The Egoic Mind (excerpt) THE NEW EARTH by Eckhart Tolle (Oprah #61 - Awakening to Your Life's Purpose)
THE EGOIC MIND
Most people are so completely identified with the voice in the head—the incessant stream of involuntary and compulsive thinking and the emotions that accompany it—that we may describe them as being possessed by their mind. As long as you are completely unaware of this, you take the thinker to be who you are. This is the egoic mind. We call it egoic because there is a sense of self, of I (ego), in every thought, every memory, every interpretation, opinion, viewpoint, reaction, emotion. This is unconsciousness, spiritually speaking.
Your thinking, the content of your mind, is of course conditioned by the past: your upbringing, culture, family background, and so on. The central core of all your mind activity consists of certain repetitive and persistent thoughts, emotions, and reactive patterns that you identify with most strongly. This entity is the ego itself.
In most cases, when you say "I," it is the ego speaking, not you. It consists of thought and emotion, of a bundle of memories you identify with as "me and my story," of habitual roles you play without knowing it, of collective identifications such as…
social class, or
It also contains personal identification, not only with possessions, but also with…
long-standing resentments, or
concepts of yourself as better than or not as
good as others, as a success or failure.
The content of the ego varies from person to person, but in every ego the same structure operates. In other words: Egos only differ on the surface. Deep down they are all the same.
In what way are they the same?
They live on identification and separation. When you live through the mind-made self comprised of thought and emotion that is the ego, the basis for your identity is precarious because thought and emotion are by their very nature ephemeral, fleeting. So every ego is continuously struggling for survival, trying to protect and enlarge itself. To uphold the I-thought, it needs the opposite thought of "the other." The conceptual "I" cannot survive without the conceptual "other." The others are most other when I see them as “enemies."
At one end of the scale of this unconscious egoic pattern lies the egoic compulsive habit of faultfinding and complaining about others. Jesus referred to it when he said, "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" At the other end of the scale, there is physical violence between individuals and warfare between nations. In the Bible, Jesus' question remains unanswered, but the answer is, of course: Because when I criticize or condemn another, it makes me feel bigger, superior.
Complaining is one of the ego's favorite strategies for strengthening itself. Every complaint is a little story the mind makes up that you completely believe in. Whether you complain aloud or only in thought makes no difference. Some egos that perhaps don't have much else to identify with easily survive on complaining alone. When you are in the grip of such an ego, complaining, especially about other people, is habitual and, of course, unconscious, which means you don't know what you are doing.
Applying negative mental labels to people, either to their face or more commonly when you speak about them to others or even just think about them, is often part of this pattern. Name-calling is the crudest form of such labeling and of the ego's need to be right and triumph over others: "jerk, bastard, bitch”—all definitive pronouncements that you can't argue with. On the next level down on the scale of unconsciousness, you have shouting and screaming, and not much below that, physical violence.
Resentment is the emotion that goes with complaining and the mental labeling of people and adds even more energy to the ego. Resentment means to feel bitter, indignant, aggrieved, or offended. You resent other people's greed, their dishonesty, their lack of integrity, what they are doing, what they did in the past, what they said, what they failed to do, what they should or shouldn't have done.
The ego loves it. Instead of overlooking unconsciousness in others, you make it into their identify. Who is doing that? The unconsciousness in you, the ego. Sometimes the "fault" that you perceive in another isn't even there. It is a total misinterpretation, a projection by a mind conditioned to see enemies and to make itself right or superior. At other times, the fault may be there, but by focusing on it, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else, you amplify it. And what you react to in another, you strengthen in yourself.
Nonreaction to the ego in others is one of the most effective ways not only of going beyond ego in yourself but also of dissolving the collective human ego. But you can only be in a state of nonreaction if you can recognize someone's behavior as coming from the ego, as being an expression of the collective human dysfunction. When you realize it's not personal, there is no longer a compulsion to react as if it were. By not reacting to the ego, you will often be able to bring out the sanity in others, which is the unconditioned consciousness as opposed to the conditioned.
At times you may have to take practical steps to protect yourself from deeply unconscious people. This you can do without making them enemies. Your greatest protection, however, is being conscious. Somebody becomes an enemy if you personalize the unconsciousness that is the ego.
Nonreaction is not weakness but strength. Another word for nonreaction is forgiveness. To forgive is to overlook, or rather to look through. You look through the ego to the sanity that is in every human being as his or her essence. The ego loves to complain and feel resentful not only about other people but also about situations. What you can do to a person, you can also do to a situation: make it into an enemy. The implication is always…
This should not be happening; I don't want to be here; I don't want to be doing this; I'm being treated unfairly. And the ego's greatest enemy of all is, of course, the present moment, which is to say, life itself.
Complaining is not to be confused with informing someone of a mistake or deficiency so that it can be put right. And to refrain from complaining doesn't necessarily mean putting up with bad quality or behavior. There is no ego in telling the waiter that your soup is cold and needs to be heated up—if you stick to the facts, which are always neutral. "How dare you serve me cold soup..." That's complaining. There is a "me" here that loves to feel personally offended by the cold soup and is going to make the most of it, a "me" that enjoys making someone wrong. The complaining we are talking about is in the service of the ego, not of change.
Ego Identifies with the Body
Apart from objects, another basic form of identification is with "my" body. Firstly, the body is male or female, and so the sense of being a man or woman takes up a significant part of most people's sense of self. Gender becomes identity. Identification with gender is encouraged at an early age, and it forces you into a role, into conditioned patterns of behavior that affect all aspects of your life, not just sexuality. It is a role many people become completely trapped in, even more so in some of the traditional societies than in Western culture where identification with gender is beginning to lessen somewhat. In some traditional cultures, the worst fate a woman can have is to be unwed or barren, and for a man to lack sexual potency and not be able to produce children. Life's fulfillment is perceived to be fulfillment of one's gender identity.
In the West, it is the physical appearance of the body that contributes greatly to the sense of who you think you are: its strength or weakness, its perceived beauty or ugliness relative to others. For many people, their sense of self-worth is intimately bound up with their physical strength, good looks, fitness, and external appearance. Many feel a diminished sense of self-worth because they perceive their body as ugly or imperfect. In some cases, the mental image or concept of "my body" is a complete distortion of reality. A young woman may think of herself as overweight and therefore starve herself when in fact she is quite thin. She cannot see her body anymore. All she "sees" is the mental concept of her body, which says "I am fat" or "I will become fat.”
At the root of this condition lies identification with the mind. As people have become more and more mind-identified, which is the intensification of egoic dysfunction, there has also been a dramatic increase in the incidence of anorexia in recent decades. If the sufferer could look at her body without the interfering judgments of her mind or even recognize these judgments for what they are instead of believing in them, this would initiate her healing.
Those who are identified with their good looks, physical strength, or abilities experience suffering when those attributes begin to fade and disappear, as of course they will. Their very identity that was based on them is then threatened with collapse. In either case, ugly or beautiful, people derive a significant part of their identity, be it negative or positive, from their body. To be more precise, they derive their identity from the I-thought that they erroneously attach to the mental image or concept of their body, which after all is no more than a physical form that shares the destiny of all forms— impermanence and ultimately decay. Equating the physical sense-perceived body that is destined to grow old, wither, and die with "I" always leads to suffering sooner or later.
To refrain from identifying with the body doesn't mean that you neglect, despise, or no longer care for it. If it is strong, beautiful, or vigorous, you can enjoy and appreciate those attributes while they last. You can also improve the body's condition through right nutrition and exercise. If you don't equate the body with who you are, when beauty fades, vigor diminishes, or the body becomes incapacitated, this will not affect your sense of worth or identity in any way. In fact, as the body begins to weaken, the formless dimension, the light of consciousness, can shine more easily through the fading form.
It is not just people with good or near-perfect bodies who are likely to equate it with who they are. You can just as easily identify with a "problematic" body and make the body's imperfection, illness, or disability into your identity. You may then think and speak of yourself as a "sufferer" of this or that chronic illness or disability. You receive a great deal of attention from doctors and others who constantly confirm to you your conceptual identity as a sufferer or a patient. You then unconsciously cling to the illness because it has become the most important part of who you perceive yourself to be. It has become another thought form with which the ego can identify.
Once the ego has found an identity, it does not want to let go. Amazingly but not infrequently, the ego in search of a stronger identity can and does create illnesses in order to strengthen itself through them.
The Collective Ego
How hard it is to live with yourself! One of the ways in which the ego attempts to escape the unsatisfactoriness of personal selfhood is to enlarge and strengthen its sense of self by identifying with a group—
a nation, political party, corporation, institution, sect, religion, club, gang, football team.
In some cases the personal ego seems to dissolve completely as someone dedicates his or her life to working selflessly for the greater good of the collective without demanding personal rewards, recognition, or aggrandizement.
What a relief to be freed of the dreadful burden of a personal self. The members of the collective feel happy and fulfilled, no matter how hard they work, how many sacrifices they make. They appear to have gone beyond ego. The question is: Have they truly become free, or has the ego simply shifted from the personal to the collective?
A collective ego manifests the same characteristics as the personal ego, such as…
the need for conflict and enemies, the need for more, the need to be right against others who are wrong, and so on.
Sooner or later, the collective will come into conflict with other collectives, because it unconsciously seeks conflict and it needs opposition to define its boundary and thus its identity. Its members will then experience the suffering that inevitably comes in the wake of any ego-motivated action. At that point, they may wake up and realize that their collective has a strong element of insanity. It can be painful at first to suddenly wake up and realize that the collective you had identified with and worked for is actually insane. Some people at that point become cynical or bitter and henceforth deny all values, all worth. This means that they quickly adopted another belief system when the previous one was recognized as illusory and therefore collapsed. They didn't face the death of their ego but ran away and reincarnated into a new one.
A collective ego is usually more unconscious than the individuals that make up that ego. For example, crowds (which are temporary collective egoic entities) are capable of committing atrocities that the individual away from the crowd would not be. Nations not infrequently engage in behavior that would be immediately recognizable as psychopathic in an individual.
There are many people who are always waiting for the next thing to react against, to feel annoyed or disturbed about, and it never takes long before they find it. "This is an outrage," they say. "How dare you ..." "I resent this." They are addicted to upset and anger as others are to a drug. Through reacting against this or that they assert and strengthen their feeling of self.
A long-standing resentment is called a grievance.
To carry grievances is to be in a permanent state of "against," and that is why grievances constitute a significant part of many people's ego. Collective grievances can survive for centuries in the psyche of a nation or a tribe and fuel a never-ending cycle of violence.
A grievance is a strong negative emotion connected to an event in the sometimes distant past that is being kept alive by compulsive thinking, by retelling the story in the head or out loud of "what someone did to me" or "what someone did to us.”
A grievance will also contaminate other areas of your life. For example, while you think about and feel your grievance, its negative emotional energy can distort your perception of an event that is happening in the present or influence the way in which you speak or behave toward someone in the present. One strong grievance is enough to contaminate large areas of your life and keep you in the grip of the ego.
It requires honesty to see whether you still harbor grievances, whether there is someone in your life you have not completely forgiven, an "enemy." If you do, become aware of the grievance both on the level of thought as well as emotion, that is to say, be aware of the thoughts that keep it alive, and feel the emotion that is the body's response to those thoughts.Don't try to let go of the grievance. Trying to let go, to forgive, does not work. Forgiveness happens naturally when you see that it has no purpose other than to strengthen a false sense of self, to keep the ego in place. The seeing is freeing.
Jesus' teaching to "Forgive your enemies" is essentially about the undoing of one of the main egoic structures in the human mind.
The past has no power to stop you from being present now. Only your grievance about the past can do that. And what is a grievance? The baggage of old thought and emotion.
--COURSE IN MIRACLES WORKBOOK:
Intuition Is Your Superpower
by Diana Lang — (from The Huffington Post
Your intuition is like a superpower. We use it every day in a thousand ways. We use is it in every transaction, negotiation and relationship we engage in.
Intuition is a deep inner listening.
And we all have this ability.
Intuition is a faculty of higher mind. It is a kind of extra sensory perception, as it were. Intuition allows us to discern between the billions of information bits that we are thinking, to discover by filtering through all of this sensory data, the common denominator, which is: the truth of something.
There is often so much mental clutter around certain subjects, especially ones that are important to us, that we sometimes cannot cognize what we think. That’s because we are thinking everything at the same time! When we’re afraid, and especially when we feel our lives depend on it, we can be thinking thousands of thoughts simultaneously with no conscious prioritization. This can put us into utter chaos.
But just behind the veil of the pros-and-cons list of our life, and all the myriad information that we pick up along the way - behind all that data - waiting patiently for us, is our personal inner knowing. Not what the world would say, not what someone else thinks about a subject, but our very own precious knowing.
Intuition helps us sense our way through life’s problems. We can sense when to move and when not to move. We can feel the intentions of another. We can intuit if something is right for us or not. It is literally our “inner sight.” It is our insight!
Your intuition is the most accurate gauge of someone’s intention and heart. Your intuition can tell you what something really is. By heeding this deep inner listening, the truth of it can shine through. Because we really do know, or I should say, we can know. We just need to stop, and consciously ask ourselves…
...and then, listen.
Become quiet inside yourself. This is very like a little mini-meditation. Sit perfectly still and empty your mind. When you think of the decision, the person, or the situation, what do you intuit? (Not, what do you think.) For the moment, put aside your opinions, judgments, or preconceived ideas. What does your heart know? What is your intuition?
Really, deeply listen.
Does your inner self give you a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down? Is there an internal nod of YES, or a squeezing contracted feeling of NO? You will feel it. It is very definite.
Here’s the thing, if you are listening with your intuition, you will know. We can be fooled by the external information of things. We can be overloaded by the sheer density of the concerns that are connected to our question, or overwhelmed by the fears we have of the potential domino-consequence of it. The problem is that the answer we think is right may look great on paper but not be good for our life. Intuition includes logic but logic doesn’t necessarily include intuition.
It’s important to remember as you are gathering impressions to not be tempted to manufacture reasons to substantiate these impressions while you are receiving them. Listen to your intuition. But don’t try to justify your intuition. If you need to “prove” what or why your intuition is telling you something, you are already out of the intuitive state and back into the ego’s limited fear-logic. This is why intuition is intuition, not deduction or analysis. It’s a whole different faculty of mind. There is no greater insight than what your intuition senses and offers - if you’ll listen.
It is how Einstein was able to conceive E=mc2. He intuited it first; then he proved it.
Your intuition is a powerful tool. It is like having a secret power, and in time, and with practice, you will learn to trust it more and more. It will guide you seamlessly through life. It will nudge you left when left is exactly the right move for you. As you become more adept in listening to your intuition, you will find yourself navigating your life more and more deftly, decision by decision, choice by choice, breath by breath, moment by moment.
And what is extraordinary about this inner knowing, this intuition, this superpower, is that it is adaptable and ever-responding to the ever-changing circumstance of our ever-changing reality!
Like any superpower, you need to cultivate and develop your intuition over time. Practice trusting your inner knowing. Get good at it. Let your intuition guide your life, for it will always lead you true.
On Twitter: www.twitter.com/Diana Lang
A Zen student walked in to see the master. Sitting down, he blurted out, "There's something terribly wrong with me!" The master looked at him and asked, "What's so wrong?" The student, after a moment's hesitation, responded, "I think I'm a dog." To that the master responded, "And how long have you thought that?" The student replied, "Ever since I was a puppy."
What does this story have to do with spiritual practice? Everything. It puts the basic human problem in a nutshell. Next time you find yourself immersed in the drama of a strong emotional reaction, awash with deeply believed thoughts, ask yourself how long you've taken these thoughts to be the truth. Especially notice the ones you believe the most: "Life is too hard," "No one will ever be there for me," "I'm worthless," "I'm hopeless." How long have you believed these thoughts? Ever since you were a puppy!
These deeply held beliefs may not be visible on the surface of our minds; we're often not even aware of them. Yet we cling to such deep-seated beliefs, these basic identities, because they've become rooted in our very cells—in our cellular memory. And their imprint on our lives is unmistakable. But in order to avoid experiencing the painful quality of these beliefs and identities, we continually engage in various strategies of behavior—habitual coping patterns that buffer us from the anxious quiver of insecurity. These strategies are our attempt to establish some sense of safety, security, and familiarity. They might include seeking achievements, becoming a helper, trying to control our world or withdrawing toward safety. But do they ever give us a sense of genuine satisfaction? No. All too often they keep us stuck in dissatisfaction, not knowing where to turn. I call this place "the substitute life."
If we're fortunate enough to aspire to become free of our substitute or artificial life, we may start questioning our most basic assumptions, including our very mode of living. Although such questioning can be painful, it's something we all need to do periodically in order to move toward a genuine life. The one question that goes directly to the heart of the matter is: "What is my life really about?" The degree to which we can be honest in answering this question will determine our clarity in understanding the basic human dilemma—that we are cut off from awareness of our true nature.
Do you try to maintain a sense of order and control, to avoid feeling the fear of chaos, of things falling apart? Do you try to gain acceptance and approval, to avoid the fear of rejection, of not fitting in? Do you try to excel and attain success, to avoid the fear of feeling unworthy? Or do you seek busyness in adventure or pleasure, to avoid the deep holes of longing and loneliness? All of these strategies have one thing in common: they keep us encased in our artificial or substitute life.
None of us are beyond this. We all follow some strategy to escape feeling the fears that silently run our life. Yet even when we know all about these fears, most of the time we don't want to have anything to do with them. Perhaps this sounds pessimistic and discouraging, but it doesn't have to be. In fact, it's only by realizing the extent to which we are asleep—the extent to which we are driven by the vanity of our endeavors, the smallness of our attachments, or the urgency of avoiding our fears—that we can wake up, out of our state of sleep, out of our substitute way of living.
How to Live a Genuine Life by Ezra Bayda
The Disease of Being Busy (excerpt)
by Omid Safi
In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is yourhaal?
What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.
I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.
Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.
Put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being, a human being who also craves a human touch.
I teach at a university where many students pride themselves on the “study hard, party hard” lifestyle. This might be a reflection of many of our lifestyles and our busy-ness — that even our means of relaxation is itself a reflection of that same world of overstimulation. Our relaxation often takes the form of action-filled (yet mindless) films, or violent and fast-paced sports.
I don’t have any magical solutions. All I know is that we are losing the ability to live a truly human life.
We need a different relationship to work, to technology. We know what we want: a meaningful life, a sense of community, a balanced existence. It’s not just about “leaning in” or faster iPhones. We want to be truly human.
W. B. Yeats once wrote, "It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a solider to fight on a battlefield."
How exactly are we supposed to examine the dark corners of our soul when we are so busy? How are we supposed to live the examined life?
I want us to have a kind of existence where we can pause, look each other in the eye […] and inquire together: Here is how my heart is doing. […]
How is the state of your heart today?
Let us insist on a type of human-to-human connection where when one of us responds by saying, “I am just so busy,” we can follow up by saying, “I know, love. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing.”
Omid Safi is Director of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. Reading above is excerpted from the OnBeing blog.
Is Christianity the only true religion, or one among others?
(A talk given to a Theological Society in Norwich, England)
The likelihood is that all or nearly all of us here are Christians, though no doubt with varying degrees of commitment to the church. And so the question I am raising is inevitably an uncomfortable one. For we have probably nearly all taken it for granted, for as long as we can remember, that of course Christianity is the only true religion, or at least much the most true. I myself became a Christian by evangelical conversion when a Law student and it was part of the package of belief that I accepted wholeheartedly that Christianity is uniquely superior to all others and the world in process of being converted to Christian faith.
But that was some sixty years ago. In those days, like most of my generation, I had never met anyone of another faith and knew virtually nothing about the other world religions - and the little that I thought I knew has turned out to be largely caricature. But the present generation is generally much better informed. And today we all know, when we stop to think about it, that people of the other world religions have exactly the same view of their own faith as we do of ours.
In other words the religion that seems so obviously superior to anyone depends in the vast majority of cases on where he or she happens to have been born. Someone born into a devout Muslim family in Egypt or Pakistan or Albania (or for that matter in England) is very likely to grow up as a Muslim; someone born into a devout Hindu family in India (or again in England) is very likely to be a Hindu; someone born into a devout Buddhist family in Thailand or Sri Lanka or Burma (or once again England) is very likely to be a Buddhist; just as someone born into a devout Christian family in this country is very likely to be a Christian; and so on.
There are of course and always will be individual conversions for individual reasons in every direction both to and from each of the great world faiths, and generally we must presume that this is a right move; but such conversions are statistically marginal in comparison with the massive transmission of faith from generation to generation within the same religion. So normally the religion that you accept - or of course the religion that you reject - is the one into which you happen to have been born. I think that this is obvious and undeniable, although theologians all too seldom reflect on its implications.
So why do many, in fact probably most, Christians believe that Christianity is uniquely superior to all other faiths, the one and only true religion ?
Well, above all the New Testament says so. We read in St John’s Gospel that Jesus said ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me’ (14:6), ‘I and the Father are one’ (10:30), ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father’ (14:9), ‘before Abraham was, I am’ (John 8: 58). In these texts, all from St John’s Gospel, does Jesus not clearly claim to be God, or God the Son, incarnate, and is he not claiming that his is the only path of salvation, and thus the only true religion? So in the Acts of the Apostles we read that ‘there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name [than that of Christ] under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12).
I must say a little about this New Testament basis of the belief, although it would require a whole week, or more likely a whole year, to discuss it properly. But most New Testament scholars today do not believe that Jesus, the historical individual, claimed to be God incarnate. That doesn’t mean that they don’t believe that Jesus was in fact God incarnate, but they don’t think that he himself taught that he was. In case this comes as a surprise to some, I will give some brief quotations. I’m going to quote only from distinguished New Testament scholars who personally believe strongly that the Church has been right in believing that Jesus was God incarnate. They believe this with their whole heart. But nevertheless they hold, on the basis of the evidence, that Jesus did not himself claim this. Referring first to those New Testament sayings which I quoted a minute ago - ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life . . .’ etc. - Professor Charlie Moule of Cambridge, the doyen of conservative British New Testament scholars writes (in The Origin of Christology, 1977, p. 136), ‘Any case for a “high” Christology that depended on the authenticity of the alleged claims of Jesus about himself, especially in the fourth Gospel [i.e. John’s], would indeed be precarious’. Also in Cambridge Canon Brian Hebblethwaite of Queen’s College, a notable defender of the orthodox doctrine, says (The Incarnation, 1987, p. 74) that ‘it is no longer possible to defend the divinity of Jesus by reference to the claims of Jesus’. Then the late Archbishop Michael Ramsey (previously a New Testament professor) said in his book Jesus and the Living Past (1960, p.39), ‘Jesus did not claim deity for himself’. Again, perhaps the leading New Testament scholar in this country today, Professor James Dunn of Durham, after examining minutely every relevant text, in all four Gospels, and indeed throughout the New Testament, writes (Christology in the Making, 1980, p. 60) that ‘there was no real evidence in the earliest Jesus-tradition of what could fairly be called a consciousness of divinity’. These are all people who accept the traditional Incarnation doctrine, but who are also part of the scholarly consensus that the historical Jesus did not himself teach this. It is generally held today that the great ‘I am’ sayings of the fourth Gospel, which I quoted a minute ago, cannot be attributed to the historical Jesus but are words put into his mouth by a Christian writer some 60-70 years later, and also that Jesus’ sayings in the Synoptic Gospels cannot be taken to constitute a claim to be God incarnate - as Dunn says, ‘there was no real evidence in the earliest Jesus-tradition of what could fairly be called a consciousness of divinity’. If this comes to anyone as a bit of a shock, that is because although theologically educated ministers of the church know this, they do not mention it in their sermons. And I must confess that I myself have never said it in a sermon, but only in settings such as this. This silence has been going on for a very long time, and of course the longer you put off saying something difficult - difficult to the hearers - the harder it becomes to say it. When some years ago, 1977, a group of us, who included the Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, and a former Regius at Cambridge, then Warden of Keble College, Oxford, and the Principal of Cuddesdon Theological College, Oxford, and others, published a book called The Myth of God Incarnate in which we discussed this question openly and frankly, we were attacked and reviled, not for saying what the scholarly world had long known, but for saying it so publicly and with such an alarming title. But today, more than twenty years later, the whole subject is much more openly discussed, and I don’t have any hesitation in discussing it here.
It’s also well known today - another theme of that book - that the term ‘son of God’ was widely used in the ancient world. Jesus was by no means the only person to whom the term was applied. In particular, within Jesus’ own religion, Judaism, Adam was called the son of God, and is so called in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus’ ancestry is traced back to ‘the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God’ (tou Seth tou Adam tou Theou’, 3:38), angels were called sons of God, Israel as a whole was called God’s son, and indeed any outstandingly pious Jew could be called a son of God. And the ancient Hebrew kings were enthroned as son of God - hence the words of Psalm 2:7, ‘Thou art my son, this day I have begotten thee’. But no one within Judaism thought that God literally begot sons. The phrase ‘son of God’ was clearly metaphorical. ‘son of'’ meant ‘true servant of’ or sometimes ‘given a special divine mission by’ or more generally ‘in the spirit of’. The term was a very familiar metaphor within Judaism and never implied deity. But as Christianity expanded beyond its Jewish roots into the Graeco-Roman world the metaphorical son of God was gradually transformed in Christian thinking into the metaphysical God the Son, second person of a divine Trinity. And it is this epoch-making development that is under question today.
Now in the discussions of the last twenty or so years, the idea that Christianity is the only true religion and only source of salvation, and that only Christians are saved, is today generally called exclusivism, in distinction from the two other main positions, called inclusivism and pluralism.
However today the majority of Christian theologians and church leaders have moved away from this strict exclusivism to what is called inclusivism. This concentrates primarily on the question of salvation, and is the view that salvation is indeed through Christ alone in virtue of his atoning death on the cross, but that this salvation is not confined to Christians but is available, in principle, to all human beings. So non-Christians also can be included within the sphere of Christian salvation - hence the term inclusivism. People of good will outside the Church can be said to have an implicit Christian faith, or to be anonymous Christians, or to be in such a state that they will respond to Christ as their lord and saviour when they confront him after death. On this view Christianity remains the only true religion; but those who do not know Christ can also benefit from his atoning death. This position was adopted by the Catholic Church at the second Vatican Council in the 1960’s and is the position of the present Pope and also of a majority of theologians within the other mainline Christian churches, including the Church of England, the Methodists, the United Reformed Church, Baptists, etc. - except in each case for their fundamentalist wings. Its attraction is that on the one hand it preserves the traditional conviction of the unique centrality/normativeness/superiority of Christianity, but on the other hand it does not involve the horrifying implication that only Christians can be saved. This is why it is today so attractive and remains such a popular position.
But it does have its negative side. If we think for a moment of the analogy of the solar system, with God as the sun at the centre and the religions as planets revolving around that centre, the inclusivist position says in effect that the life-giving light and warmth of the sun falls directly only on our earth, but is then reflected off it to the other religions, which thus receive it at second hand. Or in terms of economics this is a kind of trickle down theory of salvation. We Christians are the spiritually rich at the top but our riches trickle down in varying measure to the people of the other world religions below. And just how realistic this is will depend on what we mean by salvation.
If you define salvation as being forgiven and accepted by God because of the atoning death of Jesus on the cross, then salvation is by definition Christian salvation and Christianity is by definition the only true religion. That is to settle the matter by definition. Suppose however that instead of doing this we start with the realities of human life around the world as we find it and mean by salvation something concrete, something that can take place progressively in people’s lives, something that is meant to begin here and now in this life and to make a manifest difference. We can describe it as the gradual transformation of men and women from natural self-centredness to a new orientation centred in the divine reality that we call God, liberating us into love and compassion for our fellow beings. On this view it is those who love their neighbours; who have compassion - that is feeling with and for others, - and who give something of their time, energy, intelligence, resources to those in much greater need both far and near, who are on the path of salvation. Or again, putting it in biblical terms, it is those whose lives embody what St Paul called the fruit of the spirit, which he described as ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control’ (Galatians, 5: 22) - to which we must I think add a commitment to social justice as an expression of love - who are on the way of salvation. Its not a question of Are you saved or not saved? but of the direction in which you are going, the path you are on.
Now the call to self-transcending love and compassion comes to humanity through a number of channels. Jesus taught that we are to love and value our neighbours as we love and value ourselves, even to love those who regard themselves as our enemies, so that ‘you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust’ (Matthew 5: 44-5). Others hear the call to an equal concern for all in the Hebrew scriptures in such divine commands as ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus 19: 18), or in the teaching of the Talmud, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. This is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary’ (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a). Others again hear it such Hindu teachings as one on which Mahatma Gandhi based his life: ‘If a man give you a drink of water and you give him a drink in return, that is nothing. Real beauty consists in doing good against evil . . The truly noble know all men as one, and return with gladness good for evil done.’ (Gandhi, Autobiography, I, chap.10). And yet others hear it in such Buddhist teachings as ‘As a mother cares for her son, her only son, all her days, so towards all living things a man’s mind should be all-embracing’ (Sutta Nipata, 143). And yet others hear it in the Qur’an, where we read ‘Repel evil with what is good. Then you will find your erstwhile enemy like a close, affectionate friend’ (41: 34), or in the teachings of the Sufis of Islam, such as this parable of Rumi’s, ‘God rebuked Moses, saying, ‘I fell sick, thou camest not.’ Moses said, ‘O transcendent One, what mystery is this. Explain, O Lord!’ God said again to him, ‘Wherefore didst thou not kindly ask after me when I was sick?’ Moses answered, ‘Lord, thou never ailest. My understanding is lost.’ God said, ‘Yea, a favourite and chosen servant of mine fell sick. Consider well: his infirmity is My infirmity, his sickness is My sickness’ (Nicholson, Rumi: Poet and Mystic, p. 65). You see, such ideas are genuinely Christian, but they are also genuinely Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist. There is in fact a basic moral outlook which is universal, and the concrete reality of salvation consists in a spiritual transformation whose natural expression is unrestricted love and compassion. I stress the word basic, because what is common to the different faiths is this truly basic principle, not the specific moral codes which have developed within different societies at different times and places and in different circumstances. These latter reflect the particular historical circumstances in which they were formulated and are not immutable, but ought to develop as societies change, and when they don’t they can produce evil instead of good. We see this, for example, in some of the harsh rules of desert life in parts of the Old Testament and in parts of the Shariah of Islam, and also, in a lesser way nearer to home in current debates within the churches about the ordination of women, about the remarriage of divorced persons, and about homosexuality. New moral sensitivities, and new scientific knowledge, rightly enter into the development of our specific social norms.
