it would make sense to not bother switching.  While we could invoke one of the aforementioned tie-breakers, I'm not sure that we have any moral obligation to do so.  It's certainly possible that we would, depending on the moral framework we are using, but it doesn't seem obvious that we would be morally obligated to switch without a compelling reason.

While this is hardly an exhaustive inventory of motivations for switching between religious traditions, I hope this at least provides some food for thought to those considering moving from one religious tradition to another.  As always, I encourage seekers to do lots of research before making a decision, both in terms of reading the sacred texts of a religious tradition and experiencing its practices.

Related: The Blessing of Spiritual Homelessness

Note: The above is a picture I took while out walking.