But the basic moral teaching of the religions remains the same. It constitutes the universal ideal. But how does it actually work out in people’s lives? Do Christians in fact respond to it better than the rest of humankind? Are Christians in general better human beings, morally and spiritually, than non-Christians in general? This is the question that I would invite you to focus upon. In order to answer it of course one has to get to know people of other faiths; and this is much easier for some than for others. Birmingham, for example, where I live, is a multi-faith city. There are eighty thousand or more Muslims, large Sikh and Hindu communities, a smaller but long established Jewish community, and growing number of Buddhists and Bahais. When you go into the mosques, synagogues, gurudwaras, temples, as well as churches, something strikes you, or at least has struck me, very forcibly. On the one hand, all the externals are different. When you go into a Hindu temple, for example, the sights, colours, sounds, smells are those of India and you can easily imagine yourself back there. And not only what the senses perceive, but also the language, the concepts, the whole way of thinking are distinctively Hindu. And the same is true in their different ways of each of the other places of worship. But at a much deeper level it seems evident that essentially the same thing is going on in all these other places as in our Christian churches – namely men and women are coming together under the auspices of some ancient highly developed tradition which helps them to open their minds and hearts ‘upwards’ to a higher divine reality which makes a claim upon the living of their lives; and the basic claim is in each case, as I illustrated a few minutes ago, the same. So it seems right to say with the thirteenth century Muslim writer Jalaludin Rumi, writing about the religions of his time, ‘The lamps are different, but the Light is the same: it comes from Beyond’ (Rumi, Poet and Mystic, trans. R.A. Nicholson, 1978, p. 166).
But further, it is a very common experience of Christians in such a city as Birmingham that when you get to know some of your neighbours of other faiths - and you meet them today in every walk of life, but particularly when you know individuals and families - you do not find that they are in general any less loving and caring, any less honest, any less likely to help a neighbour when someone next door is ill or in some trouble and needing friendly support, any less law-abiding, any less concerned for the good of society, any less ready to make sacrifices for the education of their children, any less faithful in the practice of their religion, than are our Christian fellow citizens in general. I do not say any more, but I do say not any less. There are good and bad people, and all degrees of goodness and badness, within each faith community, including Christianity; but it does not seem that Christians in general stand out as morally and spiritually superior to everyone else.
And there’s another kind of encounter has been to me equally important. Partly in the course of inter-faith dialogue over a number of years with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs, and from time spent in the heartlands of these other faiths, I have had the very good fortune to come to know a small number of individuals whom I regard as, in Christian terms, saints - saints in the sense that they have largely transcended the ego point of view and become channels of the higher divine reality. Such all-too-rare individuals are extremely important to us, because they make it much easier for us to believe in the higher reality to which the religions point. And they are to be found not only within Christianity but within each of the great faith traditions.
And, although this is a huge topic which I cannot open up here, I do not think that history shows Christian civilization through the centuries to have been morally superior to all other civilizations. It is an unpleasant business to compare historical evils, but since many people take it for granted that Christianity has a manifestly cleaner record than the rest of the world, I would just remind you of the centuries-long persecution of the Jews, the Crusades, the burning of witches and heretics, the conquest and exploitation of what today we call the Third world, the carrying off so many of its people as slaves, the history of Christian Europe through the twentieth century, which saw two terrible wars between Christian nations in which tens of millions were killed, and the Jewish Holocaust, and churches supporting Fascist dictators in Italy, Spain, Brazil, San Salvador, Chile (the most recent being General Pinochet), and for a whole generation supporting apartheid in South Africa . . But we can take all this up further if you want to in the discussion period.
And so it just does not seem to me that Christians, either individually or collectively, are manifestly better human beings than the rest of the human race.
But - and this is the question that we now have to ask ourselves - is this what you would expect if our traditional doctrines are straightforwardly true? According to these doctrines we have an uniquely direct knowledge to God in Christ, an uniquely direct access to and relationship with God in prayer and worship in the name of Christ, and the direct presence of God with us in the sacraments of the church. Would you not then expect all this to make a visible difference in the lives of Christians? Would you not expect the fruits of the spirit to be more evident in Christians than in non-Christians? I suggest to you that we should expect that, because otherwise the unique superiority of Christianity would be mere rhetoric. But then on the other hand can we honestly claim that Christians are in fact morally and spiritually better human beings, in general, than non-Christians?
You see where all this is pointing - to the conclusion that perhaps Christianity is not after all the one and only true, or one and only salvific, religion. So this brings us to the third option that I mentioned for understanding the global religious situation. I’ve said a little about exclusivism, and more about inclusivism. Now the third option, generally called pluralism. This holds that there is not just one and only one point of salvific contact between the divine reality and humanity, namely in the person of Jesus Christ, but that there is a plurality of independently valid contacts, and independently authentic spheres of salvation, which include both Christianity and the other great world faiths.
In developing this pluralist point of view I am assuming that religion is our human response to a transcendent reality, the reality that we call God. And as a human response there is always an inescapably human element within it. To remind ourselves of this, look at the histories of both Judaism and Christianity. The image of Jahweh reflected in the Old Testament develops over the centuries from a violent tribal god who commands the Israelites to engage in genocide against the original inhabitants of Palestine [‘go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass’, I Sam. 15:3] to the universal Lord, blessed be He, of later and modern Judaism. Within Christianity, for quite a long period of time in the medieval world most Christians thought of God as a terrible figure who would send most human beings to eternal hell, and before whom they trembled in terror, expecting to be judged by the equally terrible figure of Christ, and their Christian faith was largely one of dread. Life’s calamities - disease, death, droughts, plagues, floods and so on - were seen as God’s punishments for human sin. And because life was so precarious, they thought that God must be very angry with his human creatures. For mercy they looked to their local saints and to the figure of the Virgin Mary, who might intercede on their behalf. It was only in the 13th and 14th centuries that Jesus came again to be thought of by many as manifesting divine love, which is how most of us think today. Now is it God’s nature that has changed through the centuries or is it our human images of God that have changed? Clearly, it is our human images of God.
So in other words, between ourselves and God as God is in God’s ultimate transcendent being there is a screen of varied and changing human images of God - not graven images but mental images, or pictures, or concepts of God. And our awareness of God is always through and in terms of these human images. We worship God through our own images of God, to which our human ideas and cultural assumptions have inevitably contributed. These mental images not only differ considerably between religions, but also within a given religion. In fact if we could see into one another’s minds now I believe we would find a great range of images or concepts of God in this room.
But how can this be? The basic principle involved was stated long ago by Thomas Aquinas when he said ‘Things known are in the knower according to the mode of the knower’ (S.T., II/II, Q.1, art 2). This is a principle that was taught in a much more massively systematic way by the philosopher Immanuel Kant, and which has been strongly confirmed since by cognitive psychology and the sociology of knowledge. ‘Things known are in the knower according to the mode of the knower’, and the mode of the knower differs as between the different religions and the different cultures and histories within which they have arisen. This, I suggest, is the basic clue to a religious understanding of the fact of many religions each producing, so far as we can tell, equally valuable fruits in human life.
I’ve been concentrating so far mainly on the question of salvation. But what, more briefly, about the different and often incompatible teachings of the different religions, what about their conflicting truth-claims? For example, for Christians God is a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, whereas for Jews and Muslims God is strictly unitary; for Christians Jesus was the second person of a divine Trinity, whereas for people of all the other religions he was a great prophet or teacher or guru but was not literally God walking on earth. Again, for the monotheisms the ultimate reality, the absolutely real, is an infinite person but for Buddhism, for example, the ultimate reality is not a person but a reality beyond the scope even of the personal/impersonal distinction. And of course on a less basic level there are innumerable other differences between the teachings of the different faiths. But how can this be if they are all responses to the same ultimate reality that in Christian language we call God?
Well, if we accept the distinction between the divine reality as it is in itself and as variously imaged by us, then our Christian doctrines are about the ultimate divine reality as conceived by us, in distinction from that reality as it is in itself. And the different truth-claims of the different religions are claims about different manifestations of the Ultimate to different human mentalities formed within different human cultures and different streams of religious history. As such, they do not contradict one another. That Muslims, for example, think of the divine, and experience the divine, as the Qur’anic Allah is not incompatible with the fact that Christians think of the divine, and experience the divine, as the heavenly Father of Jesus’ teaching, or more theologically as the Holy Trinity. In other words, what are called the conflicting truth-claims of the religions do not in fact conflict, because they are claims about different human awarenesses of the divine, made possible by the fact that, to quote Aquinas again, things known are in the knower according to the mode of the knower.
But there is something else important to be said before I finish. There is a valid sense in which, for those of us who are Christians, Christianity is the only true religion, the only one for us. For we have been formed by it. It has created us in its own image, so that it fits us and we fit it as no other religion can. And so for most of us who are Christians it is the right religion, and we should stick with it and live it out to the full. But we should also be aware that exactly the same is true for people formed by the other world religions. They also should stick with the religion that has formed them and live it out, though in each case gradually filtering out its ingrained claim to unique superiority.
So the bottom line, I am suggesting, is this: we should live wholeheartedly within our own faith, so long as we find it to be sustaining and a sphere of spiritual growth, but we should freely recognise the equal validity of the other great world faiths for their adherents, and we can also be enriched by some of their insights and spiritual practices. We should not see the other religions as rivals or enemies, or look down upon them as inferior, but simply as different human responses to the divine reality, formed in the past within different strands of human history and culture. And we should seek a friendship with people of other faiths which will do something to defuse the very dangerous religious absolutism that is being exploited in almost all the conflicts going on in the world today. To support religious absolutism is to be part of the problem which afflicts humanity. But we can be part of the solution by setting an example of transcending that absolutism.
When you think of God, what images come to mind?
Do you think of a supernatural being who sits outside the four dimensional (space + time) universe who created us as a potter might? Do you picture God as a supreme designer who built the intricate laws of the universe as a watchmaker assembles a fine timepiece? Do you see God as a grand chess master who has an elaborate plan for the figures on his cosmic chessboard? Do you imagine the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, where the outstretched hand of Michelangelo’s God (who looks like someone’s muscular grandfather!) reaches toward Adam?
Many popular images of God resemble a Zeus-like figure, who lives in “heaven” rather than on Olympus. When we think about it, this God seems a lot like us, only much more powerful. He has emotions: he can be a “jealous God”; he can be an “angry God” or a “loving God.” We may address him as Father, Lord, or Judge. We even use the personal (and masculine) pronoun “He” in referring to God, but we capitalize it to show that “He” is greater than we are.
In other words this God is strongly anthropomorphic, a Greek word whose roots mean “human” and “form.” In the fifth century BC, Greek philosopher Xenophanes wrote, “If horses had gods, they would look like horses.”
To me these classical images of God are fraught with problems. As a teenager, when my interest in science blossomed, I began to question the theology I had been taught as a child. Why would God allow millions of children to starve in Africa or die in a genocide, yet “He” just might intervene on behalf of our favorite sports team if we prayed hard enough? Why is it that two and three thousand years ago (when human understanding of science was very different than it is today) during the age of the Biblical writers, God seemed to intervene in the world a great deal more than he does today: causing worldwide floods, parting seas, speaking from burning bushes, stopping the sun from moving across the sky, raising dead people, and sending angels to earth to deliver his message?
The common view of God as a supernatural being like us, only more powerful, is one of the principal reasons behind the rise of atheism in the Western world and the spiritual apathy of many young people today. It certainly contributed to my own questioning of the usefulness of religion. This view of God opens itself up to critiques from the likes of eighteenth-century philosopher David Hume who pointed out the logical fallacies in the traditional arguments for the existence of God, Sigmund Freud who characterized such a God as nothing more than a “projected father figure,” and twenty-first century biologist Richard Dawkins who points out the incompatibility of this God with science.
Our modern lifestyles depend on scientific principles working, not some of the time, but all of the time: would you fly in an airplane if the laws of aerodynamics only worked occasionally? We take for granted the physics behind our cell phones and TVs. We understand that solar eclipses are not a divine omen in which God turns day into night, but are predictable astronomical events caused by the moon passing between the sun and the earth. We have faith in the biological principles that allow for the medicines we create to treat our diseases - diseases that we understand today are not caused by evil spirits or divine punishment but by bacteria, viruses, and biochemical processes.
In this post-modern age in which reason and science underlie every aspect of our daily lives, which concept will lose out in the battle between God and science? I think we are seeing (unfortunately) that God is losing this battle.
Even more problematic than the incompatibility of the classical view of God with modern scientific and logical thought is that this God opens “Himself” up to the critique of being an incompetent watchmaker, an unartistic potter, and a cruel chess master. The world we live in is a messy, complicated, imperfect place, ripe with tragedy, sickness, and injustice. The traditional view of God leads to the philosophical problems caused by the existence of evil, the reality of human suffering, and the multiple religions around the world with opposing doctrines about God. How can such a God be omniscient, omnipotent, and loving at the same time?
Finally, for me, the ultimate critique of this God is that “He” is too small. A God that is seen as some kind of intelligent being living in an extra-dimensional heaven becomes just one more thing in the universe (although a powerful thing nonetheless). A God that chooses when to tinker in the workings of the universe and when not to is not only capricious but begs the question of why God didn’t make things right the first time around? In other words, this God is finite.
Does this critique of our traditional understanding of God mean that the only alternative is the atheist one?
That is what writers like Dawkins, Hitchins, and Harris want us to believe. I actually agree with much of their criticism of religion, but ultimately, I think that the version of God they are trying to disprove is nothing more than a straw-man.
As much as my rational mind wanted to reject God, something deep in my core sensed a fundamental meaning to existence. What I needed was a different way to conceive of God that didn’t require me to close my eyes to scientific knowledge, to reason, and to personal experience. How could I be true to both my intellect and my soul: my mind that must see the world in logical terms and my heart which yearns for a greater spiritual connection? In my next post, I’ll explain how my current view of God attempts to reconcile these seemingly conflicting goals. But for now, I’m interested to hear from you.
How then do you think about God in a way that works in the 21st century?
Follow Jeffrey Small on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeffreysmalljr
—PURCHASE FROM ORBIS BOOKS
Religion, Science and Mysticism
in Teilhard de Chardin (Issue #39, Fall 2000)
By Ursula King
[Teilhard's] vision of love is a spirituality that celebrates the oneness of creation, a spirituality that acknowledges love as the clearest understanding we have of God, of ourselves, of history, and of the cosmos.
— David Tracy, theologian
Teilhard was one of the first scientists to realize that the human and the universe are inseparable. The only universe we know about is the universe that brought forth the human. Teilhard understood this. He understood that the human story and the universe story identified with each other. The immersion into the deep creative powers of the universe is the most direct contact a human can have with the divine. Such is thespirituality that Teilhard makes available to us. A spirituality that is rooted not in the spatial cosmos of Ptolemy, but in the time-developmental universe that the scientists have detected.
— Thomas Berry, geologian
A VISION OF FIRE
The day will come when after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.
— from The Evolution of Chastity
PIERRE TEILHARD DE CHARDIN'S vision was one of consuming fire, kindled by the radiant powers of love. It was a mystical vision, deeply Christian in origin and orientation. Yet it broke through the boundaries of traditional orthodoxies -- whether those of science or religion -- and grew into a vision which is global in intent.
His deepest desire was to see the essence of things, to find their heart, and probe into the mystery of life, its origin and goal. In the rhythm of life and its evolution, at the center of the cosmos and the world, Teilhard believed, is a divine center, a living heart beating with the fiery energy of love and compassion. Now, the heart is really a fleshly reality But the image of this very flesh, this concentration of living, breathing matter, came to symbolize for Teilhard the very core of the spirit.
His entire outlook on life was profoundly mystical, yet his mysticism was firmly grounded in contemporary scientific research. For Teilhard the mystic, seer, and believer, the immense research efforts and advances of contemporary science, despite their negative side effects and the new ethical problems they cause, ultimately lead to the adoration and worship of something greater than ourselves, to the celebration of and surrender to divinity, to the heart and soul of the world.
[Teilhard's] ideas were developed in direct living contact with the world, especially the Earth, the stuff of the Earth. As a scientist in the fields of geology and paleontology, he was in constant contact with the world of rocks and stones, fossils and bones, plants and animals. But he also was in touch with many different places and peoples. All of these were, for Teilhard, the tangible concrete stuff of the universe.
While he worked on his scientific papers in his laboratory and office, he created most of his religious and philosophical writings in an unusual setting different from most academics, far removed from any library. His first essays were written in the trenches of the First World War, in woods and farmhouses, whenever there was respite from battle. In later years, he often composed the final version of his essays on the long boat journeys between Asia, America, and Europe, or during vacation time in his family home in the old land.
As he wrote in his 1918 essay "MY UNIVERSE": "It seems to me that every effort I have made, even when directed to a purely natural object, has always been a religious effort. Substantially, it has been one single effort. At all times, in all I've done, I'm conscious that my aim has been to obtain the absolute. I would never, I believe, have had the courage to busy myself for the sake of any other end. Science, which means all form of human activity, and religion have always been one and the same thing for me. Both have been, so far as I am concerned, the pursuit of one and the same object."
The turmoil of the war clarified his ambition. It made him realize in a new way, that matter was charged with life and spirit. He felt so deeply, so vividly, a love of matter, of life. Life is never mistaken, he said, either about its route, or its destination.
This interesting quotation points out the twofold way in which Teilhard refers to science. On one hand, he mentions specific natural sciences such as physics and chemistry (which he taught in his early years) and geology and paleontology, which were his specialties of research. But he also understood science in a much more generalized sense: as any ordered unified effort of inquiry, and as the systematic knowledge arising from such efforts. In this way his approach to an understanding of the universe, of an ordered cosmos, was larger and more comprehensive than that of traditional science.
Teilhard believed that however much science had achieved, analysis alone, if it was not also related to synthesis, was not enough. He criticized science as often being too reductionist, too constricted by little questions without asking bigger ones about direction and meaning -- and about philosophical and ethical concerns relating to our responsibilities in being human.
For Teilhard, the universe is not simply an object of scientific inquiry. It is a reality passionately loved and embraced, something alive, throbbing, and pulsating with energy and growth. He refers to the mother Earth, the terra mater, as our matrix and ground. And he refers to the Earth womb from which we grow and in which we have lasting roots; an Earth whose immensity, richness, and diversity of life he approached with deep reverence and a deep sense of wonder.
At the human level, Teilhard's world is marked by experiences of suffering and joy, warmth and love, celebration and ecstasy. One has to be attuned to the tonality of his feeling, to the metaphors of fire and music, which he so often uses. He speaks about a note, a melody, a sound, a rhythm that beats for him at the heart of the universe. He also speaks of the spark of fire, the glow, the leaping up of flame, the blaze that sets alive and consumes.
These attitudes are summed up in a passage of The Heart of Matter, where he writes; "Throughout my life, by means of my life, the world has little by little caught fire in my sight, until a flame all around me, it has become almost luminous from within. Such has been my experience in contact with the Earth. The diaphany of the divine at the heart of the universe on fire. Christ, the heart, a fire capable of penetrating everywhere, and gradually spreading everywhere."
FORGED IN THE TRENCHES
TEILHARD FELT INSPIRED and compelled to write his first essays against the battle fires of the First World War. Almost daily at the boundary of life and death, he sensed an urgency of leaving his intellectual testament. He felt he had seen something new which he wanted to pass on to others. From the very first, he wanted to communicate the fire of his vision.
We can ask, therefore, what is this fire? How was it ignited and kept alive? What does this fire mean, and what energies and powers does it transmit? And how can we discover this fire today, kindle it in ourselves and others, feed it and keep it alive? What does he mean by discovering fire, again, a second time?
The war experience immersed him, as he himself wrote, in a baptism of fire, and proved a crucible in which the full power of this vision was forged. Five years of trench warfare brought all his different experiences together into a single process of spiritual transformation.
It is astonishing the amount of work he managed to get done between all the exhaustion of battle. With heightened sensibility (and some may say, extraordinary detachment) he went for lonely walks between battles and reflected in solitude. What was the meaning of all life, and of his own? Where was God on these fields of death and battle? What was humanity heading for? Where was it going? How did all these diverse human groups on both sides of the battle line ...belong to one human family? What was the role of the Christian faith in the immense cosmic process that is the evolution of life?
He started a journal, made notes, wrote letters, and composed a series of stirring essays. He wrote them for himself, but he also wrote them for the world. For he wanted to make others see what he felt, saw, and believed. His journal contains the seeds of his thought, the initial plans for his essays, later written out with a meticulous hand in full lengths between the spells of battle. The turmoil of the war clarified his ambition. It made him realize in a new way, that matter was charged with life and spirit. He felt so deeply, so vividly, a love of matter, of life. Life is never mistaken, he said, either about its route, or its destination.
In the midst of these terrible battles of the First World War, surrounded by the experience of death, Teilhard opens his first essay with this extraordinary affirmation, "I am writing these lines from an exuberance of life, and the yearning to live. It is written to express an impassioned vision of the Earth, and in an attempt to find a solution for the doubts that beset my action. Because I love the universe, its energies, its secrets, and its hopes, and because at the same time I am dedicated to God, the only origin, the only issue, and the only end. I want to express my love of matter and life, and reconcile it, if possible, with the unique adoration of the only absolute and definitive god-head." ("Cosmic Life" from Writings in the Time of War.)
HARNESSING THE ENERGIES OF LOVE
THE SYMBOLISM OF FIRE was to occur in his writings again and again in the years to come. Nowhere is this vision more radiant and empowering than in the description of his mystical experiences. They truly express a vision of fire which filled him with wonder and amazement, ecstasy and joy, and made him see the world burst into flames. It is this fire which he wanted to pass on and kindle in others. His vision of fire was one of spiritual transformation drawn from the insides of both science and religion. The universe in evolution, studied in great detail in his scientific work, stimulated his zest for being. His Christian faith made him see the universal presence of Christ in all things.
Teilhard loved the Earth and its peoples. He loved his church and his order. And he was filled with the fire of love for the ever-great Christ. For him, the symbol of fire meant the warmth and radiance of love and light, the energy to fuse and transform everything. But fire is, of course, ambivalent. I t can destroy as well as transform. In Teilhard's understanding, it is the transforming power of the energies of love which alone can create a truly human community and provide it with its strongest points. Thus, the fire of love may be the only energy capable of extinguishing the threat of another fire, namely that of universal conflagration and destruction.
He considered the phenomenon of religion as central to human evolution, and the phenomenon of spirituality as the key element in religion. At the center of spirituality he perceived the phenomenon of mysticism, which he distinguished into different types. The core of mysticism, the most important and energizing type, was mysticism centered on love, a mysticism of action, which radiated outward and helped to transform and build up the spirit of the world.
Science, religion, and mysticism are always closely intertwined in Teilhard¹s thought, for his science is of central significance to a new mysticism of action and a new understanding of the world. This mysticism of action is the mysticism of unification, of bringing everything, all the diverse elements (the cosmic, human, and divine) together. It's a mysticism of transformation and of sanctification, where holiness is understood as wholeness.
Just a few days before his death, Teilhard wrote his last six pages, which are entitled "Research, Work, and Adoration." One might consider this text his last intellectual testament. In it, he speaks of the conflict between science and religion -- and its solution. He refers to the fire of a new faith in the human, to be combined with religious faith.
Teilhard endeavored to seek an ultimate coherence for our manyfold experiences and quests, and tried to convey a vision greater than what either traditional religion or science alone can offer us. From this perspective, religion and mysticism are part of the human search for union -- or communion -- with God via the evolutionary process of the growth and unification of the world. All human efforts, whether scientific or religious, whether action or contemplation, must finally lead to worship, adoration, and ultimately greater unity.
If mysticism, especially the mysticism of love, is the very heart of religion, it must provide us with the deepest springs of energy for both action and interaction with others. It cannot be a mere spirit duality, but must stand for spirit-in-and-through-matter mentality. Spiritual development and religious experience are best seen as closely interrelated with and inseparable from our human experience in general. F. C. Happold has remarked that for Teilhard, human activity in all its forms was capable of divinization. And therefore he described Teilhard's mysticism "as a mysticism of action, action springing from the inspiration of a universe seen as moved and com-penetrated by God in the totality of its evolution...this is a new type of mysticism, the result of a profound, lifelong reconciling meditation on religious and scientific truth, and it is thus of immense relevance and significance for a scientific age such as ours." (Mysticism. Pelican Books, London, 1978, p. 395.)
This is an indication of the importance of this global prophet. But this assessment leaves out the living fire which animated Teilhard's Christian mysticism, summed up by him as a heart of fire, as "a fire with the power to penetrate all things, which invites a surrender to an active feeling of communion with God through the universe."
Ursula King is professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Bristol, England, where she directs the Centre for Comparative Studies in Religion and Gender. She has been a student of Teilhard¹s works for more than thirty years and was one of the founders of the British Teilhard Association in London. Her book, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, is an excellent primer for anyone unfamiliar with Teilhard¹s body of thought, or as an ongoing resource for those who are. Please see page 20 to order, and for information on The Spirit of Fire, Dr. King's biography of Teilhard.
Ms. King's WEBSITE:
"Lost and Insecure" from Constellations of My Mind
Hold to your own nature.
A strong wind does not blow all morning.
A cloudburst does not last all day.
The wind and rain are from Heaven and Earth
and even these do not last long.
How much less so the efforts of man?
One who lives in accordance with the Truth
becomes the embodiment of Tao.
His actions become those of Nature,
his ways those of Heaven.
It is through such a one
that Heaven rejoices,
that Earth rejoices,
that all of life rejoices.
(The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 23 – trans. Jonathan Star)
The vast majority of people who have existed on this small blue dot of a planet have experienced lives filled with uncertainty and insecurity, yet have still managed to create beauty in the midst of ugliness, compassion in the midst of hate, and courage in the midst of fear. My grandparent’s generation saw millions of young men die in the carnage of the trenches of World War I. Half a century earlier their own grandparents watched a civil war tear the country apart. My parent’s generation lived for years not knowing whether or not the darkness of the Third Reich would engulf them. The American Revolution itself turned on a dime and those we call “Founding Fathers” could easily have been hanged as traitors and terrorists and we today might well be, along with Canada, part of the British Commonwealth.
The wonder for me is not the existence of hatred, fear, and intolerance. The wonder I feel is for the existence of compassion, courage, and acceptance in the midst of such primal energies. Armies have marched across continents for millennia and yet people still sat by firesides and told stories, loved one another, and looked up at the night sky in wonder. In fact, the most difficult of times have given birth to the most marvelous lives of courage and resilience. Among the thousands of examples I think of the French Resistance, the German families who hid Jewish families, the Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape to freedom, and the ever-present willingness of many people to share their homes, their food, and their lives with those in need.
In the midst of increasing insecurity I don’t doubt that we will be writing our own stories of courage and compassion. Individually, and in community groups, we will be creating our own versions of sanctuary for ourselves and others. We will be turning our creative attention to mutual support, new forms of community, simple generosity, and the better angels of our humanity. We have been blessed to live in “interesting times.” Let’s make the most of it.
Robert Ingersoll, the Great Agnostic, inspired late-19th-century Americans to uphold the founders’ belief in separation of church and state.. He spoke publicly on religion, slavery and women's suffrage. His influential speeches were posthumously collected in a twelve-volume work known as the Dresden Editions.
In his 1879 essay “Some Mistakes of Moses” Robert Ingersol expresses a deep pity for the men of the cloth who sought to preach a gospel based on the inerrant word of God (Bible). The reality was they had to make a living, even if it requited turning their minds away from human progress and modernity. As Ingerson observed, "It is a part of their business (these preachers) to malign and vilify the Voltaires, Humes, Paines, Humboldts, Tyndals, Hæckels, Darwins, Spencers, and Drapers, ..."
Sadly, this same mentality lives on today. In America there is an ever growing distain for critical thinking and scientific inquiry. Sadly, both are viewed as threats to the santity and power of the Christian fundamentalist world. This very mentality may explain why todays Christians continue along a path of self-loathing rather than self-love.
HE WHO ENDEAVORS TO CONTROL THE MIND BY FORCE IS A TYRANT, AND HE WHO SUBMITS IS A SLAVE.
I WANT to do what little I can to make my country truly free, to broaden the intellectual horizon of our people, to destroy the prejudices born of ignorance and fear, to do away with the blind worship of the ignoble past, with the idea that all the great and good are dead, that the living are totally depraved, that all pleasures are sins, that sighs and groans are alone pleasing to God, that thought is dangerous, that intellectual courage is a crime, that cowardice is a virtue, that a certain belief is necessary to secure salvation, that to carry a cross in this world will give us a palm in the next, and that we must allow some priest to be the pilot of our souls.
Until every soul is freely permitted to investigate every book, and creed, and dogma for itself, the world cannot be free. Mankind will be enslaved until there is mental grandeur enough to allow each man to have his thought and say. This earth will be a paradise when men can, upon all these questions differ, and yet grasp each other’s hands as friends. It is amazing to me that a difference of opinion upon subjects that we know nothing with certainty about, should make us hate, persecute, and despise each other. Why a difference of opinion upon predestination, or the trinity, should make people imprison and burn each other seems beyond the comprehension of man; and yet in all countries where Christians have existed, they have destroyed each other to the exact extent of their power. Why should a believer in God hate an atheist? Surely the atheist has not injured God, and surely he is human, capable of joy and pain, and entitled to all the rights of man. Would it not be far better to treat this atheist, at least, as well as he treats us?
Christians tell me that they love their enemies, and yet all I ask is — not that they love their enemies, not that they love their friends even, but that they treat those who differ from them, with simple fairness. We do not wish to be forgiven, but we wish Christians to so act that we will not have to forgive them.
If all will admit that all have an equal right to think, then the question is forever solved; but as long as organized and powerful churches, pretending to hold the keys of heaven and hell, denounce every person as an outcast and criminal who thinks for himself and denies their authority, the world will be filled with hatred and suffering. To hate man and worship God seems to be the sum of all the creeds.
That which has happened in most countries has happened in ours. When a religion is founded, the educated, the powerful — that is to say, the priests and nobles, tell the ignorant and superstitious — that is to say, the people, that the religion of their country was given to their fathers by God himself; that it is the only true religion; that all others were conceived in falsehood and brought forth in fraud, and that all who believe in the true religion will be happy forever, while all others will burn in hell. For the purpose of governing the people, that is to say, for the purpose of being supported by the people, the priests and nobles declare this religion to be sacred, and that whoever adds to, or takes from it, will be burned here by man, and hereafter by God. The result of this is, that the priests and nobles will not allow the people to change; and when, after a time, the priests, having intellectually advanced, wish to take a step in the direction of progress, the people will not allow them to change. At first, the rabble are enslaved by the priests, and afterwards the rabble become the masters.
One of the first things I wish to do, is to free the orthodox clergy. I am a great friend of theirs, and in spite of all they may say against me, I am going to do them a great and lasting service. Upon their necks are visible the marks of the collar, and upon their backs those of the lash. They are not allowed to read and think for themselves. They are taught like parrots, and the best are those who repeat, with the fewest mistakes, the sentences they have been taught. They sit like owls upon some dead limb of the tree of knowledge, and hoot the same old hoots that have been hooted for eighteen hundred years. Their congregations are not grand enough, nor sufficiently civilized, to be willing that the poor preachers shall think for themselves. They are not employed for that purpose. Investigation is regarded as a dangerous experiment, and the ministers are warned that none of that kind of work will be tolerated. They are notified to stand by the old creed, and to avoid all original thought, as a mortal pestilence. Every minister is employed like an attorney — either for plaintiff or defendant, and he is expected to be true to his client. If he changes his mind, he is regarded as a deserter, and denounced, hated, and slandered accordingly. Every orthodox clergyman agrees not to change. He contracts not to find new facts, and makes a bargain that he will deny them if he does. Such is the position of a protestant minister in this Nineteenth Century. His condition excites my pity; and to better it, I am going to do what little I can.
The only known image of Ingersoll addressing an audience
Some of the clergy have the independence to break away, and the intellect to maintain themselves as free men, but the most are compelled to submit to the dictation of the orthodox, and the dead. They are not employed to give their thoughts, but simply to repeat the ideas of others. They are not expected to give even the doubts that may suggest themselves, but are required to walk in the narrow, verdure-less path trodden by the ignorance of the past. The forests and fields on either side are nothing to them. They must not even look at the purple hills, nor pause to hear the babble off the brooks. They must remain in the dusty road where the guide-boards are. They must confine themselves to the "fall of man," the expulsion from the garden, the "scheme of salvation," the "second birth," the atonement, the happiness of the redeemed, and the misery of the lost. They must be careful not to express any new, ideas upon these great questions. It is much safer for them to quote from the works of the dead. The more vividly they describe the sufferings of the unregenerate, of those who attended theaters and balls, and drank wine in summer gardens on the sabbath-day, and laughed at priests, the better ministers they are supposed to be. They must show that misery fits the good for heaven, while happiness prepares the bad for hell; that the wicked get all their good things in this life, and the good all their evil; that in this world God punishes the people he loves, and in the next, the ones he hates; that happiness makes us bad here, but not in heaven; that pain makes us good here, but not in hell. No matter how absurd these things may appear to the carnal mind, they must be preached and they must be believed. If they were reasonable, there would be no virtue in believing. Even the publicans and sinners believe reasonable things. To believe without evidence, or in spite of it, is accounted as righteousness to the sincere and humble Christian.
The ministers are in duty bound to denounce all intellectual pride, and show that we are never quite so dear to God as when we admit that we are poor, corrupt and idiotic worms; that we never should have been born; that we ought to be damned without the least delay; that we are so infamous that we like to enjoy ourselves; that we love our wives and children better than our God; that we are generous only because we are vile; that we are honest from the meanest motives, and that sometimes we have fallen so low that we have had doubts about the inspiration of the Jewish scriptures. In short, they are expected to denounce all pleasant paths and rustling trees, to curse the grass and flowers, and glorify the dust and weeds. They are expected to malign the wicked people in the green and happy fields, who sit and laugh beside the gurgling springs or climb the hills and wander as they will. They are expected to point out the dangers of freedom, the safety of implicit obedience, and to show the wickedness of philosophy, the goodness of faith, the immorality of science and the purity of ignorance.
Now and then, a few pious people discover some young man of a religious turn of mind and a consumptive habit of body, not quite sickly enough to die, nor healthy enough to be wicked. The idea occurs to them that he would make a good orthodox minister. They take up a contribution, and send the young man to some theological school where he can be taught to repeat a creed and despise reason. Should it turn out that the young man had some mind of his own, and, after graduating, should change his opinions and preach a different doctrine from that taught in the school, every man who contributed a dollar towards his education would feel that he had been robbed, and would denounce him as a dishonest and ungrateful wretch.
The pulpit should not be a pillory. Congregations should allow the minister a little liberty. They should, at least, permit him to tell the truth.
They have, in Massachusetts, at a place called Andover, a kind of minister factory, where each professor takes an oath once in five years — that time being considered the life of an oath — that he has not, during the last five years, and will not, during the next five years, intellectually advance. There is probably no oath that they could easier keep. Probably, since the foundation stone of that institution was laid there has not been a single case of perjury. The old creed is still taught. They still insist that God is infinitely wise, powerful and good, and that all men are totally depraved. They insist that the best man God ever made, deserved to be damned the moment he was finished. Andover puts its brand upon every minister it turns out, the same as Sheffield and Birmingham brand their wares, and all who see the brand know exactly what the minister believes, the books he has read, the arguments he relies on, and just what he intellectually is. They know just what he can be depended on to preach, and that he will continue to shrink and shrivel, and grow solemnly stupid day by day until he reaches the Andover of the grave and becomes truly orthodox forever.
I have not singled out the Andover factory because it is worse than the others. They are all about the same. The professors, for the most part, are ministers who failed in the pulpit and were retired to the seminary on account of their deficiency in reason and their excess of faith. As a rule, they know nothing of this world, and far less of the next; but they have the power of stating the most absurd propositions with faces solemn as stupidity touched by fear.
Something should be done for the liberation of these men. They should be allowed to grow — to have sunlight and air. They should no longer be chained and tied to confessions of faith, to mouldy books and musty creeds. Thousands of ministers are anxious to give their honest thoughts. The hands of wives and babes now stop their mouths. They must have bread, and so the husbands and fathers are forced to preach a doctrine that they hold in scorn. For the sake of shelter, food and clothes, they are obliged to defend the childish miracles of the past, and denounce the sublime discoveries of to-day. They are compelled to attack all modern thought, to point out the dangers of science, the wickedness of investigation and the corrupting influence of logic. It is for them to show that virtue rests upon ignorance and faith, while vice impudently feeds and fattens upon fact and demonstration. It is a part of their business to malign and vilify the Voltaires, Humes, Paines, Humboldts, Tyndals, Hæckels, Darwins, Spencers, and Drapers, and to bow with uncovered heads before the murderers, adulterers, and persecutors of the world. They are, for the most part, engaged in poisoning the minds of the young, prejudicing children against science, teaching the astronomy and geology of the bible, and inducing all to desert the sublime standard of reason.
These orthodox ministers do not add to the sum of knowledge. They produce nothing. They live upon alms. They hate laughter and joy. They officiate at weddings, sprinkle water upon babes, and utter meaningless words and barren promises above the dead. They laugh at the agony of unbelievers, mock at their tears, and of their sorrows make a jest. There are some noble exceptions. Now and then a pulpit holds a brave and honest man. Their congregations are willing that they should think — willing that their ministers should have a little freedom.
As we become civilized, more and more liberty will be accorded to these men, until finally ministers will give their best and highest thoughts. The congregations will finally get tired of hearing about the patriarchs and saints, the miracles and wonders, and will insist upon knowing something about the men and women of our day, and the accomplishments and discoveries of our time. They will finally insist upon knowing how to escape the evils of this world instead of the next. They will ask light upon the enigmas of this life. They will wish to know what we shall do with our criminals instead of what God will do with his — how we shall do away with beggary and want — with crime and misery — with prostitution, disease and famine, — with tyranny in all its cruel forms — with prisons and scaffolds, and how we shall reward the honest workers, and fill the world with happy homes! These are the problems for the pulpits and congregations of an enlightened future. If Science cannot finally answer these questions, it is a vain and worthless thing.
The clergy, however, will continue to answer them in the old way, until their congregations are good enough to set them free. They will still talk about believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, as though that were the only remedy for all human ills. They will still teach that retrogression is the only path that leads to light; that we must go back, that faith is the only sure guide, and that reason is a delusive glare, lighting only the road to eternal pain.
Until the clergy are free they cannot be intellectually honest. We can never tell what they really believe until they know that they can safely speak. They console themselves now by a secret resolution to be as liberal as they dare, with the hope that they can finally educate their congregations to the point of allowing them to think a little for themselves. They hardly know what they ought to do. The best part of their lives has been wasted in studying subjects of no possible value. Most of them are married, have families, and know but one way of making their living. Some of them say that if they do not preach these foolish dogmas, others will, and that they may through fear, after all, restrain mankind. Besides, they hate publicly to admit that they are mistaken, that the whole thing is a delusion, that the "scheme of salvation" is absurd, and that the bible is no better than some other books, and worse than most.
You can hardly expect a bishop to leave his palace, or the pope to vacate the Vatican. As long as people want popes, plenty of hypocrites will be found to take the place. And as long as labor fatigues, there will be found a good many men willing to preach once a week, if other folks will work and give them bread. In other words, while the demand lasts, the supply will never fail.
If the people were a little more ignorant, astrology would flourish — if a little more enlightened, religion would perish!
The Life and Teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan
Inayat Khan was born in Baroda, India on July 5, 1882. As a youth, Inayat was brilliant in poetry and music, yet his deepest inner calling was in spiritual matters. As a youth, one day as Inayat was praying…
... he thought to himself that there had not been an answer yet to all the prayers he had offered to God and he did not know where God was to hear his prayers and he could not reconcile himself to going on praying to the God whom he knew not. He went fearlessly to his father and said: "I do not think I will continue my prayers any longer, for it does not fit in with my reason. I do not know how I can go on praying to a God I do not know." His father, taken aback, did not become cross lest he might turn Inayat's beliefs sour by forcing them upon him without satisfying his reason and he was glad on the other hand to see that, although it was irreverent on the child's part, yet it was frank, and he knew that the lad really hungered after Truth and was ready to learn now, what many could not learn in their whole life.
He said to him: "God is in you and you are in God. As the bubble is in the ocean and the bubble is a part of the ocean and yet not separate from the ocean. For a moment it has appeared as a bubble, then it will return to that from which it has risen. So is the relation between man and God. The Prophet has said that God is closer to you than the jugular vein, which in reality means that your own body is farther from you than God is. If this be rightly interpreted, it will mean that God is the very depth of your own being." This moment to Inayat was his very great initiation, as if a switch had turned in him, and from that moment onward his whole life Inayat busied himself, and his whole being became engaged in witnessing in life what he knew and believed, by this one great Truth.
Inayat's early life primarily revolved around music, and he was given many awards and medals of honor for his magnificent singing. In 1903 Inayat published a Hindustani collection of some 75 songs as Professor 'Ināyat Khān Rahmāt Khān Pathān.
Following a vision of meeting a Sufi teacher, he met Muhammad Abu Hashim Madani who trained him in the ways of the Chishti, Naqshbandi, Qadiri, and Suhrawardi Sufi orders.
... an incident of an amusing nature occurred as for the first time in his life Inayat heard his Murshid's words on metaphysics. He became so keenly interested and filled with enthusiasm about what was being said that he took a note-book from his pocket, intending to take notes of it. But as soon as the Murshid saw the pencil and notebook in his hand, he instantly began to speak of an altogether different subject. Inayat realized by this that his Murshid meant that his words must be engraved on the soul, they were not to be written with a pencil on the pages of a note-book.
He would return home silent and remain speechless for hours, pondering over the words which had fallen upon his ears. His friends began to wonder what could have happened to him in such a short time, that his whole life should be so changed. He had now become quite a different person in his speech, actions, ways, expression, in his attitude and in his atmosphere. In all these, he showed a marked and definite change. It seemed to them as if, while a traveler walking at a certain rate of speed should have journeyed a mile, Inayat had suddenly made such an advance as to cover a hundred miles in the same space of time...
[his Murshid] used to wear shoes embroidered with gold. One day, when Inayat's eyes strayed to these shoes, a thought arose in his mind: why Murshid with all his simplicity should wear such costly shoes? At once his conscience pricked him, he felt so guilty that such a thought of one who was above question should have entered his mind, that instantly his face turned pale. But the Murshid knew all about it and only said with a smile: "The wealth of this earth is only worth being at my feet.”
In looking back on those days with his teacher, Inayat said:
I remember my murshid giving me, in blessing me, this wish, 'May your faith be strengthened.' Being a young man, I thought, 'Is that all he is saying to me?' - not, 'May you be inspired, or illuminated, or prosperous,' or something else? But when I think of it now I know that in that blessing there was all. When belief is strengthened, then there is everything. All that we lack in life is mostly because of our lack of belief. But again, it is not something that one can learn or teach or that one can give to anybody. This comes from the grace of God.
Inayat began a tour of the sacred sites across India, and early in that adventure, he met the son of Guru Manek Prabhu who asked:
"What has brought you here?" said he and Inayat replied: "I have heard that the home of Manek Prabhu is not only a religious temple, but a centre of music also and as I have taken this tour to pay homage to the holy men living on the soil of India, I first chose to visit this place." "But I am very surprised that you have chosen our place, instead of choosing the place of some Muslim Saint," remarked the astonished youth. To this Inayat replied: "Muslim or Hindu are only outward distinctions, the Truth is one, God is one, life is one. To me there is no such thing as two. Two is only one plus one.”
... "Mukti (liberation) is the ideal of life; it is the rising above the various births and deaths, rather than being involved in the eternal wheel of births and deaths, which is continually running by the ever changing battery of karma (action).”
After touring widely in India and and briefly settling in Calcutta, Inayat began to realize that the time had come for him to begin a new phase of life.
Inayat lived in Calcutta for several years and there received the news of the death of his beloved father, which was to him a blow inexpressible in words, though thus his life became free from any duty binding him as a sacred tie, as he had felt his duty toward his parents to be. Soon after this another misfortune befell him, namely the loss of his medals. In a moment of abstraction the case of medals was left in a car, which could not be traced despite all his efforts. But in place of the disappointment which at first oppressed him, a revelation from God touched the hidden chords of his mind and opened his eyes to the truth. He said to himself: "It matters not how much time you have spent to gain that which never belonged to you, but which you called your own; today you comprehend it is yours no longer. And it is the same with all you possess in life, your property, friends, relations, even your own body and mind. All which you call 'my', not being your true property, will leave you; and only what you name 'I', which is absolutely disconnected with all that is called 'my', will remain." He knelt down and thanked God for the loss of his medals, crying: "Let all be lost from my imperfect vision, but Thy true Self, ya Allah!”
Shortly before the death of his beloved teacher, Inayat had been instructed:
"Fare forth into the world, my child, and harmonize the East and the West with the harmony of thy music. Spread the wisdom of Sufism abroad, for to this end art thou gifted by Allah, the most merciful and compassionate.”
To fulfill that mission, Inayat along with his cousin and brother sailed from India to America on September 13, 1910. In his autobiography, Inayat wrote of that voyage:
I was transported by destiny from the world of lyric and poetry to the world of industry and commerce on the 13th of September 1910. I bade farewell to my motherland, the soil of India, the land of the sun, for America the land of my future, wondering: "perhaps I shall return some day", and yet I did not know how long it would be before I should return. The ocean that I had to cross seemed to me a gulf between the life that was passed and the life which was to begin. I spent my moments on the ship looking at the rising and falling of the waves and realizing in this rise and fall the picture of life reflected, the life of individuals, of nations, of races, and of the world.
I tried to think where I was going, why I was going, what I was going to do, what was in store for me. "How shall I set to work? Will the people be favorable or unfavorable to the Message which I am taking from one end of the world to the other?" It seemed my mind moved curiously on these questions, but my heart refused to ponder upon them even for a moment, answering apart one constant voice I always heard coming from within, urging me constantly onward to my task, saying: "Thou art sent on Our service, and it is We Who will make thy way clear." This alone was my consolation.
Initially, their public performances centered on Indian music and they accompanied dancers such as Mata Hari and Ruth St. Denis in both America and Europe.
I found Miss Ruth St. Denis an inventive genius, and I was struck with a witty answer she gave upon hearing my ideas about human brotherhood, uniting East and West. She said, "Yes, we, the people of the Occident and Orient may be brothers, but not twins.”
In addition to the musical performances, Inayat gave Sufi lectures that were often held in bookstores or homes. Rabia Martin, of San Francisco, became one of his first students and was soon appointed as his American representative.
I had a vision that night that the whole room became filled with light, no trace of darkness was to be found. I certainly thought that there was some important thing that was to be done next day, which I found was the initiation of Mrs. Ada Martin, the first mureed on my arrival to the West and, knowing that this soul will spread light and illuminate all those who will come in contact with her, I initiated her and named her Rabia after the name of a great woman Sufi saint of Basra.
Inayat traveled widely in America and Europe from 1910 until 1920, when he set up a residence in France, where he focused on summer schools, classes and lectures.
His message was always aimed at unity, bringing together all of humanity, rising above the differences and distinctions that have separated us.
One day a visitor came to have an interview with Pir-o-Murshid. He was a lawyer, materialist and atheist, besides was greatly opposed to all those who did not belong to his nation, and had been turned against the work of Murshid by somebody. Therefore he began his conversation, expressing with vigor his attitude. But as he got answers, so it seemed as if the fire of opposition met with water, and as he went along in his dispute, he, instead of getting hotter became cooler. He had expected to hear from the Murshid spiritual beliefs that he could argue upon and to tear them to pieces, but he found Murshid's belief not very different from what he himself believed. He found no effort on the part of Murshid to force his ideas upon anybody. He saw in Murshid the tendency to appreciate every kind of idea, for in every idea there is a good side and he felt that the tendency was to be sympathetic rather than antagonistic. He saw that there was nothing that Murshid stood for, but only believed that the truth was in every heart and no-one else can give it to another unless it rose up from the heart of a person as a spring of water from the mountain. He became so softened in his tone and in his manner after an hour's conversation that he parted quite a different man from what he had come. He shook hands with Pir-o-Murshid and said, "We shall always be friends" and Murshid thought that it was not a small achievement.
In this uniquely western form of Sufism, there are no barriers of race, creed or religion, it is not a religion, but rather a way of life that enhances and fulfills every religion. As Inayat Khan said, "The Sufi sees the truth in every religion.”
"You have nicely said to us, Murshid, how Sufism is one with all religions. Now please tell us, what is the difference between Sufism and other religions.”
Then Murshid said, "The difference is that it casts away all differences.”
Inayat promoted unity and understanding in every aspect of life, and said "religion is the foundation of the whole life in the world, and as long as an understanding is not established between the followers of all different religions, it will always be difficult to hope for better conditions.”
In speaking about mankind's longing for the Divine message, yet rebelling against every messenger that has ever come to show the way, Inayat once wrote:
... who can answer this demand? He alone who is sent from above, who is appointed by God to deliver His Message, who is empowered by the Almighty to stand by them in their struggles, and who is made compassionate by the most Merciful to heal their wounds. Man wants something he cannot get, man wishes to believe in something he cannot understand, man wishes to touch something he cannot reach. It is the continual struggle for the unattainable that blinds man, and he forms such high ideas even of the prophet who is only a Messenger, a human being, one like every one else, and who is subject to death and destruction and all the limitations of life, that the prophet does not seem to come up to man's ideal until he has left the world, leaving behind the memory which again rises as a resurrection of the prophet, spreading the influence of all he brought to the world and pouring from above that blessing which arose as vapor and came back from above as a rainfall.
The Sufi Message of Inayat Khan is the echo of the same Divine message which has always come and will always come to enlighten humanity.
This is not a new religion or a new message; it is the same message of Unity and Brotherhood which has been given to humanity again and again, yet so few hearts are open to hear it.
The Sufi movement is a group of people, belonging to different religions, who have not left their religions but have learned to understand them better; and their love is in life, as the love for God and humanity, instead of for a particular sect.
The principle work that the Sufi movement has to accomplish is to bring about a better understanding between East and West and between the nations and races of this world. And the note that the Sufi message is striking at the present time is the note which sounds the divinity of the human soul – to make human beings recognize the divinity in the human soul.
If there is any moral principle that the Sufi movement brings, it is this: that the whole humanity is as one body; and any organ of that body, hurt or troubled can cause trouble to the whole body, indirectly. And as the health of the whole body depends on the health of each part, so the health of the whole humanity depends upon the health of every nation.
Besides this, to those who are awakening and feel that now is the moment; when they feel inclined to know about the deeper side of life, of truth; to them the Order extends a helping hand; without asking to what religion, sect, or dogma, they belong.
The knowledge of the Sufi is helpful to every person, not only in living his life aright, but in his own religion. The Sufi movement does not call man away from his belief or church – it calls man to live it. In short, it is a movement intended by God to unite humanity in brotherhood, in Wisdom.
Social Gatheka 28, The Sufi's Aim in Life, Hazrat Inayat Khan (unpublished)
Speaking to his students, Inayat described the central theme of his efforts as:
The central theme of the Sufi Message is one simple thing, and yet most difficult, and that is to bring about in the world the realization of the divinity of the human soul, which hitherto has been overlooked, for the reason that the time had not come. The principal thing that the Message has to accomplish in this era is to create the realization of the divine spark in every soul, that every soul according to its progress may begin to realize for itself the spark of divinity within. This is the task that is before us.
Now you may ask, what is the Message? The Message is this: that the whole humanity is as one single body, and all nations and communities and races as the different organs, and the happiness and well-being of each of them is the happiness and well-being of the whole body. If there is one organ of the body in pain, the whole body has to sustain a share of the strain of it. That by this Message mankind may begin to think that his welfare and his well-being is not in looking after himself, but it is in looking after others, and when in all there will be reciprocity, love and goodness towards another, the better time will come.
Addresses to Cherags, Our Sacred Task, Hazrat Inayat Khan (unpublished)
The need of the world today is not learning, but how to become considerate towards one another. To try and find out in what way happiness can be brought about, and in this way to realize that peace which is the longing of every soul; and to impart it to others, thereby attaining our life's goal, the sublimity of life.
Sufi Mysticism, Problem of the Day, Hazrat Inayat Khan
To further elaborate on the mission and the methods employed to develop one's inner life, Inayat wrote:
There are ten principal Sufi thoughts which comprise all the important subjects with which the inner life of man is concerned:
1) There is one God, the Eternal, the Only Being; none else exists save God.
2) There is one Master, the Guiding Spirit of all souls, who constantly leads all followers towards the light.
3) There is one Holy Book, the sacred manuscript of nature, which truly enlightens all readers.
4) There is one Religion, the unswerving progress in the right direction towards the ideal, which fulfils the life's purpose of every soul.
5) There is one Law, the law of Reciprocity, which can be observed by a selfless conscience together with a sense of awakened justice.
6) There is one human Brotherhood, the Brotherhood and Sisterhood which unites the children of earth indiscriminately in the Fatherhood of God.
7) There is one Moral Principle, the love which springs forth from self-denial, and blooms in deeds of beneficence.
8) There is one Object of Praise, the beauty which uplifts the heart of its worshipper through all aspects from the seen to the unseen.
9) There is one Truth, the true knowledge of our being within and without which is the essence of all wisdom.
10) There is one Path, the annihilation of the false ego in the real, which raises the mortal to immortality and in which resides all perfection.
The objectives of the Sufi path:
1) To realize and spread the knowledge of unity, the religion of love and wisdom, so that the bias of faiths and beliefs may of itself fall away, the human heart may overflow with love, and all hatred caused by distinctions and differences may be rooted out.
2) To discover the light and power latent in man, the secret of all religion, the power of mysticism, and the essence of philosophy, without interfering with customs or belief.
3) To help to bring the world's two opposite poles, East and West, closer together by the interchange of thought and ideals, that the Universal Brotherhood may form of itself, and man may see with man beyond the narrow national and racial boundaries.
The Way of Illumination, Sufi Thoughts, Inayat Khan
Inayat continued to travel widely throughout Europe and the United States, offering the message to all who were ready to hear it. His lectures were transcribed and edited by his students to create the series which is today often called The Sufi Message.
However, in 1926 as he was becoming physically exhausted from his schedule of travel and work, he decided to go home to India to rest. However, his popularity was so great in India that he found himself once again endlessly traveling to spread the Message, and while traveling he became ill with pneumonia.
Following a brief period of illness, Inayat Khan departed from this world in Delhi on February 5, 1927, at the Tilak Lodge on the banks of the river Yamuna. His dargah (burial tomb) is in Delhi.
SAVIOR OF THE WORLD
1 Timothy 4:9-10 says, “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance 10. (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our trust in the Living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially those who believe.” If, in fact, Jesus is the
Savior of (not just for) all men, and especially those who believe, is it not quite who don’t believe, have never heard or perhaps didn’t hear accurately?
The way I understand it, “Grace works without requiring anything on our part. It’s not expensive. It’s not even cheap. It is free.” Ephesians 2:11 says, “It is by grace you have been saved by faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works so that no man can boast.
”Let’s pause a moment and notice Charles Spurgeon’s commentary of the a forementioned passage from his book,
“By Grace Through Faith.” “I think it well to turn a little to one side that I may ask my reader to observe adoringly the fountainhead of our salvation, which is the grace of God. “By grace are ye saved”….Remember this; or you may fall into error by fixing your minds so much upon the faith which is the channel of salvation as to forget the grace which is the fountain and source even of faith itself. Faith is the work of God’s grace in us. No man can say that Jesus is the Christ but by the Holy Ghost. “No man cometh unto me,” saith the Jesus, “except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” So that faith, which is coming to Christ, is the result of divine drawing. Grace is the first and last moving cause of salvation; and faith, essential as it is, is only an important part of the machinery which grace employs. We are saved “through faith,”
but salvation is “by grace,” Sound forth those words as with the archangel’s trumpet: “By grace are ye saved.” What glad tidings for the undeserving!”
WHAT'S FAITH GOT TO DO WITH IT?
In some ways, faith may be more of a privilege than a requirement for salvation. As a born-again Christian myself, it goes without saying that believing and receiving what
Jesus did and who He is, absolutely has a powerful affect on and influence over the heart and in the life of a believer; however, it does not necessarily change or effect the eternal destiny of the person. The ultimate destiny of the earth and God’s creation of the human race is all in the sovereign hands and control of the Sovereign and loving God.
We must ask ourselves, does believing make a person born again or does being born again make you a believer? Does the Gospel make a person righteous or does it simply reveal a condition that is already there-a condition wrought and bought by the blood of Jesus Christ? I am not challenging redemption, I am challenging what act or fact produces the other.
In a practical sense, would God send His son to buy our salvation and then make it contingent on whether or not the missionary could hear and obey the call, raise enough support to get a ticket to the foreign land in time to reach the lost heathen dying of some dread disease? Why would Jesus pay the awful and awesome price to save the world and then trust its reality or its realization exclusively to a group of western Evangelicals, who for the most part can’t even agree on the simple subject of water baptism or how and when to take communion, let alone with whom to take it? Romans 3:1-3, deals specifically with the question of faith and the imminence or pre-imminence of the role it plays on the part of the redeemed in relation to the ultimate work or act of redemption. It becomes a matter of the “works of faith” in comparison or perhaps in contrast, to the “faith that works”. James 2:14-26 asks the question, “Can faith (random) save anybody? The author’s answer suggests, “Not necessarily.” There is also the comment that even demons believe and shudder with fear. Later on, in verse 25, James calls Rahab, a non-Jewish, Canaanite prostitute, “righteous,” because of her faith and/or confidence in God to give them the city of Jericho.
Verse 3 of Romans 3 ask another question regarding the role of faith in the salvation and identification process. He asks, “What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness, (trustworthiness or credibleness)? Paul answers in
the 4th verse, “Not at all! Let God be true and every man a liar.”
His point is that God’s faithfulness to Himself, His Word and His ultimate Will regarding the redemption of the race, is not affected by man’s faith or lack of it.
Ephesians 1:11 says, “In him, (Jesus) we were chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will." Verse 7 of that same chapter says, “In him we have redemption through
his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace, that he lavished us will all wisdom and understanding.”
The popular assumption is that Paul was speaking exclusively of Christians, with regard to redemption and forgiveness, but ask yourself the question, “Why would a loving God reserve forgiveness and redemption for only a few or a limited number of those he created in the world if, in fact, God so loved the entire world and is in fact the savior of all men?
Is God a respecter of persons? Is he discriminatory or prejudiced toward or against some and not others? Is he trustworthy? Or better yet, ask yourself, “Who did Jesus
fail to redeem in the finished work of the Cross?” “What segment of humanity was his blood too weak to reach and wash?”
Who did he leave out of his Will and Purpose in “working all things out”?
Another scripture that emphasizes God’s sovereign commitment to Himself in redemption is, 2 Timothy 2:13 which says, “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”
Some have asked the very legitimate question, “What is the purpose or advantage of being a Christian or what value is there in being born again?” As alluded to earlier, The Apostle Paul assumed a similar question in Romans 3:1, when he addressed what he thought his Jewish brethren were thinking. “What advantage then is there in being a Jew or what is the value of circumcision?” Paul answered, “Much in every
way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God. “If the world is already saved, then what is the value of being a Christian and what is the purpose of being “born again”? The KJV uses the term “oracles” for the NIV’s “word”. It is in Greek, “Logion” and it means an utterance or oration, to be fluent, with the message. The Apostle calls it the “word’ or ‘message’ of reconciliation,” in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19. These terms are derivatives of the Greek word “logos” or in English, “logic”. There is a both a practical and spiritual logic to the idea of God’s plan of redemption for mankind. It is a workable and working plan that is in process and is God’s ultimate scheme or schematic for the planet-the earth project.
My contention is that the plan works and is working. It is not a failed plan. When Jesus said, “It is finished!” He didn’t mean “half or partially finished.” If His reference was, in fact, to the redemption or reconciliation of the world to God, as indicated in II Corinthians 5:18-19, then my declaration of universal reconciliation and ultimate salvation of all is both entirely Scriptural and entirely logical.
We all sing the words of the song, “Lift Him Up.” Notice the lyrics: “How to reach the masses, men of every birth, for the answer Jesus gave the Key. He said if I, If I be lifted up from the earth, I’ll draw all men unto me.” If, in fact, “all” means “all”, then there should be no real question here. Mind you, we
are not just quoting a song; we are literally singing Scripture from the Gospel of John chapter 12 verse 32. Unless you interpret the word “all” as, some, a few, or, only those who accept or believe it, then it, (all) is a very inclusive term that excludes none.
Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”. Again, if we believe that reference to be in particular to Jews, but in general to “us all,” then the penalty or
punishment for sin has been paid by Jesus. The debt is paid and, thus, cancelled, and we are free to live the life of the redeemed and to, as the Scripture says, “say so!” (Psalm 107:2)
Another point regarding the John 12:32 reference, to Jesus stating when lifted up, He would “draw” all men (mankind) into Himself. The word draw as here used in the original Greek is the word helkuo, and it means literally, to drag. The word occurs in
this particular tense only four times in the NT.
According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, it is probably akin to the word, “aihreomai”, which means “to take for oneself”, to “choose or prefer”. It can be compared to the word helisso, which means, “to coil, wrap, fold up or roll together”, (like a package). This particular use of the word only appears four times in the NT and in each case, the object being drawn is either unwilling, (James 2:6), inanimate, (John
21:6) or perhaps unaware, ( John 6:44 and John 12:32).
Again, the onus is put and kept upon the Sovereignty of God, rather than the fickle and/or inconsistent will of man.
Romans 3:23-24 says, “...all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came (past tense) by Christ Jesus.” ”...The law of God condemns us all until, while we are still sinners, grace comes and liberates us from it’s curse without a single condition attached; no improvements demanded, no promises extorted, just the extravagant, outrageous, hilarious absurdity of free grace and dying love.” (Capon) Robert Farrar Capon is an Episcopal priest from New York.
One of the accusations attributed to my “Gospel of Inclusion” is that it is a new heresy espoused by those influenced by the end-time or last days’ doctrines of demons mentioned by Paul in his 1st letter to Timothy, in Chapter 4 verses 1-5. However, it has been my happy experience to learn that the idea of the ultimate salvation of all was the prevailing theological posture of the first 400 to 500 years of Christian Church history. It was the prevailing doctrine in Christendom as long as Greek, the language of the New Testament, was the language of Christendom. According to Dr. J. W. Hanson in his book, “Universalism the Prevailing Doctrine,” the first comparatively complete systematic statement of Christian doctrine ever given to the world was by Clement of Alexandria, A.D. 180, and universal salvation was one of the tenets.
Clement declared that all punishment, however severe, is purificatory; that even the “torments of the damned” are curative. Origen, another of the early church fathers explains even Gehenna as signifying limited and curative punishment, and both, as all other ancient Universalists,declarethe‘everlasting’ (aionion) punishment, is
consonant with universal salvation. To quote Clements of Alexandria, “He saves ALL universally, but some are converted
by punishment, others by voluntary submission.”
Universalism was generally believed in the best centuries, (the first three, when Christians were most remarkable) for simplicity, goodness and missionary zeal. With the exception of the arguments of Augustine, (A.D. 420), there is not an argument
known to have been framed against Universalism for at least 400 years after Christ, by any of the ancient fathers. All ecclesiastical historians and the best Biblical critics and scholars agree to the prevalence of Universalism in the earlier centuries. From the days of Clement of Alexandria, to those of Gregory of Nyssa and Theodoret of Mopsuestia (A.D. 180-428), the great theologians and teachers, almost without
exception, were Universalists. The first theological school in Christendom, that being in Alexandria, taught Universalism for more than 200 years.
To quote Clement again, We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer: to redeem, to rescue, to discipline, in his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life” “All men are his....for either the Lord does not care for all men...or he does
care for all. For he is savior; not of some and for others not...and how is He savior and Lord, if not the savior and Lord of all? For all things are arranged with a view to the salvation of the universe by the Lord of the universe both generally and
It appears to me that the early church fathers were not only advocates of the doctrine of universal reconciliation but, also of “Ultimate reconciliation” as well. Gregory of Nyssa said, “All punishments are means of purification, ordained by Divine Love to purge rational beings from moral evil and to restore them back to communion with God”
“....God would not have permitted the experience of hell unless He had foreseen through redemption, that all rational beings would, in the end, attain to the same blessed fellowship with Himself.” Let’s ponder for a moment, the way Mr. Capon closes the above quotation, He says, that all rational beings would “in the end,” attain to the same blessed fellowship with Himself.”
The issue of “Final Things” or the eschatology of the fear-based theologies of the world’s religions, including Christianity, seems to be the overriding struggle paralyzing their adherents in horror and debilitating insecurity concerning how this entire scenario will ultimately turn out. If you doubt the outcome, you inevitably doubt the out-from. If you cannot and do not trust the Author, then you will not trust the Finisher of our Faith.
Revelations 22:13 says, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Most people don’t have difficulty beginning or starting a thing, whether marriage,
business or ministry-it is the completion of the thing that seems to be the great paradox of choice.
The great question seems to remain, “How will this all end? What will be the final outcome of this intriguing ordeal we call Life?” God, who is omniscient, knew from the day He created man in His image and likeness, what man was capable of doing and what he would, in actuality, do. The scripture says Jesus is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. (Revelations 13:8)
In Luke 10:17-20, Jesus tells His disciples to rejoice, not because demons are subject to them in His name, but because their names were written in heaven. Since this took place before the Cross or resurrection, how were their names already written? And who could have written them but God himself perhaps in creation or before it. The suggestion must be that this entire issue of the redemption of humankind to God was discussed and decided before the foundation of the world.
Capon explains it like this: “In God the end is fully present in the beginning; the beginning is fully realized in the end. He didn’t have to change his mind, drop a stitch, pull out a row, reverse engines or slam on his brakes.” The sins of Adam and Eve in the garden didn’t shock heaven and throw it into chaos. The Master plan was already in place and there was a natural flow of response by God’s power and Grace.
The book of Revelation ends with the masses of humanity “cast into the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the SECOND death” (Revelation 21:8) Even before John received his revelation, Paul writes the ultimate response to the question of death, the first or second. He says in 1 Corinthians 15:26 that the last enemy to be destroyed, (rendered inoperative) is death. Could that statement by the Apostle include the ultimate victory of Christ’s blood even over the Lake of fire, the second death?
The Greek word for brimstone is “Theion” and it means flashing/sulphur. It is a derivative of the word “Theios” which means “godlike or in the neuter, divinity.” Both these words are derivatives of the Greek word, “Theos” which means “deity or God.” If the lake of fire is burning with divinity or god-likeness, or perhaps God Himself as a purifying agency, then the ultimate triumph of Christ over the last enemy is that much more logical.
The purging power of God in the flames of the Lake of fire, into which all remaining impurities are purged, means we can rejoice in the ultimate declaration of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55, which was a repeat of the words of the Prophet Hosea (Hosea 13:14), “Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting?” The power of death is sin (washed away by the blood, John 1:29) and the power of sin is the law (abolished now by Jesus, Ephesians 2:15). But, thanks be to God! He gives us the victory though our Lord Jesus Christ! The question posed to death (grave) infers it has lost its victory or its triumph. And death has lost its sting, which means in effect, its poison or toxicity its lethality. Through the cross, death has been defanged and defrocked. It literally has no power whatsoever! Hebrews 2:14-15 suggests that death has been neutralized, literally put out of a job, or lost its original functionality. The question Paul poses to death and the grave in the Corinthian passage is, in effect, a mockery of death. It literally pokes fun at death like children do to each other when one loses a game on a school playground. “Ha, ha, ha, death has lost its victory.” It kind of reminds me of the song the munchkins sing in the movie “The Wizard of Oz” after the menacing wicked witch of the West dies: “Ding Dong the witch is dead, the wicked witch is dead.”
The utility that gave death its sting (sin) has been cancelled, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away (expiates) the sin of the world” John 1:29 and 2 Corinthians 5:19. And the utility that gave sin its power (law) has been both fulfilled in Jesus (Matthew 5:17-20, Colossians 2:13-15) and abolished in His flesh (Ephesians 2:15).
If, in fact, Jesus nailed the law (with us) to the cross as recorded in the Colossian passage, then the punishment for sin has been assumed by Jesus; thus making hell or any further punitive action irrelevant, except perhaps for its curative value. Except for some form of corrective significance of purgation (purging) as inferred by some of the early church fathers, the way I see it, hell will have no significance in the ultimate finality of God’s plan for a peace prevailing eternity where every knee bows
and every tongue confesses the Lordship of Christ.
Many scholars interpret the word “punishment” used in Matthew 25:46 (kolasin in Greek) to mean purgative or curative.
In Revelations 20:12-14, an emptied death and an emptied hell is cast into the lake of fire, which proves it’s (hell’s) limitation. As pointed out earlier, the lake of fire will, more than likely, have an awesome as well as, if you insist, awful purifying effect. It will, in effect, burn off any remaining dross of unbelief, rebellion or disobedience. Remember, even those “under the earth” will proclaim the Lordship of Christ and bow their knees to his Excellency. (Philippians 2:9-11)
In closing, many may find it difficult to see a totally triumphant Christ, but I don’t. I believe with all my heart that the Last Adam far exceeds in efficacy the first one. I believe as well, Jesus is in fact superior to Adam and that the better covenant with better promises are exactly that. (Hebrews 8:6).
I realize that much of what I say is a real stretch for most believers, even the nontraditional ones. However, if you want or choose to believe in a more “excellent way” and a completely victorious church, headed by a completely victorious Christ,
then what you’ve just read will resonate with your spirit, even it if initially troubles your mind.
My prayer is that you will give it serious and prayerful consideration as something sent of God, revealed in this particular season and prepared for a 21st century harvest of souls and Kingdom advancements unprecedented since Pentecost and the days of the 1st century Pauline Epistles.
[BACK TO PART 1]
“In the universe, there are things known, and things that are unknown, and in between there are doors.”The presentation I am about to submit to you is a work in progress. I have been working on and through the development of these thoughts and reflections now, for over 25 years, and more openly and perhaps aggressively the last four or five. It is a work of faith and conviction-a mindset I have unsuccessfully tried to either avoid or delay fully accepting.
This presentation is part of my witness and testimony, as one who desires to both minister and worship as a citizen of the modern world and be able to think as I do so. I
write it as a person to whom the Christian Church, particularly the Pentecostal/Charismatic Community has accorded honor, rank, and the privilege of leadership in the Episcopal office. It comes, thus, from the life of a Bishop, Pastor, Evangelist and Christian Diplomat, whose vows at the time of ordination and
consecration included both a promise to defend the faith and to guard the unity and sanctity of the Church.
I should like to say before you read any further, that you will read nothing in this theology that should be considered “anti-Christian” or that undermines the powerful work of the cross, the deity of Christ and His substitutionary death, or the shedding
of His precious blood for the remission of sins.
You will read nothing that challenges the fact of Jesus’ Virgin birth, that He suffered and died on the cross for the sins of the world, that He was buried and rose again and is presently seated at the right hand of the throne of God, where He ever
intercedes for the saints and will ultimately return to receive into eternal life with Him, the fruit of His “Finished Work” at Calvary, demonstrated by His unconditional love, grace and reconciliation of all things.
As a 4th generation Classical Pentecostal preacher, brought up in the tradition of “holiness or hell” convictions and consciousness, I will admit that over the last nearly 30 years since coming into the larger Charismatic world, and after graduating from High School in 1971 and moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to attend Oral Roberts University, I have finally come to the end of a road or perhaps just a turn in it, with
regard to my presupposed thinking about God, the universe and how I relate to Him in it, especially with regard to heaven, hell, the purpose of the Church and my role as a minister in it and “doing the work of an evangelist.”
I have preached to thousands-leading them to accept and confess Christ. I have fasted from as little as half a day, when I was as young as 7 or 8 years old, to as many as 40 days as an adult, seeking the anointing to reach lost souls and bring people to deliverance and a saving-knowledge of Christ. I have preached to hundreds of thousands, both in person, as well as to millions by way of television and radio. I’ve ordained Deacons and Elders, installed Pastors, consecrated Bishops, recorded successful albums and CDs, written books, hosted some of the largest conferences and gatherings of the people of God.
However, in the midst of all my work and my unmitigated commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and my life’s dedication to the ministry of His great Gospel, I have come to a most liberating and encouraging realization, both through Scripture and personal revelation. This revelation was put best in words, while I was hosting a live national Christian television program and my guest was the great Missionary Evangelist, T.L. Osborn. In the course of this interview with one of the greatest soul winners of the 20th century, he blurts out a statement that burned into my spirit in a way no other single statement has, in my over 45 years as a born-again Christian. The statement
was: “The world is already saved, they just don’t know it!”
According to my subsequent studies of Scriptures to verify this statement as a true and a most powerful and inspiring revelation, I had to face the fact that, not only does the world not know it, but, most of the Evangelical church doesn’t believe it, and therein lies the greatest deception the enemy has ever convinced the world of, second only to his success at deceiving Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
In the Biblical and Classical Christian theology, Salvation is sometimes pictured in a restrictive sense, belonging only to those who respond in faith-(Matthew 25:31-46 ‘sheep and goats’, ‘the least of my brothers’, (v. 41) and John 3:16, 17, and several more. A more careful study of Scriptures will reveal that Salvation is also and perhaps more often or more comprehensively pictured in a universally inclusive way, in which God is Redeemer of the whole world or creation, including all human beings.
(Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 1:15-20, Revelation 5:13, I Timothy 4:9-10, I John 2:1-2, John 1:29, Romans 5:12-14-21, II Corinthians 5:12-21, Romans 11:32).
Christianity centers on the Person and work of the God-man, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the touchstone and power of all Truth. Any seeming truth that does not glorify Him as such is counterfeit, or only partly true. I earnestly stand for
the right of private interpretation, judgment and guidance of God in an illuminated conscience; yet, at the same time, I desire to apprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and the depth and height, and to know the love of Christ which passes all knowledge, the truest and most accurate perception.
THE CENTRALITY OF THE CROSS
There are fewer matters more urgent in a pluralistic culture than the centrality and centricity of the Cross. The meaning of the cross and resurrection is not only that God loves, but also that He has the power and the will to overcome evil, not just
personally as Jesus did, but to do so universally or cosmically, and bring victory out of what could only be described as eternal defeat. To believe that such a God could or would permit a single soul He created, to be destroyed, or even eternally separated from Him is a contradiction in terms. It would also be an inadmissible defeat for God.
Just a common-sense acknowledgment of the Sovereignty of God would make it almost impossible to be reconciled to the thought that God could have created a world and man or mankind if, in fact, He foresaw hell as an eternal destination for any He created in His image and likeness. It would mean that creation is essentially a failure and the earth project a farce. Moreover, a God, who deliberately allows the uninterrupted existence of endless or eternal torments, is not God at all, but more like what we describe as the devil. If the atonement means the reconciliation of God and man or man to God, (and that is the only thing it can mean), then it must end in
universal salvation or redemption of humankind.
What’s Wrong with This Picture?
The is the most religiously diverse nation in the world. Christianity is by far the greatest single element in that diversity. According to recent statistics, 70% of Americans belong to some brand of Christian religion. What may be even more distinctive is that it is certainly the most religiously diverse country that has ever
existed, in terms of voluntary participation in the expressions of faith and the freedom to do so. In light of this, it seems interesting that has by far the largest prison population in the civilized world. And Tulsa, the city I live in, known to some as
the “buckle of the Bible belt” has the 2nd largest divorce rate in the country-second only to Las Vegas. In addition, I regret to mention that we have, as well, one of the nation’s largest recorded “out-of-wedlock” teenage pregnancies and a higher than normal per-capita homosexual population to boot. Such statistics should cause any critically thinking person to ask, “What’s wrong with this picture?”
After 30 years of preaching holiness, with the accompanying hellfire and brimstone warnings to final judgments and eternal damnation, I have been arrested by the Holy Spirit and convinced that I have not been preaching an accurate Gospel message and that overall, the Christian Evangelical church has become more indicting than inviting and should be less attacking and do more attracting of those spiritually
unresolved. In addition, I have been emphatically reminded of the writer of Hebrews admonition in chapter 6 verses 1-3, that we leave the elementary teachings of (fundamental Christianity) and go on to perfection (maturity).I’m sure you will admit
that there is hardly an Evangelical church anywhere in America that, should you visit them on Sunday morning, the message would be along the lines of one of the doctrines the Hebrew author lists as things we should leave, to go on to maturity, [i.e.
“repentance from acts that lead to death”, “faith in God”, instructions about “baptisms”, “laying on of hands”,“resurrection from the dead” and “eternal
While all these are important subjects, I’m sure we’d all agree that most of us have mastered them in one form or another and can preach or teach them (so to speak) blindfolded and walking backwards.The mysterious idea of, “going on to maturity,” has many in the larger Evangelical Christian, and even the Charismatic/Pentecostal community intimidated. Why? Because mature Christianity insists on removing the fear tactic used to persuade children or the immature, to eat, drink and obey their parents, or in this case, the Word of God.
Mature Christianity demands “mature (perfect) love, the kind that casts out fear, the fear that torments (really tortures) the believer and cripples his trust in God’s ability to love unconditionally (1 John 3:18). Verse 17 in this same chapter of 1 John suggests that Love is the one thing that gives us confidence on the “day of Judgment,” which in many ways seems to be the greatest fear I am confronted with by
those who oppose the Gospel of Inclusion. The looming question indelibly etched in the mind of many (most) believers is, “What will happen on Judgment Day and will they make it to heaven?” We all say “we love Him because He first loved us,” (1 John 4:19), but while we seem confident enough that He “first loved us,” many are quite unsure whether or not He will “last love us” or love us at the last or at last, love us.
Sometimes I think it’s much easier to speak what we believe to be true, than to “speak the truth in Love.” (Ephesians 4:12)
A Christian can be a Universalist, but not all Universalists are Christians, and I think this distinction may be where I have run into the greatest opposition. What actually is modern Universalism, or in my particular case, the Gospel of Inclusion?
My research has brought me to any number of similar, but varying definitions of Universalism, but for the purpose of this particular discussion, I will use the definition I believe best or most accurately typifies my understanding of the “Finished Work” of Christ and the Cross-the work of redeeming or reconciling humankind, moreover, the entire world, all of creation, back to God. A Christocentric Universalism (as distinguished from a humanistic or Unitarian Universalism) seems to be gaining ground and interest among the more critical thinkers in Christianity. The basis for this trend lies in a deeper realization of the powerful implications of the incarnation of Jesus Christ for the nature of God.
The theory of Universal Reconciliation (the Gospel of Inclusion) maintains that Christ’s death accomplished its purpose of reconciling all mankind to God. The death of Christ made it possible for God to accept man and, in fact, and indeed, He has done so. The substitutional death of Christ not only made it possible for God to accept mankind as totally clean before Him but, more importantly, it demonstrated or proved God’s unconditional love for His own creative handiwork. As a result, whatever separation now exists between man and the benefits of God’s grace is subjective in nature; it is illusionary, existing only in man’s unregenerate mind, his unenlightened
or uniformed way of thinking. The message (Good News or Gospel) people need to hear, is not that they simply have an opportunity for Salvation, but that they, through Christ, in fact, have already been redeemed, reconciled and saved, and that this information, (Good News) frees them to enjoy the blessings that are already theirs in Him. Most Christians believe in the atonement but do not realize that “atonement” is
simply another word or expression for “reconciliation.” The terms are basically identical in both Hebrew and Greek.
Reconciliation is not something which is to be-it is an accomplished fact, a present reality! It was accomplished by Jesus as His commitment to His Father God, for which
He was duly awarded. (Philippians 2:5-11) It appears to me, that salvation is not so much an issue between God and man, as it is more significantly, an agreement between God the Father and His son, Jesus Christ. This agreement or arrangement is based entirely on God’s great love for the world, as indicated in John 3:16-17. The Scriptural basis for putting the onus almost exclusively on God is II Corinthians 5:18, ‘All this is from God who through Christ reconciled us (mankind), to Himself and gave
us, (the Church) the ministry of reconciliation. (19) That God was reconciling the world (not just the Church) to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them...”We Christians, in our innate preoccupation with “judgment and judgmentalism,” continue to hold the sins against both ourselves and others,
erroneously expecting that this is the rule of the house, over which Christ presides as both Head and Cornerstone.
It is almost as if we Christians have been and still are being raised in a home where a mean, intolerant, and abusive father terrorizes the children, threatening them with swift and painful punishment for any and every mistake made during the day, while he is away at work. We run to Jesus in the same manner children living in households with abusive and incorrigible fathers, run to their mothers for protection from him. These abusive and “impossible-to-please” fathers literally terrorize both the children and the mother, producing what psychologists call “dysfunctional homes,” (no fun in the unction).
Our experience as Christians should be an unction that is enjoyable and fun! Christianity is not only something we endure, it should be something we enjoy. Isaiah 12:3 says, “It is with joy that we draw water from the wells of salvation.” That is joy, not dread, drudgery or desperation. We must ask ourselves, “Do we need Jesus to protect us from God?” Or might we be presenting an inaccurate image of God, who is a warm, longing for and loving Father, who would spare no pains, and in fact didn’t, in order to reclaim His cherished family, the inheritance of His son Jesus Christ, from condemnation, loss and ruin?
It has been my experience in talking with people who panic over the very term, “Universalism” that they immediately either connect or construe the term with Unitarianism, a totally different philosophy that prides itself in being a creedless
denomination. Perhaps you can decide whether or not you are opposed to or offended by the results of these findings: In 1899, the general convention of Universalists formulated a brief statement of the five essential principles of the Universalist faith and the “Winchester Profession” was commended as containing these principles.
1. The Universal Fatherhood of God
2. The spiritual authority and leadership of His Son, Jesus Christ
3. The trustworthiness of the Bible as containing a revelation from God
4. The certainty of just retribution for sin
5. The final harmony of all souls with God
“Eyes that look are common, eyes that see are rare” Plato said, “You can forgive a child for being afraid of the dark, it is, however, a tragedy when adults are afraid of light.” Rabbi Kushner in his book, How Good Must We Be? Says, “Religion is first and foremost, a way of seeing or perceiving things. Religion can’t always change the facts about the world we live in but it can change the way we perceive those facts.”
With regard to the controversy surrounding my teachings on the Finished Work of redemption, I would submit that, perception is the ultimate reality, but not necessarily
the ultimate truth. I like Barclay’s commentary on Matthew 6:22, “The light of the body is the eye”. He says, “Light requires an organ designed or adapted for its reception. Unspiritual or unregenerate man by nature is incapable of receiving spiritual light in as much as he lacks capacity for it. Believers, however, are called children of light, (Luke 16:8), not merely because they have received revelation, but because in the new birth, they have received the spiritual capacity for it.” It seems to me, that while unbelievers are blinded by the darkness, many believers today are blinded by the light.
It has been said, “The difference between a prophet and a heretic is often time.” So called false doctrine does not necessarily make a person a heretic, but an evil heart
can make any doctrine heretical. When you make religion your God, you lose the God and often the good of the religion. Many Christians have made the religion itself pre-eminent to Christ. They defend the religion, while ignoring or perhaps never
experiencing the relationship. Between man’s realities and God’s absolutes, there is an obscure place where most people tend to get either trapped or entrapped. Our imprecise realities have betrayed us and, thus, alienated us from the world we are
called to inform, love, and evangelize.
It has taken me nearly 50 years to learn to distinguish the difference between God’s creations and my illusions; to know truth as God created it and not as we in our religious zeal have invented it. My desire is to know God totally rather than
selectively. I’m even willing to suspend what I think I already know about God, in order to know Him in a way I have never imagined.
As residents of the Kingdom of God on earth, we should seek cultural relevance in order to connect with the spiritually unresolved-those who are unsure and/or insecure concerning Faith in God or the God of our faith. A crisis in truth is a crisis in
trust. Our role as Christians is to create environments that are conducive to the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts, heads, and hurts of people. While our style and approach may change or experience adjustments over time or according to the times, the truth we preach is constant, ageless, and timeless-Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world!
[PART 2] TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
All I can say about this man is, "he is profoundly plugged in," and I'd sit at his side anytime anywhere!
This New Preface to “Behold the Spirit” by Alan Watt was added to the reprinting of the book in 1971. In it Watts explains his “evolutionary thought process” and eventual decision to leave the Anglican Church. His university Episcopal Chaplain position was a last attempt for him to embrace the “faith of his youth” and “work within the system.” Problem was, his passion and connection to the philosophies of the East and a robust Bohemian lifestyle eventually pushed him to move on in his spiritual trek.
When Behold the Spirit was reprinted (1971) Watts required this new preface be added to explain his own evolving journey. Enjoy!
Original printing - 1947
PREFACE TO THE NEW EDITION (Behold the Spirit by Alan Watts)
This book was written twenty-five years ago, during the experiment of trying to immerse myself in Christianity —to the extent of being a priest of the Anglican Communion, Episcopal Chaplain at Northwestern University, and an examining chaplain for candidates for holy orders in the Diocese of Chicago. Prior to this experiment, indeed since the age of fifteen, my outlook had been Buddhist rather than Christian even though I had been schooled in the heart of the Church of England and had learned a version of Christianity which was not that of this book. In adolescence I had rejected it, but as time went on the study of comparative religion and Christian mysticism suggested a way in which I might operate through the forms and in the terms of the official religion of Western culture. I did not want to be an eccentric outsider, and felt that Catholic Christianity might be taught and practiced as a form of that perennial philosophy which is the gold within the sectarian dross of every great religion. I still believe that this experiment had validity, and I have consented to the republication of Behold the Spirit with the thought that it may prove useful to the many Catholic and Protestant theologians who are now revolutionary enough to understand it. For it speaks to their condition in their own language—more so, perhaps, than my later theological essays. The Supreme Identity (1950), Myth and Ritual in Christianity (1953), and Beyond Theology (1964), which last represents my present way of thinking within this context.
Even twenty-five years ago this experiment had some success. I did not pursue it for the purely personal reason that my bohemian style of life did not fit well with the clerical stereotype, and because even then I was ill at ease with the commitment to spiritual imperialism which most Christians feel to be the sine qua non of being Christian, as if one could not be a true Christian without being a militant missionary. But then, and more than ever today, there were both clergy and laity who hungered for a mystical approach to Christianity, concerned with the non-verbal spiritual experience of the divine rather than mere doctrine and precept. Yet now, as then, the Church is still overwhelmingly didactic and verbose, both as it faces God and as it faces the world. Its liturgies consist almost entirely of telling God what to do and the people how to behave. By rationalizing the Mass and celebrating it in the vernacular instead of Latin, even the Roman Church has made the liturgy an occasion for filling one’s head with thoughts, aspirations, considerations and resolutions, so that it is almost impossible to use the Mass as a support for pure contemplation, free from discursive chatter in the skull.
Today, the idea of the mystical finds greater acceptance, both within and outside the Church, than in 1946. A vast and well-informed literature on the subject has made it clear that “mysticism” is not a collective term for such spookeries as levitation, astrology, telekinesis, and projection of the astral body. Theologians can no longer dismiss or distort the mystical teachings of either East or West without revealing plain lack of scholarship. Scientists—now familiar with field theory, ecological dynamics and the transactional nature of perception—can no longer see man as the independent observer of an alien and rigidly mechanical world of separate objects. The clearly mystical sensation of self-and-universe, or organism-and-environment, as a unified field or process seems to fit the facts. The sensation of man as an island-ego in a hostile, stupid or indifferent universe seems more of a dangerous hallucination.
At the same time it is less and less plausible to conceive God in the thought-graven image of a transcendental monarch modeled on the Pharaohs and Cyruses. But the dissolution of this idol need not leave us with no other alternative than the insipid humanism suggested by “death of God” and “religionless Christianity” theologians. The God of mystical experience may not be the ethically obstreperous and precisely defined autocrat beloved of religious authoritarians; but as an experience, not concept, as vividly real as indefinable, this God does not violate the intellectual conscience, the aesthetic imagination, or the religious intuition. A Christianity which is not basically must become either a political ideology or a mindless fundamentalism. This is, indeed, already happening, and it is curious to note that, for lack of the mystical element, both trends fall back on the Bible as their basic inspiration—and it has always struck me that Biblical idolatry is one of the most depressing and sterile fixations of the religious mind.
We now know beyond doubt that large and widely scattered numbers of otherwise sane and sober people have had experiences of “cosmic consciousness” in which the sense of life becomes perfectly clear. The antagonisms of good and evil, life and death, being and nothing, self and other are felt as the poles or undulations of a single, eternal and harmonious energy—exuding a sense of joy and love. The feeling may be purely subjective and without reference to “external reality” [as if “external” could be independent of “internal”], but it comes upon us with the same startling independence of wishing and willing as a flash of lightning. Debates as to whether this vision is or is not “true” seem as pointless as asking whether my sensation of green is just the same as yours. But the vision is not pointless because, when seen, it is obviously the whole point of life and, often enough, it transforms one’s way of living.
In our inevitably clumsy attempts to describe this vision it often seems necessary to say that everything is God, that God alone is real, that a crumb is the whole universe, or that you and God are one. At the same time, the experience is somehow a grace: it is given and cannot be evoked by effort of will. In Behold the Spirit I was trying to show that the gift of the Incarnation, of God becoming man (virgin-born, without human effort), implied and fulfilled itself in this experience, and in this sense I quoted the saying of St. Athanasius that “God became man that man might become God.” But I was pussyfooting, as is always the way with theologians when they try to discuss the Christology of ordinary human beings as distinct from the Christology of Jesus. For the Church’s habitual assumption, having the force of dogma, is that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the only son of woman who was at the same time God. This Godhood is extended to other people by “participation in the human nature of Jesus,” explained by the tortuous Greek notion that human nature is a “real universal” or “substance” in which we all share. When the person of God the Son assumed this nature, he assumed all our natures and became mankind, leaving, however, the person (or ego) of each man distinct and separate from his own divine person. In other words, God the Son was the person of the particular man Jesus. He assumed the nature, but not the person, of such particular men as Peter, Paul, John and the rest of us.
Looking back on this pussyfooting I find it somewhat less than a gospel—a tremendous proclamation of good news. I now find it easier to assume that Jesus was a man like ourselves who had a spontaneous (i.e., virgin-born) and overwhelming experience of cosmic consciousness in which it became completely clear to him that “I and the Father are one” and that “before Abraham was, I am.” But it was as tactless to say this in terms of Jewish theology as it still remains to say it in terms of Christian. Jesus had to hedge by identifying himself as the Son of Man, the Suffering Servant—or spiritual messiah—of Isaiah II. It would have been outrageous and criminal blasphemy to come right out and say, “I am God”— assuming the throne of the Cyrus of the universe. But, if we are to believe the Gospel of St. John, conviction got the better of tact—for in all those “I am” passages he came out with the simple truth of his experience and was crucified for blasphemy.
The Gospel was that “in my Father’s house are many mansions,” that his disciples would all be one even as he and the Father were one, and thus perform even greater works than he. It is not easy for the pious Christian to realize that Jesus was not an expert on the history of religion, and had probably never met anyone whose mystical vision was as deep as his own. The only religious language available to him was that of the legal and prophetic Hebrew scriptures which, with their image of God as the King-Father, do not easily lend themselves to a mystical interpretation. Jewish mystics—the Kabbalists and the Hasidim—have always had to read the scriptures as complex allegories in order to go beyond their literal sense. Therefore Jesus had difficulty in saying what he felt, not only because it was officially blasphemous, but also because it made no sense to say that he was consciously and personally ruling and causing every detail of the universe, and attending to all prayers from everywhere. Thus on the one hand he could say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” and on the other, “Why do you call me good? There is none good but God.” But such problems do not arise for those whose image or non-image of God is not monarchical.
The Gospel must therefore be the communication of Jesus’ own experience of Godhood. Otherwise Christians put themselves in the absurd situation of reproaching themselves for not following the example of one who had the unique advantage of being God or, at the very least, “the Boss’s son.” It is thus that the “saving truth” of the Gospel appears, not as Jesus’ experience of Godhood, but as his punishment for proclaiming it, and that sanctity in the following of Christ is chiefly measured by the degree of guiltiness felt in failing to come up to his example. Christians dare not believe that, as St. John says, they have been given power “to become the sons of God,” remembering that the expression “sons of” means “of the nature of.” The dubious uniqueness of the monarchical religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) is that they over-stress the difference between Creator and creature and, by making virtues of feeling guilty and frightened, inculcate a very special terror of death—which Jesus saw as a source of life. Is it really such a profound theological paradox to be trying at once to “be not anxious” and to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”? To substitute the fear of God for the fear of the world is to exchange a finite terror for one that is infinite—for the terror of everlasting damnation. As an inheritor of the monarchical tradition, Jesus recognized this terror, for would not the Court of Heaven also have dungeons? But he saw the possibility of overcoming it in his and our realization of divine sonship—that is, in mystical experience. Lacking such experience, religion is only a futile straining to follow a way of life for which one has neither the power nor the grace, and there is no power in a merely theoretical grace which one has allegedly been given but does not feel.
From this point of view it would seem that the Church has rendered the Gospel ineffective by setting Jesus on a pedestal of excessive reverence and making him so unique that he is virtually isolated from the human condition. By setting itself apart from the world-wide traditions of mystical religion Christianity appears, not as unique, but as an anomalous oddity with imperious claims. Thus the religion of Jesus became the religion about Jesus, lost its essence, and appeared more and more to be ridiculously aggressive as the context of world religion came into view. How can there be “one flock, one fold, and one Shepherd” unless it is recognized that there are already “other sheep who are not of this fold”?
As might have been expected, Behold the Spirit was criticized for its creeping pantheism—a point of view which, in its many forms, is so repugnant to religious monarchists that simply to be named a pantheist is enough to have one’s case excluded from an intelligent hearing. I am no longer concerned to defend myself against the charge of pantheism because, from my present point of view, all doctrines of God—including atheism—are ultimately false and idolatrous, because doctrines are forms of words which can never be more than pointers to mystical vision, and not by any means the best pointers. At most I feel that some sort of pantheism is the least inconsistent with that vision, and by pantheism (or panentheism) I mean the conception of God as the total energy-field of the universe, including both its positive and negative aspects, and in which every discernible part or process is a sort of microcosm or hologram. That is to say, the whole is expressed in or implied by every part, as is the brain in each one of its cells. This view strikes me as cleaner and simpler than monotheism.
Theoretically, pantheism may blur or confuse the distinction between good and evil, but where is the evidence to show that monotheists are better behaved than pantheists—and by whose standards? Moral principles and sanctions are weakened when absolutized, for much the same reasons that respect for law is diminished by judicial torture and frantic punishment for crime. Metaphysically and intellectually, solutions to the problem of evil require far more tortuous conceptualization for monotheists than for pantheists.
Furthermore, the notion that any identity of Creator and creature makes a fundamental “I-Thou” relationship of love between the two impossible is untenable for any believer in the Holy Trinity. How, then, could there be mutual love between God the Father and God the Son, since both, though different, are yet one God? And the objection that the pantheist conception of God is too vague and impersonal to inspire devotion or grace could be to the point if it were no more than a conception, but is groundless if held against the vision which the concept merely represents. Inspiring and worshipful as the character of Jesus may be, it was not what inspired Jesus himself, for he was what he was because he knew of himself that “I and the Father are one,” and not—obviously—because he had accepted Jesus as his Savior. But, from the beginning, institutional Christianity has hardly contemplated the possibility that the consciousness of Jesus might be the consciousness of the Christian, that the whole point of the Gospel is that everyone may experience union with God in the same way and to the same degree as Jesus himself. On the contrary, one who says, with Eckhart, that “the eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me” is condemned as a heretic.
Small wonder, for the immediate following of Jesus was Jewish and it was as difficult for them as for him to reconcile mystical experience with Biblical monotheism. Instead of following him they worshipped him, for they still felt that—for anyone except Jesus—it would be pride, presumption, and insubordination for a mere creature to be one with the Creator. For monotheism can allow only the devotional (bhakti) style of mysticism, where Creator and creature find union in intense mutual love, never in basic identity. In the context of monarchical monotheism to say, “I am God,” doesn’t seem to carry the implication, “And so are you,” because it has the same ring as saying, “I’m the boss around here.” Within this context the mystic is always in danger of that spiritual megalomania which'Jung called “psychic inflation” in which one takes one’s ego for God instead of God for one’s ego—and Christianity has maneuvered Jesus into just that position. It is thus that the individual Christian frustrates himself perpetually, always finding himself guilty for not living up to the example of one who had the unique advantage of being God incarnate, and who was by definition incapable of being guilty.
The question then arises: Can Christianity abandon the monarchical image of God and still be Christianity? Why should this be of concern? For which is more important—to be a Christian or to be at one with God? Must religion be Christian, Islamic or Hindu, or could it simply be religion? Certainly there must be the same variety of style in religion as there is in culture, but the concern to preserve, validate and propagate Christianity as such is a disastrous confusion of religious style with religion. Indeed, this sectarian fanaticism (shared alike by Judaism and Islam) is all of a piece with the monarchical image and its necessary imperialism. Even such scholarly theologians as Maritain and Zaehner keep up this pitiful game of spiritual one-upmanship in differentiating the “natural” mysticism of Hindus and Buddhists from the “supernatural” mysticism of Christians, and continue to damn other religions with faint praise. If Christianity cannot be Christianity without pushing the claim to be the best of all possible religions, the world will breathe more freely when it dissolves.
The practical problem is, what are we going to do on Sunday mornings? How are multitudes of ministers to continue their work? What is to be the use of Church buildings, funds, and administrative machinery? Naturally, institutional Christianity will, in its present form, continue to supply the demand which remains for a monarchical religion. But a considerable number of ministers and even congregations—not to mention millions of reasonably intelligent young people—realize that churches must “put up or shut up,” and that the chief business of religious facilities and assemblies is to provide a social milieu for religious experience. This is no mere matter of changing the externals—of having rock bands instead of organs and Kyrie eleison set to jazz, nor even of turning churches into social service centers with the idea that this would be practicing Christianity seven days a week instead of just talking it on Sundays. Indeed, one may well hope that monarchical Christianity will not be practiced, even on Sundays, since the dutiful spirit in which it dispenses charity breeds resentment in the giver and the receiver alike, for when the one gives with reluctance the other receives with guilt. Ministers and their congregations must instead consider what need there may be for churches as temples for contemplation and meditation, stripped of the courthouse furniture of stalls, pews, pulpits, lecterns and other equipment for throwing the Book at captive audiences. They must consider also the need for retreat houses and religious communities, and for guidance and instruction in the many forms of spiritual discipline which are conducive to mystical vision. They must further consider whether, as things now stand, they are even able to offer such services— sorely neglected as they have been in theological education. Obviously, if Christian groups cannot or will not provide mystical religion, the work will be (and is already being) done by Hindus, Buddhists, Sufis, unaffiliated gurus, and growth centers. Churchmen can no longer afford to laugh these things off as cultish vagaries for goofy and esoteric minorities—as if any intensive practice of religion had ever, anywhere at any time, been of interest to the majority of people.
This prompts me to say that I no longer set much store in the notion that we are about to enter upon some great New Age of spiritual development, or in such theories of historical epochs as were proposed by Joachim of Flora and Oswald Spengler. Fortunately, the preoccupation with these ideas in the first chapter, “The Epoch of the Spirit,” is not essential to the main argument of the book. I am not saying that some great resurgence of spiritual vitality may not be coming upon us. The point is rather that such apocalyptic and messianic hopes for the future distract from the mystic’s essential concern for the Eternal Now and encourage a dependence upon the mere passage of time as a vehicle of grace and growth. The concomitance of our perilous ecological crisis with the sudden expansion of mass-communication technology does indeed suggest that the world is in an apocalyptic and even eschatological situation, in a period of catastrophic revelation and imminent disaster. At times when the future appears to be failing us it is only natural that there should be a resurgence of religion and of interest in things eternal: it is our only recourse. It may amount to no more than the superstitious comforts of fantasy and magic, or of shrieking in desperation to high heaven. But, on the other hand, it may be something like the overwhelming sensation of release and peace which occasionally comes to people facing death.
For at such times there is no escaping the fact that in the pursuit of happiness, power and righteousness the human ego, with all its will and intelligence, has come to its wits’ end. Even the solaces of religious hope and belief seem hollow—being no more than refined and fantastic forms of trying to save our carefully fabricated personalities from coming to an end. But the personality is a phantom even less substantial than the body, being an ephemeral work of art like a musical composition that dies away as it is played. But when it comes to silence we hear another tune, for we are reduced to the guileless simplicity of listening to what is—now. This is really all there is to contemplative mysticism—to be aware without judgement or comment of what is actually happening at this moment, both outside ourselves and within, listening even to our involuntary thoughts as if they were no more than the sound of rain. This is possible only when it is clear that there is nothing else to do, and no way on or back.
Wait without thought, for you are not yet ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be light, and the stillness the dancing.
For here, where there is neither past nor future, the doors of perception are cleansed, and we see everything as it is—infinite.
Of course, those who have never let themselves be reduced to this simplicity will feel that it is an arid oversimplification, that there must be much more than this—by way of doctrines, precepts and practices—to mystical ideas, to the dissolution of God our Father into the “divine darkness” or “cloud of unknowing” of Western mystics, or the featureless Void of the Buddhists. One can but reiterate the point that the mystic is negating only concepts and idols of God, and in this way cleansing the doors of perception in faith that, if God is real, he need not be sought in any particular direction or conceived in any special way. To see the light, it is only necessary to stop dreaming and open the eyes.
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'Lofty Hermitage in Cloudy Mountains', ink on paper by Fang Fanghu
The great Tao flows everywhere, to the left and to the right All things depend upon it to exist, and it does not abandon them. To its accomplishments it lays no claim.
It loves and nourishes all things, but does not lord it over them.
(Laotse, tr. Alan Watts)
That is another thing so nice about the Tao; it is not bossy! It loves and nourishes all things but does not lord it over them. Thus the Tao is something purely helpful—never coersive!
In the Judeo-Christian notion of God, one thing which is so rigidly stressed is obedience to God! The great sins are “disobedience, rebellion against God, pride, self-will”, etc. The Christians are constantly stressing the infinite importance of “total surrender of one’s will to God”. They say, “Let thy will, not mine, be done”.
How very different the Taoist! He never speaks of “obedience” to the Tao but only of “being in harmony” with the Tao—which seems so much more attractive! And being in harmony with the Tao is not something “commanded”, nor something which is one’s “duty”, nor something demanded by “moral law”, nor something sought for some future reward, but is something which is its own reward; it is in itself a state of spiritual tranquility. In this respect it does resemble the Judeo-Christian notion of “communion”.
Another thing, it would seem sort of odd to the Taoist to speak of “surrendering one’s will to the Tao”. In the first place, it doesn’t sound quite right to say that the Tao has its own “will”. The Tao is certainly not willful, and I think the Taoist would tend to regard things having their own will as somehow “willful”—but let that pass! At any rate, the idea of “surrendering” one’s will to the Tao would seem inappropriate since an individual’s so-called “will” is but part of the Tao. It’s not that the Taoist denies free will (nor would he affirm it, for he would tend to regard the whole free will- determinism controversy as a confusing duality), but he would rather say that whatever it is which we call “free-will” is but part of the activities of the Tao. Goethe expressed a similar sentiment when he said that in trying to oppose nature we are only acting according to the laws of nature. Similarly Suzuki has said that Western man thinks he is controlling or conquering nature; he does not realize that in so doing, he is only acting according to the laws of nature.
I must confess that all my life I have reacted with the utmost horror to the idea of “obedience to God”—and even more so to “surrendering one’s will to God”. Some Christians would tell me that I find this idea so horrifying because of my own pride, disobedience, egotism and self-will. But is this really so? I could see some merit in that argument if I objected only to myself surrendering my will to God, but did not mind other people surrendering their wills to God. But this is not the case. I hate the idea of anyone surrendering his will to God. Indeed, I am repelled by any situation in which one sentient being surrender’s his will to another sentient being. I just cannot accept situations in which one commands and the other obeys.
There is, however, one mitigating feature of the situation which I only realized quite recently, as a result of reading some of the writings of Alan Watts. And that is that if a person decides to surrender his will to God, and spends several years undergoing the inner discipline, self-mortification, purgation, etc., he finally reaches a stage in which he suddenly realizes that the issue he has been so violently struggling with is purely illusory! That is to say, he suddenly realizes that his will has been part of God’s will all along and that even his so-called “rebellion” has been but part of God’s activities. In other words, he realizes not that he “shouldn’t” rebel against God, but that he simply cannot. Put in less theological terms, it is like the man who suddenly has a Satori-like realization that he is not controlling Nature, as he had thought, but rather that Nature is controlling him to think that he is controlling Nature—or better still, that neither is he controlling Nature nor is Nature controlling him, but that he and Nature are one. [Who knows, perhaps that is what Jesus really meant when he said in the fourth Gospel, “The Father and I are one.”]
Now, if “surrendering one’s will to God” really does lead to this wonderful state—so close to Taoistic harmony or Zen Satori—then there is of course something to be said for it. But must one go through these horrible spiritual gymnastics to attain this end? Is there not a saner path?
I can only think again of the Taoist Sage by the river stream, not worrying about “obedience” or “surrendering his will” or not even conceptualizing the notion of “being in harmony with the Tao”, but simply being in harmony with the Tao and enjoying it to his hearts content.
---BUY THE BOOK:
A friend lent me this book (Wonders of Spiritual Unfoldment by John Butler) and after reading a few pages I thought it was going to be one of those books that becomes a lifelong friend - the kind you re-read every couple of years.
But I was mistaken.
Having returned the book to its owner, it was not two years, but only two months later that I was clicking "buy" on Amazon, haunted by many half-remembered passages and wondering if they were really as profound and compelling as memory seemed to suggest.
I'm happy to report that they were.
Re-reading the book, I realized that it had deeply affected me on many levels.
Mr. Butler's youthful idealism led him to seek out opportunities to improve the world. While pursuing this quest as a farmer in South America, an inner voice said: "To make whole, be whole". He realized that: "... before being able to help others, I first had to work on myself".
In the early chapters there are many moving and beautifully written vignettes of travels in Africa, America, Australia, Peru and elsewhere. While these are interesting in themselves, they are always judiciously selected to illustrate their effect on the author's inner life. Sometimes they are far from flattering and their inclusion is a testimony to his honesty and humility.
Mr. Butler has a farmer's love and understanding of the land and he writes of nature with a poetic simplicity that comes from a place of great stillness. His prose has the power to transmit this state of mind to the reader:
"I knew heaven this morning, as sun shone over the frosty land. At first I shared it with a little bird, and then with a puddle, and then with some cattle, steaming softly in the yard below. And then a man came, and he alone of all creation, knew it not".
In a less sincere writer the biblical turn of phrase, "knew it not", might sound affected, but in this true and simple vision of a pastoral Eden it strikes an entirely appropriate note.
However, Mr. Butler is much more than a nature mystic with literary talent and the core of the book is concerned with transcendent experience - the times when:
"...the curtains of ordinary, visible existence were drawn aside, and I was shown a glimpse of what lies beyond. All my adventures and (so called) achievements, the countless thoughts, the good and even wonderful events - all seem as nothing compared to these "moments of truth" which shine out as lamps, guiding me home after long years of exile in a foreign land".
But the journey home is not without its difficulties and for me, at least, Mr. Butler's wise and perceptive account of these obstacles and traps is one of the book's most valuable gifts.
His precise and often harrowing descriptions of how the process of spiritual unfoldment involves constant oscillation between profound states of rapture and the pain of estrangement when "normal" consciousness returns, struck a deep chord in me.
Other mystics have of course addressed this theme, but their treatment usually relies heavily on poetic and abstract prose: The "Bride" and "Bridegroom" of St. John of the Cross, or the Sufi aspirant's longing for the elusive "Beloved".
The eternal complaint of mystics is the impossibility of framing their profound insights and experiences in a language which has no vocabulary - or even concepts - capable of expressing such rarified perceptions. Small wonder, then, that so many have resorted to symbolism.
Mr. Butler is the only mystic I know of who succeeds in describing the roller coaster that is spiritual unfoldment in such concrete and personal language, (except perhaps for the neglected early 20th century English writer, Lilian Staveley).
In this he has performed a great service to those who experience similar trials and can draw much comfort from the honesty and immediacy of his account.
Feeling that the Church of England "did not rise to the spiritual direction my young mind required", his early spiritual experiences resulted in a search that eventually led to the School of Meditation run by disciples of Shantan and Saraswati, Shankaracharya of Northern India. Paradoxically, the Shankaracharya's teachings had the effect of deepening Mr. Butler's understanding of the great devotional classics of Christianity, such as The Cloud of Unknowing and The Practice of the Presence of God.
After several decades of work, meditation, travel and adventure, Mr. Butler somehow lost his bearings and entered a soul-destroying period of homelessness, spiritual confusion and intense self-loathing. Fearing madness, he fled to the wilderness (this is a recurring pattern in his life) and ended up working as a cook at a little gas-station in the Mojave Desert, where:
"One evening, after work, I walked far away up the side of the valley and, as I remember, sat there on a rock with my head in my hands. I must have been at about my lowest point. And someone came and stood beside me. Jesus. Invisible, but absolutely sure. I've never doubted it".
This was a turning point and things gradually began to improve: "From then on I felt a new sense of safety in Jesus. It seemed highly significant that, although I had not sought in particular for Jesus, He came, as Savior, to me. Gradually, my practice adjusted itself to become the Jesus prayer".
Returning to England and seeking employment, Mr. Butler visited a Job Centre where a course of Higher Education was suggested. He enrolled as a mature student at the University of Nottingham to study the Russian language. His exploration of the spiritual dimensions of the novels of Pushkin, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, demonstrate a keen critical faculty as well as an ability to read and listen with the heart.
Graduating when almost in his sixtieth year - a time when most people are looking forward to a peaceful retirement - he travelled to Russia to teach English, where:
"...for the first time in my life, I felt amongst my own people..." (Mr. Butler's mother was Siberian).
Sitting quietly in his flat one evening, he experienced the presence of Our Lady, whose being appeared to radiate from an icon on the wall. After this experience his prayer life deepened considerably and mystical experiences are recorded with ever increasing frequency.
This was very interesting to me, having recently read the late Fr. Anthony De Mello's book, Sadhana, which is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary with this comment:
"I am convinced that it is her [The Virgin Mary's] intercession that has obtained for me, and for many of the people I have guided, graces in prayer that we should never have acquired otherwise. There, then, is my first piece of advice to you if you would make progress in the art of contemplation: Seek out her patronage and ask for her intercession before you start out on this way. She has been given the charisma of drawing down the Holy Spirit on the Church, as she did at the Annunciation and at Pentecost, when she prayed with the Apostles. If you get her to pray with you and for you, you will be very fortunate indeed".
Mr. Butler's descriptions of his inner life begin to include what he calls, "windows of realization". I would do him an injustice if I attempted to summarize these insights, but their essence is an experience of union in which the false self, (ego), is temporarily shed and with it the delusional fears and problems that assail us in the realms of separation.
Suffice it to say that the next 250 or so pages contain some of the most profound and subtle writing on the nature of union and duality in the literature of mysticism. As mentioned above, a recurrent theme is the involuntary oscillation between these spiritual polarities. Mr. Butler arrives at a deep understanding of this condition:
"I realize clearly now, and alternatively experience, two worlds. One, where most things, people etc. are outside of oneself, and life is a continuous effort of "me" accepting, rejecting, trying to do, change or be something i.e. rearrange bits of separation. In the other world, everything is experienced inside oneself. It is entirely without effort or desire, and things are seen to happen of themselves (by Grace). Knowledge, for example, is revealed, not learnt. The key is observation from the mind at rest (humility), which also brings realization that one's separate "me" is a self-willed, ignorant imposter, the very cause of separation and trouble (pride). In the all containment of Spirit, prayer for "others" is automatic. Comprehending the whole world within oneself, and being oneself open to divine Grace, the only impediment is rejection of it. To help the world, my entire task is to remove the impediment of "me".
This is the "unseen battle" that begins with the effort to shift the identification of our consciousness to pure awareness, rather than identifying with the contents of that awareness, i.e., thoughts. The chapter, Notes From Stillness, contains much excellent advice on this endeavor.
The spiritual experiences and cosmic visions continue to increase in beauty and intensity, (yet they are always recounted with deep humility and a sense of wonder at being afforded such graces). I often find that simply reading about them induces a remarkable change in my own consciousness (although I make no claim to scale the lofty heights repeatedly attained by the author).
In my opinion, Mr. Butler has written a spiritual classic.
The Wonders of Spiritual Unfoldment is indeed a book to be read again and again. Over time it yields fresh insights and endlessly deepening layers of meaning as the reader's own spiritual unfoldment reveals treasures that were hitherto concealed.
The book's modular structure also makes it ideal for picking up and opening at random whenever inspiration or wise companionship are required. With uncanny regularity I find my eye falling on a passage that contains the precise spiritual truth that I needed to be reminded of at that particular moment.
Weighing in at just over 400 pages, it's a sprawling, big-hearted tapestry of a book that defies every rule of literary composition yet somehow hangs together as a rich, organic whole. There are verses (lyrical, spiritual and didactic); philosophical reflections; letters; essays; journal entries; prose-poems; literary criticism; mystical transports; travel sketches and even a sort of metaphysical FAQ., all strung like glowing pearls on a contextualizing thread of autobiographical narrative.
I see now that the reason I had to revisit the book after only two months was the sheer impossibility of taking so much in at a single reading. Of course, it's equally impossible to do it justice in a review - even a long-winded one like this.
Undoubtedly Mr. Butler is best qualified to pronounce on his own work, so I leave the last word to him:
"This book will not satisfy "me" - nor will it wholly satisfy a thoughtful mind. It does however amply indicate that "me" surrendered opens up into that "treasure in heaven", which ego can neither penetrate nor see. It may at first seem improbable, but as the process gradually unfolds, so gentle and self-evident, you wonder why it is not more widely understood. Troubles are all at the beginning when the murky mind of ego is still trying to include itself in the light. Understand this and the principle of "letting go" becomes clear. Then the way opens to discover that the love, peace, joy and all heart's yearning that elude us in this world, are waiting inexhaustibly in Spirit".
The Book and Mr. Butler's Website:
“The Karate Kid and Why There is (or Can Be) Purpose Behind Everything That Happens” by Karem Barratt
by Chungkong Art
I’ve just finished watching the original version of The Karate Kid with my nine-year old, and as I watched, I had what Oprah Winfrey would call, an Aha! moment. Anyone who was child or teenager during the 80s and saw the movie, must surely remember those iconic scenes of “wax on, wax off.” But, for the benefit of our younger readers, I’ll describe them briefly.
Daniel asks Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate. Mr. Miyagi accepts, but only after both have enter a “sacred contract” in which Daniel basically commits to trusting his teacher. On the first day, Mr Miyagi asks Daniel to watch and wax his cars, doing a specific set of motions with his hands. This instruction is repeated during the following days, when the older man asks Daniel to sand the floor, paint the fence and paint the house.
On each occasion, Daniel protests. He feels that his methods are better and fasters and Mr. Miyagi’s make little sense. But, eventually he complies to the instructions -until the fourth day when our Daniel explodes in anger, as he feels lied to and tricked by the supposedly karate teacher. In one brilliant moment of extraordinary educational methodology, Mr. Miyagi shows Daniel how each hard, boring and senseless task has trained his body to respond automatically and turned the different actions into karate moves.Once Daniel grasp this, he’s fully engaged during the following lessons and he receives them with patience, harmony and dedication.
Now, I can hear some of you saying something like: “great! And what does all of this have to do with life’s purpose and events?” A lot, actually. “The Lord’s ways are mysterious,” is a well-known expression in the Christian tradition, to talk about “strange coincidences” or difficult moments for which we find no reason or explanation, and feel abandoned by the God of our understanding. Let’s imagine then that all of us are bit like the protagonist of the Karate Kid: each human is Daniel and the Divine is Mr. Miyagi.
Many spiritual traditions, particularly the modern ones, seem to agree that, like in the film, before coming to this physical realm, each one of us makes a contract or agreement to exploit some talents, pay some karmic debts, and go through some experiences -all for the spiritual growth of our soul. But just as Mr. Miyagi doesn’t give much explanations as to why the fence has to be painted on a certain way, the Divine, after designing our life curriculum (with, I believe, some of our input,) keeps this information away from us on an intellectual level. Why? No idea. But if I were to give a reason, I would say that for showmanship. To create an experience where insight can explode like fireworks on New Year’s Eve and make the lesson(s) truly unforgettable.
Allow me to explain. Daniel could have accepted all the instructions quietly and, eventually, understand how they related to Karate. Maybe Mr. Miyagi himself, or the girlfriend, or another karate student would have pointed out the association and Daniel would have had a mini “aha” moment. Yet, this information would be second-handed, not wisdom born from the depth of his true Self. But when Daniel loses his faith in his teacher, his mission and his work, lets out all his frustrations and fears, he goes through what has been called “the dark night of the soul:” a hard, painful, almost soul-destroying moment all spiritual walkers go through, that is a bit like having your skin ripped off to open a space for new one to grow. And once we see the dawn, that which we were, we are no more. The way we see ourselves, life and our relationship with the Divine changes forever.
We still may not have all the answers, but we now live in the knowledge that there is purpose in all that happens, and if we are diligent students, we will look for and assimilate the lessons. We still have to struggle on in our spiritual studies, but now we are supported by our inner faith in the Spirit we have come to understand. We will get hit and we will get hurt (see poor Daniel’s state at the end of the film) but now we know we are not alone, that the Goddess heals, the God guides, that Deity is with us, holding us, yes, but also suffering and feeling with us, while at the same times it’s cheering us, being both hammer and nail, as it mould us into the precious piece of jewellery, the work of art, the masterpiece we were born to be. And at the end, in a sublime moment of true communion, we see the Divine with the eyes of our soul, half smiling, half crying, and we say: “we did it Mr. Miyagi! We did it!”
Mooji: What is the Meaning of Life?
BY NICOLAE TANASE ON 1/6/16
Nicolae Tanase: MOOJI, WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
Mooji: This is perhaps one of the most seemingly profound questions within the human kingdom. Yet at closer scrutiny it is revealed as one of the most elusive in as far as coming to any one satisfactory answer.
Let’s imagine there is a world cup football match being played. The match can only be what it is and goes how it does. However, if there happen to be one hundred commentators giving commentaries on the game, the listeners will only hear each commentator’s interpretation and each one will be different. Now, which commentator has given the most accurate account of the match? Each one will speak from his or her preference, temperament, conditioning and perspective. It will be a subjective view only and not the complete picture, which is impossible to convey. We could go further and imagine that we, ourselves, are at the match—live. Nevertheless, our view will still be biased and based on whichever team we support, as would be the view of each and every supporter. So, with an attendance of one thousand spectators, there will be a thousand unique views. Perhaps, if any view could be accepted as being most universally objective and genuine, it will come from someone who understands and enjoys the game but is inwardly neutral in terms of the game’s final outcome or score.
It is the same with the question about the meaning of life.
We can use this simple analogy or metaphor and see that it will be the same in the case of the lawyer, the mother, the doctor, the thief, the politician and the religious man. We each perceive what we consciously or unconsciously conceive. Each will perceive and experience life according to his conditioning and the role that he identifies with, but each person will only comprehend and reflect a limited perspective of the whole, shaped by the fearful and unavoidably self-opinionated mind.
Amongst the various types of beings, I feel that a sage is the one who has really grasped life in an all-encompassing and holistic way and this is so because, as an awakened being, his personal mind has merged in his universal consciousness—his source being. Such a one looks from the harmony and vastness of unconditioned consciousness, without personal interpretation or judgment. He feels at one with life in all its varied expressions and even beyond this. His enormous compassion and wisdom arises out of his effortless and natural understanding of the laws of nature, the universal play of existence as time and change and the unbroken recognition of his true Self as the core perceiver of the manifest and functioning world. His mind, free of conditioning, is not caught in the bubble of ego-identity and thus he becomes the true friend of all living beings. Seeing himself within all and all within himself, he lives the complete life. The sage alone opens the door to the Divine.
Mark Nepo: The Meaning of Life and the Wisdom That Waits in Your Heart
BY NICOLAE TANASE - 2/26/16
Nicolae Tanase: MARK, WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
Mark Nepo: As important as this question is, it’s impossible to answer—as it’s impossible to see your hands while digging or to see your eyes while looking. Instead, let me share a story about meaning.
A troubled widower made his way to ask a wise old woman about his troubles. The old woman received him and they walked along a stream. She could see the pain in his face. He began to tremble as he asked, “What’s the point? Is there any meaning to life?” She invited him to sit on a large stone near the stream. She took a long branch and swirled it in the water, then replied, “It all depends on what it means to you to be alive.” In his sorrow, the man dropped his shoulders and the old woman gave him the branch. “Go on,” she said, “touch the branch to the water.”
As he poked the branch in the running stream, there was something comforting about feeling the movement of the water in his hand through the branch. She touched his hand and said, “You see, that you can feel the water without putting your hand in the water, this is what meaning feels like.” The man grew tender but still seemed puzzled. She said, “Close your eyes and feel your wife now gone. That you can feel her in your heart without being able to touch her, this is how meaning saves us.”
The widower began to cry. The old woman put her arm around him, “No one knows how to live or how to die. We only know how to love and how to lose, and how to pick up branches of meaning along the way.”
Every book and form of art, every keepsake and treasure we pass from generation to generation, every story told—these are the branches of meaning that help us along the way. And though we develop over time, there is no logical progression of steps by which our lives grow. Instead, each life unfolds the way rainwater fills the contours and grooves of the ground it lands on. No two patches of earth are identical and so the rain must fit each particular stretch of soil: trickling, pooling, and settling, as it will. In the same way, meaning fills the particulars of each life.
Two things I’m sure of are that we gather meaning through relationship, and that we understand life by working with what we’re given. And regardless of what you do for a living, the only important vocation is listening to the heart when it says: this is vital, this is alive, this can’t be lost. For me, the vitality and aliveness always precede my understanding of them. Making sense of our experience demands a faith in knowing what matters before we understand what it means. Making sense of life demands a conversation with what we’ve found and with what has found us.
As the wise old woman says in the story above, “No one knows how to live or how to die. We only know how to love and how to lose, and how to pick up branches of meaning along the way.”
Ultimately, meaning comes from inhabiting our gifts. I believe each person is born with a gift. Our call is to find it and care for it. I also believe that the ultimate purpose of the gift is to exercise the heart into inhabiting its aliveness. For the covenant of life is not just to stay alive, but to stay in our aliveness. And staying in aliveness depends on opening the heart and keeping it open.
Our dreams, goals, and ambitions are all kindling, fuel for the heart to exercise its aliveness, to bring our gift into the world, to discover what matters. Like a match, our light is revealed as our gift strikes against the needs of the world. When my sincerity strikes against yours, our gifts can give off their light.
We drift in and out of knowing our aliveness. Pain, worry, fear, and loss can muffle and confuse us. But finding our gift and working it will bring us back alive. It doesn’t matter if we’re skillful or clumsy, if we play our gift well or awkwardly, or if we make great strides or fail. Aliveness is not a judge in a talent show. Aliveness shows itself in response to wholeheartedness, when we can say yes to life, work with what we’re given, and stay in relationship—to everything.
When we come out of hiding and bring up the lights, we begin to discover what it means to be awake. When we’re knocked off our horse, we’re brought closer to life. Then we’re challenged to use our heart to break a path—this is the soul’s work. Finding our way always depends on using the one life we’re given to uncover the story behind the story, so we might find what can last.
So brave your way on. You are a blessing waiting to be discovered by yourself. The wisdom waits in your heart like a buried treasure which only loving your self can bring to the surface. And loving your self is like diving to the bottom of the ocean with nothing but who you are to find your way.
~Mark Nepo moved and inspired readers and seekers around the world with his #1 New York Times bestseller The Book of Awakening. Beloved as a poet, teacher, and storyteller, Mark has been called “one of the finest spiritual guides of our time,” “a consummate storyteller,” and “an eloquent spiritual teacher.” He has published seventeen books and recorded twelve audio projects and his work has been translated into more than twenty languages. The above contains excerpts from his forthcoming book The One Life We’re Given: Finding the Wisdom That Waits in Your Heart (Atria, July 2016). His most recent book is Inside the Miracle: Enduring Suffering, Approaching Wholeness (Sounds True, 2015). Mark has appeared several times with Oprah Winfrey on her Super Soul Sunday program on OWN TV, and has also been interviewed by Robin Roberts on Good Morning America. And in 2016, he was named by Watkins: Mind Body Spirit as one of the 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People.
Judo: The Gentle Tao by Alan Watts
by Alan Watts
"Man at his birth is supple and tender, but in death, he is rigid and hard. Thus, suppleness and tenderness accompany life, but rigidity and hardness accompany death.”
I have just been reading from Lao-tzu on the philosophy of the strength of weakness. It is a strange thing, I think, how it is men in the West do not realize how much softness is strength. One of old Lao-tzu's favorite analogies was water. He spoke of water as the weakest of all things in the world, and yet there is nothing to be compared with it in overcoming what is hard and strong. You can cut water with a knife. It lets the knife go right through, but when the knife is withdrawn there's not even the trace of a wound.
Lao-tzu also said that while being a man, one should retain a certain essential feminine element, and he who does this will become a channel for the whole world. The ideal of the hundred percent tough guy, the rigid, rugged fellow with muscles like rocks, is really a weakness. Probably we assume this sort of tough exterior as a hard shell to protect ourselves so much from the outside as from fear of weakness on the inside. What happens if an engineer builds a completely rigid bridge? If, for example, the Golden Gate Bridge or George Washington Bridge didn't sway in the wind, if they had no give, no yielding, they would come crashing down. And so you can always be sure that when a man pretends to be one hundred percent man, he's in doubt of his manhood. If he can allow himself to be weak, he can allow himself what is really the greatest strength, not only of human beings, but of all living things. It is upon the philosophy of the strength of weakness that came from China to Japan through the migration of Zen Buddhism that there has largely been inspired one of the most astonishing forms of self defense known as Judo, or perhaps more popularly, Ju-jitsu.
The word Judo is fascinating because it means Ju- the gentle, do- way. Do is the Japanese way of pronouncing the Chinese Tao, and so it is the gentle Tao, the philosophy of the Tao as applied to self defense. Now this philosophy has various components, and one of the most basic things to the whole practice of Judo is an understanding of balance. Balance, indeed, is a fundamental idea in Taoist philosophy. The philosophy of the Tao has a basic respect for the balance of nature. You don't upset that balance. You try to find out what it is and go along with it. In other words you avoid such mistakes as the wholesale slaughter of an insect pest, of the introduction of rabbits into a country like Australia without thought as to whether the rabbit has a natural enemy, because through such interference with the balance of nature you find yourself in trouble. So the philosophy of balance is the number one thing that all students of Judo have to learn.
You may illustrate this principle using a ball. Wherever one pushes the ball it yields, but it never loses its balance. It is the safest form in the world; completely contained, and never off center. And thus to be completely contained, and never put off center by anything, this is what is aimed at in Zen.
This is also symbolized sometimes in the figure of the legendary founder of Zen, Bodhidharma. Japanese toy makers represent him as a little dumpy toy figure weighted in such a way that however you hit it, it always comes upright again. And so in the same way the expert in Zen, as well as in Judo, must be a man who is never fazed. He is never brought to a point of doubt where he hesitates, where there's an interval between the action of life and his response to it. Now if we look at these principles of Judo the problem of balance is easily demonstrated with a question of lifting a heavy roll of material. We would be foolish to try and just pick it up from the top because that shows no understanding of the laws of balance. If you want to lift something, go below its center of gravity. Put your shoulder to it, undermine it, and lift it so. And that principle goes throughout Judo. Part of the understanding of balance in Judo is to learn to walk in such a way that you are never off center. That is to say your legs form a triangle, and your body is on the apex of it, and when you turn you always try to keep your feet approximately under you shoulders, and in this way you are never of balance.
The second principle, beyond keeping balance, and understanding balance, is not to oppose strength to strength. When one is attacked by the enemy you do not oppose him. Instead you yield to him, just like the matador yields to the bull, and you use his strength and the principle of balance to bring about his downfall. Supposing, for example, there is a blow coming at me from a certain direction. Instead of defending myself, and pushing the blow off, the idea in judo is to carry the blow away. The knee goes out, catching the adversary below his point of balance, and he drops with a 'bang' brought about on his own initiative, and your cunning. The same attitude of relaxed gentleness is most beautifully seen, for instance, in watching cats. When a cat falls of a tree, it lets go of itself. The cat becomes completely relaxed, and lands on the ground with a heavy thud. And if, for example, a cat were about to fall off a tree and suddenly made up its mind that it didn't want to fall at all and became tense, it would be just a bag of broken bones upon landing.
So, in the same way, it is the philosophy of Zen that we are all falling off a tree. As a matter of fact, the moment we were born we were kicked off a precipice and we are falling, and there is nothing that can stop it. So instead of living in a state of chronic tension, and clinging to all sorts of things which are actually falling with us because the whole world is impermanent, be like a cat.
"When Men Made God a Man: Religion, the Patriarchy and the Culture of Misogyny" by Maya Spier Stiles North
February 8, 2013 in Columnists
When men made God a man: Religion, the patriarchy and the culture of misogyny
Women are inferior to men: “A man is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.”
— 1 Corinthians 11:7
Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other… As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and forsake them in beds apart, and beat them.”
— Quran 4:34
Since women are not capable of living independently, she is to be kept under the custody of her father as child, under her husband as a woman and under her son as widow.
— From the Hindu text Manusmriti
The female’s defects … greed, hate, and delusion and other defilements – are greater than the male’s.”
— The Buddha
When you go out to war against your enemies and the LORD, your God, delivers them into your hand, so that you take captives, if you see a comely woman among the captives and become so enamored of her that you wish to have her as wife, you may take her home to your house.
— Deuteronomy 21:10-14 NAB
Police said the three men drove around while sexually assaulting the woman in the vehicle, before driving back to the same corner where they had abducted her. They then took her car keys and drove off in her car, as well as the vehicle in which they had assaulted her.
— Helen Freund, The Times-Picayune
The theory goes, as I have heard it, that the first societies were matriarchal, but when men realized that they had something to do with conception, they ceased the worship and respect of women, embraced their greater upper body strength and more directly aggressive natures, raised a meaty fist, and clubbed the women to the ground. And thus was born the patriarchy.
As for when this happened, the debate rages on, but the posited number is in the range of multiple millennia. These dry words do not encompass the millions upon millions of women owned. Beaten. Ravaged. Sold. Murdered. Enslaved. Silenced. Destroyed. Can your mind encompass the number of raised fists landing to rend flesh, to break bones, to reduce a human being to a sobbing heap of powerlessness and agony? Can it? Can it encompass the number of women who have been pinned down, bodies opened by cruel hands as their most tender and sacred flesh is plundered and ripped? I can. It haunts me. It ravages my heart. It brings back memories. Patriarchy without religion makes this horror merely brutal. Religion gives patriarchal religion the sanction of sacredness: women’s usability and abusability systematized and given rule of law — and all in the name of love – or at least, the general principles of existence. Patriarchy is what gave God the male gender. In Christianity, whether it was the direct and actual God or the putative descendant of God, the only womb involved was in the implanting of the Sacred Male in its nurturing container. No faith that can fairly be determined as patriarchal even entertains the idea of a gender-neutral god, at least not in its more original form, although some branches have been evolving. Men, who have only been moving away from the patriarchal in the last 90 years or so, saw that God was a man and that they were men, too, and therefore men were like God – divine and all-powerful — and women, not being anything like God, were far, far less. So with God on their side, they began to quantify, in detail, all the ways in which women were worthless except as only barely animate property that could produce sons and saleable daughters at the man’s whim, along the way blaming women for the men’s own lusts and complete unwillingness to control their impulses.
Even today, the numbers are staggering. One out of every three women on this planet has been physically assaulted by an intimate partner, and these sources include reports by the United Nations and the World Health Organization, neither of which are prone to exaggeration. This means that in a world with 7.064 billion people where there are 1.01 men to every 1 woman, there are likely about 3.5 billion women. If one out of three women in the world have suffered gender violence in whatever form, these women would currently number something around 1.18 billion women will have been beaten, raped or murdered – or any combination of the three – in the course of a lifetime. And these are only the ones reported. With the act of reporting being potentially even mortally dangerous, I can only imagine how many more there are.
These are just statistics from domestic violence. Men feel quite comfortable being violent to women they have never met. So far the statistics I am finding say that of all the violence committed against women, 22 percent of it was perpetrated by strangers. Even 20 years ago, The National Crime Victimization Survey reported that, in the United States, women 12 and older suffered five million assaults of undifferentiated nature. That would mean that in a single year, 1.1 million women were assaulted by a man or men they did not know. At random. Because they could. And because the patriarchal culture, bolstered by the empowerment of God-given superiority, had created a world where the nullification of women’s humanity was divinely sanctioned. But all the numbers in the world cannot give you the picture of what it looks like, what it feels like — the sounds, the impossible cruelty of it. It was just a little while ago that a woman dear to me was kidnapped at gunpoint. They threw her in a van, these three men, sanctioned by God as entitled to rule all within this world, encouraged by the Jewish and Christian scriptures to rape at will, created a hell in which this woman will have to fight to defeat and escape — if she ever can. In many societies, she would never be allowed out of her torment. In these societies, it is the woman who is shamed, who is blamed, who is rejected and repudiated – and even murdered – for the sin of having been raped. Often, the most savage of those who brutalize these woman all over again will claim to be devoted members of their religion. Stop for a moment and visualize this happening over and ever. Every year. Year after year. And ask yourself this: If faith was, in fact, faithful to its tenets of love and goodness instead of fomenting a love and glorying of war, the sanctioning of women’s inferiority, objectification, violence and ravagement, all in words putatively written by or divinely inspired by the God of many religions – would the brutality against women even exist? Would it be so intrinsic to the culture that it scarcely even warrants more than a moment’s mention – if mentioned at all? For a moment, please consider the possibility of a world where faith was, in fact, faithful, power was gentle, and all people walked side by side instead of one five steps behind the other. In such a world, perhaps we would finally, finally see the day where women – and children – could walk without fear. In my dreams…
Just finished watching this video. I'm sure some will argue Honey is a "secular humanist" or "lacks faith” or does not believe in the “inherently of scripture.” In reality he is simply asking questions many Christians have pondered or struggled with and have chosen to be silence about. Part of the practice of faith is the willingness to be uncertain and if that uncertainty requires asking questions, then so be it.
I am a vicar in the Church of England. I've been a priest in the Church for 20 years. For most of that time, I've been struggling and grappling with questions about the nature of God. Who is God? And I'm very aware that when you say the word "God," many people will turn off immediately. And most people, both within and outside the organized church, still have a picture of a celestial controller, a rule maker, a policeman in the sky who orders everything, and causes everything to happen. He will protect his own people, and answer the prayers of the faithful.
And in the worship of my church, the most frequently used adjective about God is "almighty." But I have a problem with that. I have become more and more uncomfortable with this perception of God over the years. Do we really believe that God is the kind of male boss that we've been presenting in our worship and in our liturgies over all these years?
Of course, there have been thinkers who have suggested different ways of looking at God. Exploring the feminine, nurturing side of divinity. Suggesting that God expresses Himself or Herself through powerlessness, rather than power. Acknowledging that God is unknown and unknowable by definition. Finding deep resonances with other religions and philosophies and ways of looking at life as part of what is a universal and global search for meaning. These ideas are well known in liberal academic circles, but clergy like myself have been reluctant to air them, for fear of creating tension and division in our church communities, for fear of upsetting the simple faith of more traditional believers. I have chosen not to rock the boat.
Then, on December 26th last year, just two months ago, that underwater earthquake triggered the tsunami. And two weeks later, Sunday morning, 9th of January, I found myself standing in front of my congregation -- intelligent, well meaning, mostly thoughtful Christian people -- and I needed to express, on their behalf, our feelings and our questions. I had my own personal responses, but I also have a public role, and something needed to be said. And this is what I said.
Shortly after the tsunami I read a newspaper article written by the Archbishop of Canterbury -- fine title -- about the tragedy in Southern Asia. The essence of what he said was this: the people most affected by the devastation and loss of life do not want intellectual theories about how God let this happen. He wrote, "If some religious genius did come up with an explanation of exactly why all these deaths made sense, would we feel happier, or safer, or more confident in God?"
If the man in the photograph that appeared in the newspapers, holding the hand of his dead child was standing in front of us now, there are no words that we could say to him. A verbal response would not be appropriate. The only appropriate response would be a compassionate silence and some kind of practical help. It isn't a time for explanation, or preaching, or theology; it's a time for tears.
This is true. And yet here we are, my church in Oxford, semi-detached from events that happened a long way away, but with our faith bruised. And we want an explanation from God. We demand an explanation from God. Some have concluded that we can only believe in a God who shares our pain. In some way, God must feel the anguish, and grief, and physical pain that we feel. In some way the eternal God must be able to enter into the souls of human beings and experience the torment within. And if this is true, it must also be that God knows the joy and exaltation of the human spirit, as well. We want a God who can weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.
This seems to me both a deeply moving and a convincing re-statement of Christian belief about God. For hundreds of years, the prevailing orthodoxy, the accepted truth, was that God the Father, the Creator, is unchanging and therefore by definition cannot feel pain or sadness. Now the unchanging God feels a bit cold and indifferent to me. And the devastating events of the 20th century have forced people to question the cold, unfeeling God. The slaughter of millions in the trenches and in the death camps have caused people to ask, "Where is God in all this? Who is God in all this?"
And the answer was, "God is in this with us, or God doesn't deserve our allegiance anymore." If God is a bystander, observing but not involved, then God may well exist, but we don't want to know about Him. Many Jews and Christians now feel like this, I know. And I am among them.
So we have a suffering God -- a God who is intimately connected with this world and with every living soul. I very much relate to this idea of God. But it isn't enough. I need to ask some more questions, and I hope they are questions that you will want to ask, as well, some of you.
Over the last few weeks I have been struck by the number of times that words in our worship have felt a bit inappropriate, a bit dodgy. We have a pram service on Tuesday mornings for mums and their pre-school children. And last week we sang with the children one of their favorite songs, "The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock." Perhaps some of you know it. Some of the words go like this: "The foolish man built his house upon the sand / And the floods came up / And the house on the sand went crash." Then in the same week, at a funeral, we sang the familiar hymn "We Plow the Fields and Scatter," a very English hymn. In the second verse comes the line, "The wind and waves obey Him." Do they? I don't feel we can sing that song again in church, after what's happened.
So the first big question is about control. Does God have a plan for each of us? Is God in control? Does God order each moment? Does the wind and the waves obey Him? From time to time, one hears Christians telling the story of how God organized things for them, so that everything worked out all right -- some difficulty overcome, some illness cured, some trouble averted, a parking space found at a crucial time. I can remember someone saying this to me, with her eyes shining with enthusiasm at this wonderful confirmation of her faith and the goodness of God.
But if God can or will do these things -- intervene to change the flow of events -- then surely he could have stopped the tsunami. Do we have a local God who can do little things like parking spaces, but not big things like 500 mile-per-hour waves? That's just not acceptable to intelligent Christians, and we must acknowledge it. Either God is responsible for the tsunami, or God is not in control.
After the tragedy, survival stories began to emerge. You probably heard some of them: the man who surfed the wave, the teenage girl who recognized the danger because she had just been learning about tsunamis at school. Then there was the congregation who had left their usual church building on the shore to hold a service in the hills. The preacher delivered an extra long sermon, so that they were still out of harm's way when the wave struck. Afterwards someone said that God must have been looking after them.
So the next question is about partiality. Can we earn God's favor by worshipping Him or believing in Him? Does God demand loyalty, like any medieval tyrant? A God who looks after His own, so that Christians are OK, while everyone else perishes? A cosmic us and them, and a God who is guilty of the worst kind of favoritism? That would be appalling, and that would be the point at which I would hand in my membership. Such a God would be morally inferior to the highest ideals of humanity.
So who is God, if not the great puppet-master or the tribal protector? Perhaps God allows or permits terrible things to happen, so that heroism and compassion can be shown. Perhaps God is testing us: testing our charity, or our faith. Perhaps there is a great, cosmic plan that allows for horrible suffering so that everything will work out OK in the end. Perhaps, but these ideas are all just variations on God controlling everything, the supreme commander toying with expendable units in a great campaign. We are still left with a God who can do the tsunami and allow Auschwitz.
In his great novel, "The Brothers Karamazov," Dostoevsky gives these words to Ivan, addressed to his naive and devout younger brother, Alyosha: "If the sufferings of children go to make up the sum of sufferings which is necessary for the purchase of truth, then I say beforehand that the entire truth is not worth such a price. We cannot afford to pay so much for admission. It is not God that I do not accept. I merely, most respectfully, return Him the ticket."
Or perhaps God set the whole universe going at the beginning and then relinquished control forever, so that natural processes could occur, and evolution run its course. This seems more acceptable, but it still leaves God with the ultimate moral responsibility. Is God a cold, unfeeling spectator? Or a powerless lover, watching with infinite compassion things God is unable to control or change? Is God intimately involved in our suffering, so that He feels it in His own being?
If we believe something like this, we must let go of the puppet-master completely, take our leave of the almighty controller, abandon traditional models. We must think again about God. Maybe God doesn't do things at all. Maybe God isn't an agent like all of us are agents. Early religious thought conceived God as a sort of superhuman person, doing things all over the place. Beating up the Egyptians, drowning them in the Red Sea, wasting cities, getting angry. The people knew their God by His mighty acts.
But what if God doesn't act? What if God doesn't do things at all? What if God is in things? The loving soul of the universe. An in-dwelling compassionate presence, underpinning and sustaining all things. What if God is in things? In the infinitely complex network of relationships and connections that make up life. In the natural cycle of life and death, the creation and destruction that must happen continuously. In the process of evolution. In the incredible intricacy and magnificence of the natural world. In the collective unconscious, the soul of the human race. In you, in me, mind and body and spirit. In the tsunami, in the victims. In the depth of things. In presence and in absence. In simplicity and complexity. In change and development and growth.
How does this in-ness, this innerness, this interiority of God work? It's hard to conceive, and begs more questions. Is God just another name for the universe, with no independent existence at all? I don't know. To what extent can we ascribe personality to God? I don't know. In the end, we have to say, "I don't know." If we knew, God would not be God.
To have faith in this God would be more like trusting an essential benevolence in the universe, and less like believing a system of doctrinal statements. Isn't it ironic that Christians who claim to believe in an infinite, unknowable being then tie God down in closed systems and rigid doctrines?
How could one practice such a faith? By seeking the God within. By cultivating my own inwardness. In silence, in meditation, in my inner space, in the me that remains when I gently put aside my passing emotions and ideas and preoccupations. In awareness of the inner conversation.
And how would we live such a faith? How would I live such a faith? By seeking intimate connection with your inwardness. The kind of relationships when deep speaks to deep. If God is in all people, then there is a meeting place where my relationship with you becomes a three-way encounter. There is an Indian greeting, which I'm sure some of you know: "Namaste," accompanied by a respectful bow, which, roughly translated means, "That which is of God in me greets that which of God is in you." Namaste.
And how would one deepen such a faith? By seeking the inwardness which is in all things. In music and poetry, in the natural world of beauty and in the small ordinary things of life, there is a deep, indwelling presence that makes them extraordinary. It needs a profound attentiveness and a patient waiting, a contemplative attitude and a generosity and openness to those whose experience is different from my own.
When I stood up to speak to my people about God and the tsunami, I had no answers to offer them. No neat packages of faith, with Bible references to prove them. Only doubts and questioning and uncertainty. I had some suggestions to make -- possible new ways of thinking about God. Ways that might allow us to go on, down a new and uncharted road. But in the end, the only thing I could say for sure was, "I don't know," and that just might be the most profoundly religious statement of all.
"A Primer On Science, Religion, Evolution And Creationism Human Origins Initiative", Broader Social Impacts Committee Co-Chairs: Dr. Connie Bertka And Dr. Jim Miller
Science, Religion, Evolution And Creationism: Primer
A Primer On Science, Religion, Evolution And Creationism
Human Origins Initiative, Broader Social Impacts Committee
Co-Chairs: Dr. Connie Bertka And Dr. Jim Miller
Introduction: The Broader Social Impacts Committee
The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) invites the public to explore the depths of our understanding of what it means to be human in relation to the most reliable scientific research. The answers to the question, “What Does It Mean To Be Human?” draw on a variety of sources: scientific understandings of the biological origins and development of Homo sapiens, studies of social and cultural evolution, and global and personal insights from contemporary experience. It is in recognition of these broad factors that public engagement materials, events, and contributions to the Human Origins web site are being developed by the Broader Social Impacts Committee (BSIC) to support the exhibition in the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins.
Organized by the Museum’s Human Origins Initiative, the BSIC is a group of scholars and practitioners from a wide range of religious and philosophical perspectives, many of whom also have experience in the academic field of science and religion. This committee helps inform the Smithsonian about the range of cultural perspectives the public brings to the exhibit, considers ways the museum can encourage the public’s engagement with the science the exhibit presents, and helps equip museum staff and volunteers to participate in a respectful conversation where science intersects with cultural and religious interests. The committee recognizes the unique opportunity the subject of human origins offers for the exploration of challenging cultural topics, which in turn can inspire greater public interest in, and understanding of, science.
Thus, it is with input from the committee that the co-chairs have prepared this primer. It provides a brief introduction to issues that arise at the crossroads of science and religion, particularly in relation to the scientific accounts of evolution and human origins that are presented in the exhibit. The primer is organized around two broad topics: science and religion and evolution and creationism. A question and answer format is used to highlight common concerns for each of these topics. Cultural divides in the United States over the acceptance of evolution and scientific understandings of human origins make this interchange relevant. They also offer an opportunity to inspire a positive relationship between science and religion.
Science And Religion
Visitors to the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins bring with them many assumptions about science, about religion, and about their relationship. These assumptions may impact, positively or negatively, their willingness and ability to engage the scientific presentation of human origins. The questions below are offered as a guide to begin thinking about science and religion in the context of the possible interactions of religious worldviews with a scientific account of human evolution and origins.
1. What is science?
Science is a way to understand nature by developing explanations for the structures, processes and history of nature that can be tested by observations in laboratories or in the field. Sometimes such observations are direct, like measuring the chemical composition of a rock. Other times these observations are indirect, like determining the presence of an exoplanet through the wobble of its host star. An explanation of some aspect of nature that has been well supported by such observations is a theory. Well-substantiated theories are the foundations of human understanding of nature. The pursuit of such understanding is science.
2. What is religion?
Religion, or more appropriately religions, are cultural phenomena comprised of social institutions, traditions of practice, literatures, sacred texts and stories, and sacred places that identify and convey an understanding of ultimate meaning. Religions are very diverse. While it is common for religions to identify the ultimate with a deity (like the western monotheisms – Judaism, Christianity, Islam) or deities, not all do. There are non-theistic religions, like Buddhism.
3. What is the difference between science and religion?
Although science does not provide proofs, it does provide explanations. Science depends on deliberate, explicit and formal testing (in the natural world) of explanations for the way the world is, for the processes that led to its present state, and for its possible future. When scientists see that a proposed explanation has been well confirmed by repeated observations, it serves the scientific community as a reliable theory. A theory in science is the highest form of scientific explanation, not just a “mere opinion.” Strong theories, ones that have been well confirmed by evidence from nature, are an essential goal of science. Well-supported theories guide future efforts to solve other questions about the natural world.
Religions may draw upon scientific explanations of the world, in part, as a reliable way of knowing what the world is like, about which they seek to discern its ultimate meaning. However, “testing” of religious understandings of the world is incidental, implicit and informal in the course of the life of the religious community in the world. Religious understanding draws from both subjective insight and traditional authority. Therefore, some people view religion as based on nothing more than personal opinion or “blind faith,” and so, as immune to rational thought. However, this is an erroneous judgment. Virtually all of the historic religions include traditions of rational reflection.
4. How are science and religion similar?
Science and religion both have historical traditions that exhibit development over time. Each has places for individual insight and communal discernment. Analytic and synthetic reasoning can be found exhibited in both. Science and religion have been and continue to be formative elements shaping an increasingly global human society. Both science and religion have served to jeopardize and contribute to the common human good.
5. How can science and religion be related?
Typical assumptions about this relationship fall into one of three forms: conflict, separation or interaction.
A conflict approach assumes that science and religion are competitors for cultural authority. Either science sets the standard for truth to which religion must adhere or be dismissed, or religion sets the standard to which science must conform. For example, some atheists adopt this approach and argue that science reduces religion to a merely natural phenomenon. Conversely, some religious adherents, while claiming to accept science, will identify specific points at which mainstream scientific findings must be distorted or abandoned for the sake of religious convictions. Such an adversarial approach tends to rule out any constructive engagement between science and religion.
Individuals who prefer a separation approach hold that science and religion use different languages, ask different questions and have different objects of interest (e.g., nature for science and God for religion). By highlighting the differences between science and religion, conflict is avoided. While this approach allows a person to explore what science has learned about human origins without fear of conflict with religious beliefs, it also encourages that the science be left, so to speak, at the museum threshold so that it has no impact on other non-scientific explorations of what it means to be human. A consequence of separation is that the science of human origins can be viewed as irrelevant to what might be the deepest of human concerns.
It should be noted that it is true that science is practiced without reference to religion. God may be an ultimate explanation, but God is not a scientific explanation. This approach to science is called methodological naturalism. However, this method of isolating religious interests from scientific research is not an example of the separation approach. Historically, this bracketing out of religious questions in the practice of scientific inquiry was promoted by religious thinkers in the 18th and 19th centuries as the most fruitful way to discover penultimate rather than ultimate explanations of the structures and processes of nature.
A third possibility for the relationship between science and religion, one of interaction, at minimum holds that dialogue between science and religion can be valuable, more that science and religion can constructively benefit from engagement, and at maximum envisions a convergence of scientific and religious perspectives. Generally, this view encourages an effort to explore the significance of scientific understanding for religious understanding and vice versa. With this approach science remains relevant beyond the museum for many people who might otherwise ignore scientific findings.
Evolution And Creationism
The National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution has a responsibility due to its charter to provide the public with an opportunity to explore for themselves the most recent scientific understandings of the natural world, including human origins. However the question, “What does it mean to be human?” is generally recognized as one that does not belong solely to the realm of science. People are well aware that insights from the humanities, including the arts, literature and religious traditions, have much to say on this topic as well. For some people an evolutionary account of human origins may be greeted with skepticism because it challenges their particular religious commitments. In contrast, other people find their religious perspectives are deepened and enriched by an evolutionary understanding of human origins. Although the questions below recognize this range of perspectives, many of the questions reflect expectations that are especially characteristic of people from those religious communities that are skeptical about the science of evolution. Ironically, people in these latter communities often value science and seek scientific support for their particular religious commitments.
1. Do “creationists” necessarily oppose an evolutionary understanding of the history of nature and the origins of species and humanity?
No. In principle all members of the three western monotheisms (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are “creationists” in that they believe the order of nature exists because a reality beyond nature, commonly called “God”, is the ultimate cause of all existence. In this sense of the word, many creationists accept an evolutionary understanding of natural history. However, at least four types of creationism can be identified, and each has a distinctive view of the evolutionary sciences and human origins.
“Young-Earth” creationists hold that the sacred text provides an inerrant account of how the universe, all life and humankind came into existence; namely, in six 24-hour days, some 6-10,000 years ago. Human beings were created through a direct act of divine intervention in the order of nature.
“Old-Earth” creationists hold that the sacred text is an infallible account of why the universe, all life and humankind came into existence, but accepts that the “days” of creation are metaphorical and could represent very long periods of time. While many aspects of nature may be the consequence of direct acts of divine creation, at very least they hold that the very beginning of the universe, the origin of life and the origin of humankind are the consequence of distinct acts of divine intervention in the order of nature.
Theistic evolutionists also hold that the sacred text provides an infallible account of why the universe, all life and humankind came into existence. However, they also hold that for the most part, the diversity of nature from stars to planets to living organisms, including the human body, is a consequence of the divine using processes of evolution to create indirectly. Still, for many who hold this position, the very beginning of the universe, the origin of life, and the origin of what is distinctive about humankind are the consequence of direct acts of divine intervention in the order of nature.
Evolutionary theists hold that the sacred text, while giving witness to the ultimate divine source of all of nature, in no way specifies the means of creation. Further, they hold that the witness of creation itself is that the divine creates only indirectly through evolutionary processes without any intervention in the order of nature.
2. What will be the exhibition’s message to the majority (in some polls 53%) of Americans who do not accept evolution?
The exhibition’s main message is the same for all visitors; namely, that the scientific study of human origins is an exciting and fruitful area of research that has provided us with a deeper understanding of both our connection to all of life on Earth and the uniqueness of our species, Homo sapiens. It is intended that those Americans who do not accept evolution will experience in this exhibition an open invitation to engage the science presented, explore the supporting materials, and participate in conversation with staff and volunteers without fear of ridicule or antagonism. Though the viewpoints of those who do not accept the scientific explanation of human origins are not affirmed in the exhibition, the personal importance of their perspectives is appreciated. What the exhibition intends to create is an environment for an enriching and respectful dialogue on human origins that currently can be found in no other venue.
3. Scientific theories change in the light of new discoveries. Why should we believe what science has to say today about human origins when it may change tomorrow?
The perception that scientists completely change their mind with each new discovery is mistaken. Although this has occurred occasionally in the history of science, it is relatively rare.
Unfortunately, media coverage of advances in scientific research often sensationalize the “revolutionary” nature of new discoveries and are also likely to focus on the most controversial interpretations of new findings. What is frequently missed is the broad consensus among scientists in a field, like that of human origins research, which provides the basis for seeking new discoveries. For example, it is broadly agreed that the various characteristics that distinguish our species did not emerge all at once. Walking on two legs emerged before making stone tools, and both of these occurred well before the biggest increase in human brain size. All of these came before the origin of art and symbolic communication. Farming and the rise of civilizations occurred much later still. There is broad scientific agreement even in the light of the most recent fossil discoveries that these changes that define our species took place over a period of about 6 million years. Each visitor to the exhibition has the opportunity to explore both the latest findings of laboratory and field research as well as consider how the scientific community is using these to give a more complete account of human origins. Each visitor is also invited to consider how this account might inform their deepest religious understanding of what it means to be human.
4. What is Intelligent Design and does the exhibit address it?
Advocates of Intelligent Design (ID) hold that there are features of the natural world for which there are no natural explanations and that these features can be shown analytically to be the result of a designing agent. Although ID advocates seldom specify who the designer is, the logic of their argument requires that the designer be beyond nature, or supernatural. However, advocates for ID have not been able to show that their claims are genuinely scientific. While the scientific community welcomes new theoretical proposals, these must lead to active research programs that deepen our understanding of nature and that can find confirmation in either laboratory or field observations. Thus far, ID advocates have been unable to do either.
As an institution of informal public education, the exhibit cannot advocate a religious position. As a matter of public record, a US Federal Court has ruled that ID is not science but instead is a religious viewpoint (Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 2005). For all of these reasons it is inappropriate for ID to be included in a scientific presentation on human origins.
4. Still, some people believe that there is a scientific debate about evolution, and that advocates of ID represent one side of this debate. They wonder, “Why isn’t the Smithsonian presenting that side?” They see it as an issue of fairness and expect that ID should be presented equally.
As noted above, the scientific community does not recognize ID as a scientific position. Therefore, it is not one side of a scientific debate. At the same time, the exhibition does provide the visitor with genuine examples of how the evidence for human evolution is interpreted differently by different researchers, for example, in the construction of frameworks for understanding how prehistoric species are related to one another. Here different interpretations of the evolutionary data are presented. While there is lively debate about such alternatives and data is actively sought to discriminate between them, there is no scientific debate about the basic validity of the theory of evolution as the best scientific explanation for the expansion and diversification of life on Earth, including human life.
5. Does the exhibition identify the gaps in the scientific understanding of the origin of humans, gaps that can suggest that God played a role?
It is just such “gaps” in our understanding that fuel the scientific enterprise. It is the unresolved questions about nature that mark the fertile areas for new research, propelling the sciences forward -- including those related to human origin studies. Science, as a particular way of knowing, restricts itself to offering natural explanations for the natural world. When scientists find a gap in their understanding of nature, as scientists they cannot say, “Here is where God acts in some miraculous manner.” Instead, scientists seek to look deeper into nature to discover there the answers that fill the gaps.
It is worth noting that many religious persons take exception to a “God of the gaps” viewpoint, to the idea that the action of God in creation is limited to those areas where there are gaps in human understanding. Supporting materials being developed for the exhibition by the BSIC will help visitors discover resources from various religious traditions that explore religious views on the relation of God and nature.
6. How do people incorporate evolution into their religious worldview?
Religious traditions vary in their response to evolution. For example, Asian religious worldviews do not assume an all-powerful creator God and often see the world religiously as interconnected and dynamic. They tend, therefore, to engage scientific accounts of evolution with little difficulty. However, for Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions, the affirmation of a creator God in relation to the world has a central place. As noted in the discussion of various forms of “creationism” above, many individuals in these monotheistic traditions accept, generally, that God created the material world mostly by means of evolutionary processes. At the same time, some of these persons are committed to the view that there are a few specific acts of divine creative intervention: namely, at the very beginning of the universe, at the origin of life, and at the origin of humankind. However, as previously noted, others in the monotheistic traditions hold that God creates entirely by means of evolutionary processes without any intervention, even in the case of humans.
At least for theistic evolutionists and evolutionary theists the scientific exhibition on evolution and human origins stimulates the questions, “Where is God in the process?” and “What does it mean to be created in God’s image?” To the extent that such questions provoke a constructive engagement of scientific and religious ideas, they are an expression of an interaction approach to science and religion. There are many though, who adopt a separation approach to science and religion. For these individuals there is no need to raise religious questions in light of the science of human origins.
Lesley Hazleton: The Doubt Essential to Faith
Writing biography is a strange thing to do. It's a journey into the foreign territory of somebody else's life, a journey, an exploration that can take you places you never dreamed of going and still can't quite believe you've been, especially if, like me, you're an agnostic Jew and the life you've been exploring is that of Muhammad.
Five years ago, for instance, I found myself waking each morning in misty Seattle to what I knew was an impossible question: What actually happened one desert night, half the world and almost half of history away? What happened, that is, on the night in the year 610 when Muhammad received the first revelation of the Koran on a mountain just outside Mecca? This is the core mystical moment of Islam, and as such, of course, it defies empirical analysis. Yet the question wouldn't let go of me. I was fully aware that for someone as secular as I am, just asking it could be seen as pure chutzpah. (Laughter) And I plead guilty as charged, because all exploration, physical or intellectual, is inevitably in some sense an act of transgression, of crossing boundaries.
Still, some boundaries are larger than others. So a human encountering the divine, as Muslims believe Muhammad did, to the rationalist, this is a matter not of fact but of wishful fiction, and like all of us, I like to think of myself as rational.
Which might be why when I looked at the earliest accounts we have of that night, what struck me even more than what happened was what did not happen. Muhammad did not come floating off the mountain as though walking on air. He did not run down shouting, "Hallelujah!" and "Bless the Lord!" He did not radiate light and joy. There were no choirs of angels, no music of the spheres, no elation, no ecstasy, no golden aura surrounding him, no sense of an absolute, fore-ordained role as the messenger of God. That is, he did none of the things that might make it easy to cry foul, to put down the whole story as a pious fable. Quite the contrary. In his own reported words, he was convinced at first that what had happened couldn't have been real. At best, he thought, it had to have been a hallucination -- a trick of the eye or the ear, perhaps, or his own mind working against him. At worst, possession -- that he'd been seized by an evil jinn, a spirit out to deceive him, even to crush the life out of him. In fact, he was so sure that he could only be majnun, possessed by a jinn, that when he found himself still alive, his first impulse was to finish the job himself, to leap off the highest cliff and escape the terror of what he'd experienced by putting an end to all experience.
So the man who fled down the mountain that night trembled not with joy but with a stark, primordial fear. He was overwhelmed not with conviction, but by doubt. And that panicked disorientation, that sundering of everything familiar, that daunting awareness of something beyond human comprehension, can only be called a terrible awe.
This might be somewhat difficult to grasp now that we use the word "awesome" to describe a new app or a viral video. With the exception perhaps of a massive earthquake, we're protected from real awe. We close the doors and hunker down, convinced that we're in control, or, at least, hoping for control. We do our best to ignore the fact that we don't always have it, and that not everything can be explained. Yet whether you're a rationalist or a mystic, whether you think the words Muhammad heard that night came from inside himself or from outside, what's clear is that he did experience them, and that he did so with a force that would shatter his sense of himself and his world and transform this otherwise modest man into a radical advocate for social and economic justice. Fear was the only sane response, the only human response.
Too human for some, like conservative Muslim theologians who maintain that the account of his wanting to kill himself shouldn't even be mentioned, despite the fact that it's in the earliest Islamic biographies. They insist that he never doubted for even a single moment, let alone despaired. Demanding perfection, they refuse to tolerate human imperfection. Yet what, exactly, is imperfect about doubt? As I read those early accounts, I realized it was precisely Muhammad's doubt that brought him alive for me, that allowed me to begin to see him in full, to accord him the integrity of reality. And the more I thought about it, the more it made sense that he doubted, because doubt is essential to faith.
If this seems a startling idea at first, consider that doubt, as Graham Greene once put it, is the heart of the matter. Abolish all doubt, and what's left is not faith, but absolute, heartless conviction. You're certain that you possess the Truth -- inevitably offered with an implied uppercase T -- and this certainty quickly devolves into dogmatism and righteousness, by which I mean a demonstrative, overweening pride in being so very right, in short, the arrogance of fundamentalism. It has to be one of the multiple ironies of history that a favorite expletive of Muslim fundamentalists is the same one once used by the Christian fundamentalists known as Crusaders: "infidel," from the Latin for "faithless." Doubly ironic, in this case, because their absolutism is in fact the opposite of faith. In effect, they are the infidels. Like fundamentalists of all religious stripes, they have no questions, only answers. They found the perfect antidote to thought and the ideal refuge of the hard demands of real faith. They don't have to struggle for it like Jacob wrestling through the night with the angel, or like Jesus in his 40 days and nights in the wilderness, or like Muhammad, not only that night on the mountain, but throughout his years as a prophet, with the Koran constantly urging him not to despair, and condemning those who most loudly proclaim that they know everything there is to know and that they and they alone are right.
And yet we, the vast and still far too silent majority, have ceded the public arena to this extremist minority. We've allowed Judaism to be claimed by violently messianic West Bank settlers, Christianity by homophobic hypocrites and misogynistic bigots, Islam by suicide bombers. And we've allowed ourselves to be blinded to the fact that no matter whether they claim to be Christians, Jews or Muslims, militant extremists are none of the above. They're a cult all their own, blood brothers steeped in other people's blood.
This isn't faith. It's fanaticism, and we have to stop confusing the two. We have to recognize that real faith has no easy answers. It's difficult and stubborn. It involves an ongoing struggle, a continual questioning of what we think we know, a wrestling with issues and ideas. It goes hand in hand with doubt, in a never-ending conversation with it, and sometimes in conscious defiance of it.
And this conscious defiance is why I, as an agnostic, can still have faith. I have faith, for instance, that peace in the Middle East is possible despite the ever-accumulating mass of evidence to the contrary. I'm not convinced of this. I can hardly say I believe it. I can only have faith in it, commit myself, that is, to the idea of it, and I do this precisely because of the temptation to throw up my hands in resignation and retreat into silence.
Because despair is self-fulfilling. If we call something impossible, we act in such a way that we make it so. And I, for one, refuse to live that way. In fact, most of us do, whether we're atheist or theist or anywhere in between or beyond, for that matter, what drives us is that, despite our doubts and even because of our doubts, we reject the nihilism of despair. We insist on faith in the future and in each other. Call this naive if you like. Call it impossibly idealistic if you must. But one thing is sure: Call it human.
Could Muhammad have so radically changed his world without such faith, without the refusal to cede to the arrogance of closed-minded certainty? I think not. After keeping company with him as a writer for the past five years, I can't see that he'd be anything but utterly outraged at the militant fundamentalists who claim to speak and act in his name in the Middle East and elsewhere today. He'd be appalled at the repression of half the population because of their gender. He'd be torn apart by the bitter divisiveness of sectarianism. He'd call out terrorism for what it is, not only criminal but an obscene travesty of everything he believed in and struggled for. He'd say what the Koran says: Anyone who takes a life takes the life of all humanity. Anyone who saves a life, saves the life of all humanity. And he'd commit himself fully to the hard and thorny process of making peace.
The editorial staff at What Is Enlightenment? magazine ask:
These days there is a wary climate regarding people who hold themselves out as spiritual authorities. There is a tendency to be very skeptical about the possibility that someone could be a genuine authority. Yet traditionally it’s been fairly common for people to seek out a spiritual teacher for guidance, and to commit themselves to that teacher. What are your thoughts on this?
Brother David replies: Some twenty years ago, there was a much greater openness to making anybody who came along and seemed to have some great credentials for teaching your guru. Nowadays many people have been burnt and they will look twice. That is skepticism, and it can easily become cynicism, which isn’t very healthy. But it also has its healthy aspect because people are less gullible and teachers have to prove themselves. On the other hand, our time is so frightening, there are so many things going on that frighten us, that many people want security at any price. They will let themselves be put down, be abused and become dependent on a teacher just in order to have a sense of security, to feel that they know everything. No questions asked, you just do what you’re told, this sort of thing. That is always a great danger in times of fear. And our time is a fear-inspiring time. I understand when you say that many people are more skeptical, but there are also many people who want just this kind of security at any price, and are willing to be put down and pay that price.
There is just one great spiritual teacher, and that is the Divine Spirit in your heart. What any spiritual teacher on the outside can do, at best, is to always lead you back to that teacher in your heart. But the key word here is “authority.” We have a very impoverished and actually strongly warped notion of authority nowadays, and we think that authority is the power to command. Well, that’s wrong. That’s a derived meaning of authority. Originally authority means: a firm basis for knowing and acting. If you want to know what to do in a given case you will go to a book that is an authoritative book, or you will go to a person who is an authority in his or her field, and so forth. So that’s the original meaning of authority. However, because people who provide a firm basis for knowing and acting for others are few and far between, you put them in a position of authority, which means you give them power to command. But the more power somebody has, the greater the danger of corruption. This is where some spiritual teachers then go off the deep end. This is where the question of the proper use of authority comes in.
Jesus Christ brought a complete revolution of the understanding of authority. This is, I think, the Christian tradition’s most central insight and potentially its greatest contribution to spirituality in the world. It occurred in two ways. First, Jesus placed the authority of God, which was always seen as external, in the very hearts of his hearers. The core teaching of Jesus is not, “I am going to tell you all,” or anything like that. No, he presupposes you know it all. “Don’t you know it? I’ll remind you of it. You know it all.” This is his typical voice. This question opens many of the parables, “Who of you doesn’t know this already?” It’s not sufficiently emphasized nowadays in Christian teaching, but the moment you are alerted to it you see it.
So, one of the really dramatic events that happened in history – and that’s why the world is still reeling with what happened in the life of Jesus – is that with Jesus, the Divine authority was squarely placed in the hearts of every human being. That was a tremendous revolution. The immanence of God and the Divine in the human heart was stressed. And it was probably necessary that this should happen in a setting in which duality was stronger than anywhere else: “Holy” in the Hebrew Bible means “the altogether other.” So God was the absolutely other. Then Jesus comes and maintains that, doesn’t deny it in any way, but also says that the absolutely other is closer to you than you are to yourself. So that was the first part of the revolution of authority, that the Divine authority is placed in the heart of the earth.
This gives us a pretty good test for seeing which spiritual teachers are authentic and which ones are not: Do they use their power to empower others?
The second aspect is best expressed in the image of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and saying, essentially, “You call me Lord and Master. In other words, you call me an authority. You are right, that’s what I am. But in the world, those who have power lord it over others. With you it should be different. The greatest among you, the one who has the most power, should be the servant of all. And that is what I show you because I am washing your feet.” So that is the answer to the question, what is authority good for? Authority must be used, but there is only one legitimate use for it, and that is to empower those who are under authority. One of the most important things about Jesus is that he apparently had great authority but did not fall prey to its power. He even emphatically told his followers that that’s not what you do – you turn this upside down and become the servant of all. First divine authority was placed in the hearts of everyone. Then human authority was given a task, namely, not to put those down that are under authority, but to build them up and empower them.
This also gives us a pretty good test for looking at spiritual teachers, and seeing which ones are authentic and which ones are not. Do they use their power to empower others? There may be a phase where a person has to be carried like a child. There may be a phase of dependency that one may have to go through. But you have to look at the whole picture. With any teacher you will see, by looking at that teacher’s accomplished students, what it is leading to. When you see that this teacher makes them stand on their own feet, then that’s authentic. When you see that this teacher makes them more and more dependent, then that’s hands off, that’s dangerous.
Reprinted from What Is Enlightenment? (WIE) Spring/Summer 1996, Vol. 5, #1, pp. 26-27
Brother David’s Journey
DAVID STEINDL-RAST was born July 12, 1926, in Vienna, Austria, where he studied art, anthropology, and psychology, receiving an MA from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and a PhD from the University of Vienna. In 1952 he followed his family who had emigrated to the United States. In 1953 he joined a newly founded Benedictine community in Elmira, NY, Mount Saviour Monastery, of which he is now a senior member. In 1958/59 Brother David was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Cornell University, where he also became the first Roman Catholic to hold the Thorpe Lectureship, following Bishop J.D.R. Robinson and Paul Tillich.
After twelve years of monastic training and studies in philosophy and theology, Brother David was sent by his abbot to participate in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, for which he received Vatican approval in 1967. His Zen teachers were Hakkuun Yasutani Roshi, Soen Nakagawa Roshi, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, and Eido Shimano Roshi. He co-founded the Center for Spiritual Studies in 1968 and received the 1975 Martin Buber Award for his achievements in building bridges between religious traditions.
Together with Thomas Merton, Brother David helped launch a renewal of religious life. From 1970 on, he became a leading figure in the House of Prayer movement, which affected some 200,000 members of religious orders in the United States and Canada. Since the 1970s Brother David has been a member of cultural historian William Irwin Thompson‘s Lindisfarne Association.”
For decades, Brother David divided his time between periods of hermit’s life and extensive lecture tours on five continents. On a two-month lecture tour in Australia, for example, he gave 140 lectures and traveled 12,000 miles within Australia without backtracking. His wide spectrum of audiences has included starving students in Zaire and faculty at Harvard and Columbia Universities, Buddhist monks and Sufi retreatants, Papago Indians and German intellectuals, New Age communes and Naval Cadets at Annapolis, missionaries on Polynesian islands and gatherings at the United Nations, Green Berets and participants at international peace conferences. Brother David has brought spiritual depth into the lives of countless people whom he touches through his lectures, his workshops, and his writings.
He has contributed to a wide range of books and periodicals from the Encyclopedia Americana and The New Catholic Encyclopedia, to the New Age Journal and Parabola Magazine. His books have been translated into many languages. Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer and A Listening Heart have been reprinted and anthologized for more than two decades. Brother David co-authored Belonging to the Universe (winner of the 1992 American Book Award), a dialogue on new paradigm thinking in science and theology with physicist, Fritjof Capra. His dialogue with Buddhists produced The Ground We Share: Buddhist and Christian Practice, co-authored with Robert Aitken Roshi. His most recent books are Words of Common Sense, Deeper than Words: Living the Apostles’ Creed, 99 Blessings: An Invitation to Life, and the upcoming The Way of Silence: Engaging the Sacred in Daily Life, and Faith beyond Belief: Spirituality for our Times.
Brother David contributed chapters or interviews to well over 30 books. An article by Brother David was included in The Best Spiritual Writing, 1998. His many audio and videotapes are widely distributed.
At present, Brother David serves a worldwide Network for Grateful Living, through Gratefulness.org, an interactive website with several thousand participants daily from more than 240 countries and territories.
Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind."
Joel Primack has a long and distinguished career as an astrophysicist. A University of California, Santa Cruz, professor, he co-developed the cold dark matter theory that seeks to explain the formation and structure of the universe.
He also believes in God.
That may strike some people as peculiar. After all, in some corners popular belief renders science and religion incompatible.
Yet scientists may be just as likely to believe in God as other people, according to surveys. Some of history's greatest scientific minds, including Albert Einstein, were convinced there is intelligent life behind the universe. Today many scientists say there is no conflict between their faith and their work.
"In the last few years astronomy has come together so that we're now able to tell a coherent story" of how the universe began, Primack said. "This story does not contradict God, but instead enlarges [the idea of] God.”
The notion that science and religion are irreconcilable centers in large part on the issue of evolution. Charles Darwin, in his 1859 book The Origin of Species, explained that the myriad species inhabiting Earth were a result of repeated evolutionary branching from common ancestors.
One would be hard pressed to find a legitimate scientist today who does not believe in evolution. As laid out in a cover story in the November issue of National Geographic magazine, the scientific evidence for evolution is overwhelming.
Yet in a 2001 Gallup poll 45 percent of U.S. adults said they believe evolution has played no role in shaping humans. According to the creationist view, God produced humans fully formed, with no previous related species.
But what if evolution is God's tool? Darwin never said anything about God. Many scientists—and theologians—maintain that it would be perfectly logical to think that a divine being used evolution as a method to create the world.
Still, science does contradict a literal interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis in the Bible—on the origin of the universe—which says that God created heaven and the Earth and the species on it in six days.
Scientific evidence shows that the universe was actually formed about 13.7 billion years ago, while the Earth was formed around 4.5 billion years ago. The first humans date back only a hundred thousand years or so.
Like other scientists of faith, Primack, who is Jewish and reads the Bible regularly, argues that the Bible must not be taken literally, but should be read allegorically.
"One simply cannot read the Bible as a scientific text, because it's often contradictory," Primack said. "For example, in the Bible, Noah takes two animals and puts them on the Ark. But in a later section, he takes seven pairs of animals. If this is the literal word of God, was God confused when He wrote it?”
Science is young. The term "scientist" may not even have been coined until 1833. Ironically, modern physics initially sought to explain the clockwork of God's creation. Geology grew partly out of a search for evidence of Noah's Flood.
Today few scientists seem to think much about religion in their research. Many are reluctant to stray outside their area of expertise and may not feel a need to invoke God in their work.
"Most scientists like to operate in the context of economy," said Brian Greene, a world-renowned physicist and author of The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality. "If you don't need an explanatory principle, don't invoke it.”
There is, of course, no way to prove religious faith scientifically. And it's hard to envision a test that could tell the difference between a universe created by God and one that appeared without God.
"There's no way that scientists can ever rule out religion, or even have anything significant to say about the abstract idea of a divine creator," Greene said. Instead, Greene said, science and religion can operate in different realms. "Science is very good at answering the 'how' questions. How did the universe evolve to the form that we see?" he said. "But it is woefully inadequate in addressing the 'why' questions. Why is there a universe at all? These are the meaning questions, which many people think religion is particularly good at dealing with.”
But is a clean separation between science and religion possible? Some scientific work, including such hot topics as stem cell research, has moral and religious implications.
"Religion is about ethics, or what you should do, while science is about what's true," Primack said. "Those are different things, but of course what you should do is greatly determined by what's true.”
In a 1997 survey in the science journal Nature, 40 percent of U.S. scientists said they believe in God—not just a creator, but a God to whom one can pray in expectation of an answer. That is the same percentage of scientists who were believers when the survey was taken 80 years earlier.
But the number may have been higher if the question had simply asked about God's existence. While many scientists seem to have no problem with deism—the belief that God set the universe in motion and then walked away—others are more troubled with the concept of an intervening God.
"Every piece of data that we have indicates that the universe operates according to unchanging, immutable laws that don't allow for the whimsy or divine choice to all of a sudden change things in a manner that those laws wouldn't have allowed to happen on their own," Greene said.
Yet recent breakthroughs in chaos theory and quantum mechanics, for example, also suggest that the workings of the universe cannot be predicted with absolute precision.
To many scientists, their discoveries may not be that different from religious revelations. Science advancements may even draw scientists closer to religion.
"Even as science progresses in its reductionist fashion, moving towards deeper, simpler, and more elegant understandings of particles and forces, there will still remain a 'why' at the end as to why the ultimate rules are the way they are," said Ted Sargent, a nanotechnology expert at the University of Toronto.
"This is where many people will find God, and the fact of having a final unanswerable 'why' will not go away, even if the 'why' gets more and more fundamental as we progress," he said.
Brian Greene believes we are taking giant strides toward understanding the deepest laws of the universe. That, he says, has strengthened his belief in the underlying harmony and order of the cosmos.
"The universe is incredibly wondrous, incredibly beautiful, and it fills me with a sense that there is some underlying explanation that we have yet to fully understand," he said. "If someone wants to place the word God on those collections of words, it's OK with me."
Perspective is everything, especially when it comes to examining your beliefs. Are you a soldier, prone to defending your viewpoint at all costs — or a scout, spurred by curiosity? Julia Galef examines the motivations behind these two mindsets and how they shape the way we interpret information, interweaved with a compelling history lesson from 19th-century France. When your steadfast opinions are tested, Galef asks: "What do you most yearn for? Do you yearn to defend your own beliefs or do you yearn to see the world as clearly as you possibly can?"
So I'd like you to imagine for a moment that you're a soldier in the heat of battle. Maybe you're a Roman foot soldier or a medieval archer or maybe you're a Zulu warrior. Regardless of your time and place, there are some things that are constant. Your adrenaline is elevated, and your actions are stemming from these deeply ingrained reflexes, reflexes rooted in a need to protect yourself and your side and to defeat the enemy.
So now, I'd like you to imagine playing a very different role, that of the scout. The scout's job is not to attack or defend. The scout's job is to understand. The scout is the one going out, mapping the terrain, identifying potential obstacles. And the scout may hope to learn that, say, there's a bridge in a convenient location across a river. But above all, the scout wants to know what's really there, as accurately as possible. And in a real, actual army, both the soldier and the scout are essential. But you can also think of each of these roles as a mindset -- a metaphor for how all of us process information and ideas in our daily lives. What I'm going to argue today is that having good judgment, making accurate predictions, making good decisions, is mostly about which mindset you're in.
To illustrate these mindsets in action, I'm going to take you back to 19th-century France, where this innocuous-looking piece of paper launched one of the biggest political scandals in history. It was discovered in 1894 by officers in the French general staff. It was torn up in a wastepaper basket, but when they pieced it back together, they discovered that someone in their ranks had been selling military secrets to Germany.
So they launched a big investigation, and their suspicions quickly converged on this man, Alfred Dreyfus. He had a sterling record, no past history of wrongdoing, no motive as far as they could tell. But Dreyfus was the only Jewish officer at that rank in the army, and unfortunately at this time, the French Army was highly anti-Semitic. They compared Dreyfus's handwriting to that on the memo and concluded that it was a match, even though outside professional handwriting experts were much less confident in the similarity, but never mind that. They went and searched Dreyfus's apartment, looking for any signs of espionage. They went through his files, and they didn't find anything. This just convinced them more that Dreyfus was not only guilty, but sneaky as well, because clearly he had hidden all of the evidence before they had managed to get to it.
Next, they went and looked through his personal history for any incriminating details. They talked to his teachers, they found that he had studied foreign languages in school, which clearly showed a desire to conspire with foreign governments later in life. His teachers also said that Dreyfus was known for having a good memory, which was highly suspicious, right? You know, because a spy has to remember a lot of things.
So the case went to trial, and Dreyfus was found guilty. Afterwards, they took him out into this public square and ritualistically tore his insignia from his uniform and broke his sword in two. This was called the Degradation of Dreyfus. And they sentenced him to life imprisonment on the aptly named Devil's Island, which is this barren rock off the coast of South America. So there he went, and there he spent his days alone, writing letters and letters to the French government begging them to reopen his case so they could discover his innocence. But for the most part, France considered the matter closed.
One thing that's really interesting to me about the Dreyfus Affair is this question of why the officers were so convinced that Dreyfus was guilty. I mean, you might even assume that they were setting him up, that they were intentionally framing him. But historians don't think that's what happened. As far as we can tell, the officers genuinely believed that the case against Dreyfus was strong. Which makes you wonder: What does it say about the human mind that we can find such paltry evidence to be compelling enough to convict a man?
Well, this is a case of what scientists call "motivated reasoning." It's this phenomenon in which our unconscious motivations, our desires and fears, shape the way we interpret information. Some information, some ideas, feel like our allies. We want them to win. We want to defend them. And other information or ideas are the enemy, and we want to shoot them down. So this is why I call motivated reasoning, "soldier mindset."
Probably most of you have never persecuted a French-Jewish officer for high treason, I assume, but maybe you've followed sports or politics, so you might have noticed that when the referee judges that your team committed a foul, for example, you're highly motivated to find reasons why he's wrong. But if he judges that the other team committed a foul -- awesome! That's a good call, let's not examine it too closely. Or, maybe you've read an article or a study that examined some controversial policy, like capital punishment. And, as researchers have demonstrated, if you support capital punishment and the study shows that it's not effective, then you're highly motivated to find all the reasons why the study was poorly designed. But if it shows that capital punishment works, it's a good study. And vice versa: if you don't support capital punishment, same thing.
Our judgment is strongly influenced, unconsciously, by which side we want to win. And this is ubiquitous. This shapes how we think about our health, our relationships, how we decide how to vote, what we consider fair or ethical. What's most scary to me about motivated reasoning or soldier mindset, is how unconscious it is. We can think we're being objective and fair-minded and still wind up ruining the life of an innocent man.
However, fortunately for Dreyfus, his story is not over. This is Colonel Picquart. He's another high-ranking officer in the French Army, and like most people, he assumed Dreyfus was guilty. Also like most people in the army, he was at least casually anti-Semitic. But at a certain point, Picquart began to suspect: "What if we're all wrong about Dreyfus?" What happened was, he had discovered evidence that the spying for Germany had continued, even after Dreyfus was in prison. And he had also discovered that another officer in the army had handwriting that perfectly matched the memo, much closer than Dreyfus's handwriting. So he brought these discoveries to his superiors, but to his dismay, they either didn't care or came up with elaborate rationalizations to explain his findings, like, "Well, all you've really shown, Picquart, is that there's another spy who learned how to mimic Dreyfus's handwriting, and he picked up the torch of spying after Dreyfus left. But Dreyfus is still guilty." Eventually, Picquart managed to get Dreyfus exonerated. But it took him 10 years, and for part of that time, he himself was in prison for the crime of disloyalty to the army.
A lot of people feel like Picquart can't really be the hero of this story because he was an anti-Semite and that's bad, which I agree with. But personally, for me, the fact that Picquart was anti-Semitic actually makes his actions more admirable, because he had the same prejudices, the same reasons to be biased as his fellow officers, but his motivation to find the truth and uphold it trumped all of that.
So to me, Picquart is a poster child for what I call "scout mindset." It's the drive not to make one idea win or another lose, but just to see what's really there as honestly and accurately as you can, even if it's not pretty or convenient or pleasant. This mindset is what I'm personally passionate about. And I've spent the last few years examining and trying to figure out what causes scout mindset. Why are some people, sometimes at least, able to cut through their own prejudices and biases and motivations and just try to see the facts and the evidence as objectively as they can?
And the answer is emotional. So, just as "soldier mindset" is rooted in emotions like defensiveness or tribalism, scout mindset is, too. It's just rooted in different emotions. For example, scouts are curious. They're more likely to say they feel pleasure when they learn new information or an itch to solve a puzzle. They're more likely to feel intrigued when they encounter something that contradicts their expectations. Scouts also have different values. They're more likely to say they think it's virtuous to test your own beliefs, and they're less likely to say that someone who changes his mind seems weak. And above all, scouts are grounded, which means their self-worth as a person isn't tied to how right or wrong they are about any particular topic. So they can believe that capital punishment works. If studies come out showing that it doesn't, they can say, "Huh. Looks like I might be wrong. Doesn't mean I'm bad or stupid."
This cluster of traits is what researchers have found -- and I've also found anecdotally -- predicts good judgment. And the key takeaway I want to leave you with about those traits is that they're primarily not about how smart you are or about how much you know. In fact, they don't correlate very much with IQ at all. They're about how you feel. There's a quote that I keep coming back to, by Saint-Exupéry. He's the author of "The Little Prince." He said, "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up your men to collect wood and give orders and distribute the work. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."
In other words, I claim, if we really want to improve our judgment as individuals and as societies, what we need most is not more instruction in logic or rhetoric or probability or economics, even though those things are quite valuable. But what we most need to use those principles well is scout mindset. We need to change the way we feel. We need to learn how to feel proud instead of ashamed when we notice we might have been wrong about something. We need to learn how to feel intrigued instead of defensive when we encounter some information that contradicts our beliefs.
So the question I want to leave you with is: What do you most yearn for? Do you yearn to defend your own beliefs? Or do you yearn to see the world as clearly as you possibly can?
Cool Koi Fish Yin Yang Tattoo Art by Rachel Martin
"The fundamental philosophical principle of yin and yang is reflected in every aspect of Chinese calligraphy. [...] The study of Chinese calligraphy is not only a study of Chinese writing. In many ways, it is also a study of Chinese philosophy and the Chinese worldview. Aesthetic principles and standards are rooted in cultural and philosophical tenets, and Confucianism and Daoism form the basis of Chinese culture. Of the two Daoism has the stronger influence on art. It is no exaggeration to say that Daoism, from its place at the core of Chinese culture, is the spirit of Chinese art. Many characteristics of Chinese calligraphy reflect Daoist principles." - Wendan Li, Chinese Writing & Calligraphy (University of Hawai‘i Press. 2009), p175
"You can buy the ink, the rice paper, the brush, but if you don't cultivate the art of calligraphy, you can't do calligraphy." - Vietenamese Zen teacher and mindful calligrapher, Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Power (2007), p81
"The Zen way of calligraphy is to write in the most straightforward, simple way as if you were a beginner, not trying to make something skillful or beautiful, but simply writing with full attention as if you were discovering what you were writing for the first time; then your full nature will be in your writing. This is the way of practice moment after moment." - Richard Baker Roshi, Introduction, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1995), p14.
A Zen Calligraphy piece by Japanese Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki painted using a plant from outside. It reads: "Beginner's Mind”.
When practising writing Insight Calligraphy, there are so many things for the beginner to consider and bring together as one flowing whole. As when learning to coordinate one's body in order to ride a bicycle, the intended outcome can seem like an impossible endeavour - that one is attempting to achieve some supernatural feat that one's teacher cannot explain. However, with persistence those moments of balance do come, and one feels the flow of the process more and more.
This is something which appears to be at the core of Chinese artistic disciplines, and it comes from ancient philosophies which encourage practitioners to go beyond concepts and instead seek harmony with nature. The author of the book Chinese Writing and Calligraphy, Wendan Li, points to this when he says (p180):
"Without the Daoist principle of diversity in harmony, there would be no Chinese calligraphy. Chinese calligraphy is often likened to Chinese Zen in that it does not lend itself very well to words and can only be experienced and perceived through the senses.”
As with seated mindfulness meditation, Insight calligraphy has an apparent subtle yogic physical dimension to it. My calligraphy teacher here in Beijing, Paul Wang, said to me last week: "One must use one's whole body to write. If there is tension anywhere, then the expression will be limited, and so a whole-body focus needs to be maintained". Wendan Li supports this by saying (p184-5):
"Writing involves almost every part of the body, from the fingers and shoulders to the back muscles and the muscles involved in breathing. Similar to Taiji, calligraphy is based on a typical Chinese philosophy that emphasizes moderation and detachment. Through slow, moderate movements, the energy... passes through the writer’s back, shoulders, arms, wrists, palms, and fingers, onward to the brush tip and, finally, is projected onto the paper.[..]...the initiation of writing is usually accompanied by a decrease in heart rate and lowered blood pressure. When a high degree of concentration is reached, the heart rate significantly decelerates and blood pressure drops significantly. These responses are similar to those created by meditation with one major difference: Meditation seeks tranquillity in a state of rest, whereas calligraphy seeks tranquillity in motion. [...] Prolonged practice of calligraphy can play a significant role in keeping one fit and improving one’s health. This explains the well-known fact that, in traditional China, most calligraphers lived to an age well beyond the average life span.”
During my private class with Paul Wang yesterday, we discussed the role of the Daoist Classics; the DaoDeJing and JuangZi in writing Insight Calligraphy. In the DaoDeJing, LaoZi writes (Chapter 25):
"Imagine a nebulous thing here before Heaven and Earth, silent and elusive it stands alone, not wavering it travels everywhere unharmed, it could be the mother of us all,
not knowing its name, I call it the Tao, forced to name it, I name it Great,
great means ever-flowing, ever-flowing means far-reaching, far-reaching means returning,
the Tao is great, Heaven is great, Earth is great, the king is also great, the realm contains four greats, of these the king is one,
Man imitates Earth, Earth imitates Heaven, Heaven imitates the Tao, the Tao imitates itself.”
Writing Insight Calligraphy is the Dao (or Tao in the old Wade-Giles Chinese romanization) expressing itself. To see this positively, we allow for an expression of our inherently positive being to manifest itself through skill, thus giving rise to a positive piece of art.
In the case of Insight Calligraphy, this artistic expression is in the form of characters written with black ink on paper. The apparent similarity between some Chinese cursive calligraphy strokes and the Daoist TaiJi (YinYang) symbol is not coincidental. As Wendan Li points out, there has always been a link between Daoism and calligraphy (p178):
"The way of calligraphy and the way of nature, although differ in scope, share similar principles. Calligraphy best illustrates Daoist philosophy when the brush embodies, expresses, and magnifies the power of the Dao. Thus, an adequate understanding of the concept of yin and yang and its manifestations in calligraphy, and how various techniques are implemented to create contrast and unity in writing, is essential to your grasp of the core of the art."
In China, art is often seen as an expression of the human heart - a positive creation that brings happiness to the lives of others. It is also worth noting here that the Chinese considered heart and mind to be one thing - Xīn (心).
The Chinese character for heart/mind carved into the wall of a Buddhist temple on KongTongShan, China, and into the rock at the Buddhist temple complex of PuTuoShan, China. The author visited both of these locations in 2006.
The beauty of this innate positive heart/mind is considered to be reflected in the natural world around us, and the calligrapher's practice is to render that beauty visible in a symbolic format. Li states (p179):
"The beauty of Chinese calligraphy is essentially the beauty of plastic movement, like the coordinated movements of a skillfully composed dance: impulse, momentum, momentary poise, and the interplay of active forces combine to form a balanced whole. The effect of rhythmic vitality rests on the writer’s artistic mind as well as training in basic techniques and composition skills [...] Generally speaking, Running and Cursive styles have stronger rhythm than the more traditional scripts. This is why many artists favor these two styles. When a piece is created with the vital forces of life and rhythm, the result is fresh in spirit and pleasing to the eye."
An Insight Calligraphy piece by the author's teacher Paul Wang. It reads: "Kong You Bu Er" (Form is not other than Emptiness).
The inherently positive human heart/mind is something the Chinese have generally considered true since ancient times. In Junior schools all over the country, Chinese children are once again learning to recite the Three Character Classic (三字經) - a philosophical teaching attributed to the disciples of KongZi (Confucius). For many children, as was the case over the past two thousand years, this is the first book learnt upon beginning formal education. The book begins:
" 人之初 (rén zhī chū) People at birth
性本善 (xìng běn shàn) Are naturally good (kind-hearted).
性相近 (xìng xiāng jìn) Their natures are similar,
習相遠 (xí xiāng yuǎn) (But) their habits make them different (from each other).”
The practice of honing skill in order to render works of art is considered, by the Daoists, a Sagely path in itself. In order to truly and repetitively render the positive mind's perception, one must manifest a seamless connection between heart and hand. This is apparently the highest level of skill - no matter the practice, whether painting, dancing, sculpting, doing KungFu, or even cutting meat from an animal. In the JuangZi, LaoZi's Daoist disciples relate the skill of a Butcher who practices Daoism thus (Chapter 3):
"whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I'm doing, work very slowly [...] At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee - zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music. "Ah, this is marvelous!" said Lord Wen-hui. "Imagine skill reaching such heights!". Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, "What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. [...] I go at it by spirit and don't look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, ... and follow things as they are"
JuangZi - A student of Daoist Master LaoZi.
Bringing all this together - the desire to calmly express a positive heart/mind, and the pursuit of higher skill - the epitome of which is an appreciation of the Dao, or True Nature, it can be seen that Insight Calligraphy is a traditional and well-established kind of mindful practice. Even authors, such as Wendan Li, who do not primarily present and encourage calligraphy as a meditation practice, highlights the positive psychological benefits in the same way a mindfulness teacher would (p184):
"During writing, the writer refrains from talking and concentrates on the task at hand. By so doing, he or she is able to project the characters in his or her mind accurately onto the paper through precise muscle and brush control. At the same time, the writing process also exerts a stabilizing influence on the writer’s mind, resulting in an even more transcendent sense of peace and clarity of thought. Thus calligraphy is commonly recognized as an effective way to remove anxiety and discover calmness and emotional grace."
A calligraphy piece by Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh
featuring a photograph of him.
As I practice Insight Calligraphy I can feel an unfolding - judgements, attachments, and intense emotions arising - all to be accepted and let go of in exactly the same way as during seated meditation. Here is a video of myself writing the character for 'Dao':
Getting the feeling for the character itself takes a long time, never mind the brush skill and mindful focus. This is the character I wrote in the above video placed next to the calligraphy teacher Paul Wang's (mine is on the left). There are plenty of places I made 'mistakes':
I think mine lacks the confident dynamism and general structural integrity that Pauls has, not to mention some of the more detailed technical aspects of the strokes. Paul says that in order to capture the essence of the character as one looks at it, one must 'listen' to it before copying. He says it is the same kind of listening as the famous zen koan: "What is the sound of one hand clapping" - it brings one to a state of awareness that is beyond conceptual understanding - a 'don't know' mind that is receptive to wholeness; to the Dao.
Another mindful calligraphy piece
by Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.
What is Christian Mysticism?
By Jon Zuck
"To many modern Christians, words like "meditation," "mystic," and "mysticism" bring to mind Eastern religions, not Christianity. Certainly Eastern religions are known for their mysticism; however, mysticism is not only a vital part of the Christian heritage as well, but it is actually the core of Christian spirituality. Mysticism simply means the spirituality of the direct experience of God. It is the adventure of "the wild things of God."
The direct experience of God is a kind of knowing, which goes beyond intellectual understanding. It is not a matter of "belief." It is marked by love and joy, but it is not "emotional experience." In many ways, it is better described by what it is not. To describe what it is, we must use metaphors,—the marriage of the soul to Christ, the death of the "old man" and birth of the "new man," being the "body of Christ."
Jesus proclaimed "I and the Father are one," (Jn. 10.30) showing the world what the union of God and man can be. Christian mysticism is about nothing else but this transforming union.
Christ is the sole end of Christian mysticism. Whereas all Christians have Christ, call on Christ, and can (or should) know Christ, the goal for the Christian mystic is to become like Christ, to become as fully permeated with God as Christ is, thus becoming like him, fully human, and by the grace of God, also fully divine. In Christian teaching this doctrine is known by various names—theosis, divination, deification, and transforming union.
A common misconception about mysticism is that it's about "mystical experiences," and there are many volumes on such experiences in religious literature. But true mysticism is not focussed on "experiences" (which come and go) but with the lasting experience of God, leading to the transformation of the believer into union with God.
a very, very, very short mystical apologetic.
To know God directly shows that mysticism is different from any passive or legalistic kind of Christianity. It means:
• That while we honor the Scriptures, we want to know God directly, not just through Scripture.
• While we respect our heritage of teachings about God, we want to know God directly, not through doctrines and teachings.
• While we gather in communal worship, we want to know God directly, not just through the Church.
Some readers may find this unsettling. Maybe you believe it doesn't apply to you, because you "know" that your church is purer and more correct than others. Even if that were true, is it a substitute for knowing God directly? Or, you might also feel that trusting the Bible alone gives you knowledge of God directly from the Source. But it was written by mystics, listening to God speaking his Word in their hearts. Is it possible for you to read it directly, without the conceptions of your language, time, culture, and personal history? Are you sure you wouldn't understand it very differently if you were reading it, say, in third-century Damascus?
The religion we call "Christianity" changes, but God is eternal. Mystical faith wants to know this unchanging God to whom Christianity leads us, the One behind the beliefs and the words, the One whom beliefs and words cannot describe. We want to follow Jesus' example more closely, and go beyond the religion about Jesus, and take the religion of Jesus: the knowledge of the Father and unconditional love he had, and urged us to have.
WHAT IS A MYSTIC?
I believe that everyone who wants to love unconditionally is a mystic. All children are born mystics, and if you were once a child, you were once a mystic. Christian mysticism is following the example of Christ as he followed the Father. And mysticism is not by any means restricted to Christianity: the Bible says, “everyone who loves is begotten of God, and knows God.” (1 Jn. 4.7) God speaks in various ways, in every time and every place to "whosoever will." Other pages on this site treat non-Christian mysticism.
Mystics range the gamut of walks of life, from intellectual priests such as Frs. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Matthew Fox, to laywomen like Bernadette Roberts and Katherine Nelson. The mystic way is old, but timeless—it is alive, and ever-new for each one who chooses it. It may be inviting you to begin this adventure of divine transformation and discovery."
A VERY, VERY, VERY SHORT HISTORY OF MYSTICISM
The term mysticism derives from The Mystical Theology, a tiny treatise written by the greatest Christian writer of the sixth century, Dionysius the Areopagite, a.k.a. Pseudo-Dionysius or St. Denys [the Areopagite]. But Dionysius is in no way the "founder" of Christian mysticism. That honor belongs to none but Jesus the Christ himself. But there was mysticism long before Jesus was born. God "strolled in the Garden" with man (Heb.'adam). Jacob saw heaven opened. God spoke to Joseph through dreams. Moses communed with God on Sinai. David lost himself in dancing for the Lord.
But when Jesus declared "I and the Father are one," (Jn. 10.30) he proclaimed in himself the union of God and humankind, and he offers it to all who follow him (he gave the power to become sons of God to all who believe. (Jn. 1.12).
From there, the mystic heart is seen in the letters of the apostles: Paul reached the divinized state of losing his "self": I no longer live, but Christ lives in me! (Gal. 2.20) James wrote that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Lights, in whom there is no variation nor shadow of turning. (Jas. 1.17) Peter proclaimed that Christ even descended to hell to liberate imprisoned souls, (1 Pet. 3.19) and John understood the most sublime truth of God's essence: God is Love! (1 Jn. 4.8,16). This is only the beginning. Every century has been influenced by Christian mystics—from apostles and martyrs, Church Fathers and Desert Mothers, to monks and nuns of religious orders, to the lay mystics—men and women and boys and girls in every century, in every denomination, in every walk of life.
STARTING ON THE WAY
Few people seem to choose mysticism deliberately. It often takes a jolt of some kind from God to wake us up to the fact that there is something there, full of love, wanting to be known. It might come from a beautiful sunset, a shocking dream, a joyous birth, a shattering loss, or a brush with death. But from there, an awareness of an entirely new level of love, truth and goodness begins. But it is indeed possible to begin the mystic journey deliberately, determining to find the One who is the fountain of all being. The starting point of mysticism is encountering the Goodness of God. Not a conditional "goodness," but pure Goodness itself, with a capital G. This is Goodness without opposite or contrast, not the good in "good and evil." Goodness filling the Universe just as God himself does, so overwhelming in Good, that there is nothing possibly non-good there, no matter what appears to be otherwise. Unless we believe that God is Good, why would we even want to directly experience him? Although we may say we believe in his true Goodness, in the core of our beings, most of us do not.
We receive a thousand invitations to swim in this sea of wonder every day, with every sunrise and sunset, every laugh, every breath, every eyeblink. Yet few of us are able to see infinite Goodness surrounding us except in occasional glimpses. What happened?
We were all born natural mystics, eager to see pure Goodness in everything. Jesus said, unless you come as a child, you can not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt. 18.3) But early on, we are taught that receiving God's Goodness is dependent on our beliefs and actions, so a certain fear enters our hearts. Soon after that, we may try to accept contradictions, for instance, that God is infinite Love, but sends unbelievers to eternal torture in hell, (which is the most destructive and erroneous teaching in the typical Christian world-view.)
We cannot resolve the impossibility of the contradiction, so we back away slightly, believing God's goodness is merely conditional:... if I pray, if I believe, if I'm good, if whatever, then God will be good to me. The development of our belief system often stops there. Our teachers and preachers often say the same things to 40-year-olds as to 14-year-olds, so we carry these conditionings throughout life, and we lose the childlike heart. Many (very many!) adult Christians simply put their spiritual lives on hold out of frustration or a vague sense that something is amiss with the teachings they've received as "Christianity."
And even mystical Christians may find that although they are experiencing the wonder of God in their hearts, intellectually, the beliefs with which they grew up seem insufficient, creating a dichotomy between heart and head. How can we keep a child's faith in absolute Goodness, and integrate it with adult awareness, intelligence, and competence?
Learning and unlearning is necessary. There is a great heritage which mystics have passed on to us which can help the mind grasp what the heart is trying to tell it. For instance, mystics have believed from the beginning that God is in all things. Mystics believe that the nature of spiritual reality is even more real than that of this created world. Many Christian mystics have believed in universal salvation, and that "hell" is not endless. Most mystics have practiced some form of meditation to enter into awareness of God's divine Presence. And from Jesus, Paul, and John to the present, mystics know that the end goal of the Path is theosis, union with God.
stages on the journeyAnyone who undertakes this adventure of striving to know God directly, soon learns that it doesn't happen instantly; there are stages to the process. Eastern Orthodox Christians often envision it as Jacob's ladder, leading to upward to God. Western saints, such as Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Ávila, and John of the Cross use other analogies, such as going deeper within the "Interior Castle." Evelyn Underhill describes the stages as awakening, purification, illumination, surrender or the "Dark Night of the soul," and divine union. Matthew Fox describes it as a four-fold path.
The usefulness of these analogies is limited. Any attempt to describe the process of awakening to the indescribable is essentially drawing a map on water. One thing is certain, however. There will be letting go—of fears, desires, and even your self. And as more is released, more is received. (Or so it appears—really we just get rid of what is blocking us from seeing God's perfect goodness that was already there all along. The wonder of God's own Self.
Mystics over the centuries have advised spiritual practice for the releasing and receiving that is the essential rhythm of this life. In more familiar terms, meditation. If you're surprised because you've never heard your minsters urge you to meditate, you're not alone. Most Christian denominations, particularly the newer ones, have little history. But thestillness of meditation, or contemplation [from con (with) + temp(time) literally, "time with" God] has been the foundation of spiritual practice from the beginning centuries to the present. It's concentrated practice in releasing.
Let go. Let God. Let go. Let God. These are the two endless rhythms of the soul in the mystical life.
You may have heard that mysticism is dangerous. It's occultic, it's not Christian, it "begins in mist and ends in schism," and so forth. All of those allegations are false, at least concerning an authentic mysticism as seeking the direct knowledge of God. Nevertheless, just as with everything else that can be experienced in this lifetime, there are some things to be aware of.
The greatest real danger is of attitude. Pride can lead to spiritual deception, mistaking intellectual change for spiritual progress. Fear can cause us to give up, and rationalize away the need for transformation.Holding on to experiences is probably the most subtle pitfall. On this adventure, you may encounter God in thrilling ways, with experiences of spiritual ecstasy. (Or you might not.) You might have experiences of miracles, of supernatural insight, of visions, of having healing power, and so forth. (Or you might not.) The experiences, when they come, if they come, are for you to be encouraged, to keep on letting go. Seeking to repeat a feeling or experience is a very, very, common distraction.
Another thing you might want to be aware of is loneliness. Since most Christian bodies have no teaching of mysticism past perhaps a few approved experiences (speaking in tongues, for example), it is going to be hard to find company for this journey, which is one of the reasons I created this website. Jesus called this way of living in the Kingdom of heaven "the narrow path," and said few find it. Furthermore, few even care!
He also said "foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." This is also true. No church—no institution of any kind, really, is designed to be a home to those who want to truly want to follow the Son of Man this way, which means going beyond institutional experience. You will feel tired from time to time. You will haveperiods of dryness, and may want to throw in the towel for a little while. Or even a long while. The work itself is your rest, your meeting-place with God, the Restorer of your being."
Borrowed from the blog of Jon Zuck:
The mystical life is not a “belief system”
BELIEFS ARE NOT REALITY
It's essential to remember that all of these ideas are metaphors. Doctrines, words, concepts, thoughts and pictures all translate, emphasize, reflect, and otherwise point to reality. But no description of reality is the reality it describes. Words and pictures, ideas and doctrines, are not the things they point to. They are distorted indicators, utterly different in kind from what they point to. You can describe a tree in your backyard to me all day long, but until I touch it with my own hands, I can't feel its bark. If description can't communicate the tree-ness of a tree, how much less can words communicate God!
This is important! Challenging ideas are often vital for breaking up entrenched thought patterns and opening the mind. Yet no concept, no matter how inspirational, is that divine reality we seek, anymore than Magritte's pipe is something you can pick up and smoke.
We need to remember that God is the name we use for the Unspeakable. Simply put, the Source of everything is beyond all names. The “Trinity” is a conception of how the Infinite One relates to the phenomenal world of beings, matter, and time, which we call Creation. “The Fall from grace” is another. Other religions have their concepts as well—lila, nirvana, maya. But to latch on to any one of these as “the Truth ” instead of a helpful pointer to truth, is to miss the point entirely! It's like several people pointing to that tree in the backyard and arguing whether the tree has three parts or fifteen parts—or arguing if the leaves are dark green, forest green, or olive.
God cannot be divided. God simply is. The Universe simply is. What is simply is. All our thoughts and concepts divide Is-ness in our minds, and divide our minds from Is-ness.
Awakening is the transition from "religion" with its firm answers, perspectives, and experiences, to realization, the awareness of what IS. Even more important is “Real-ization,” the embodiment of that awareness. The important things in mysticism are not concepts, thoughts, feelings, or even experiences, but the questions and questing for nothing else but this One we call God. Beliefs—in the sense of concepts which must be protected, are not part of Christian mystical life. In this sense, you must not “believe” in God. Instead, just rest in Being. And in being, and being with Being, you rest with God, the Ground of Being. Don't “believe” in the Trinity. Trust the holy and wholly indescribable Reality in whom you “live, move, and have your being”.
The Greek word pisteo is almost always translated “belief” or “faith” in the New Testament. However, it also means trust and is better translated as such. Dare to move from belief to trust.
Slowly, joyfully, lovingly, destroy your concepts and mental images into the burning furnace of just being with the One. Just love what is, seen and unseen. Don't name it. Don't label it. Don't even think about it. Just do what Jesus said: Come as a child.
“Whoever will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter into it.”
—Jesus, Mark 10:16
by Karen Armstrong
It is wrong - and dangerous - to believe literal truth can be found in religious texts
Human beings, in nearly all cultures, have long engaged in a rather strange activity. They have taken a literary text, given it special status and attempted to live according to its precepts. These texts are usually of considerable antiquity yet they are expected to throw light on situations that their authors could not have imagined. In times of crisis, people turn to their scriptures with renewed zest and, with much creative ingenuity, compel them to speak to their current predicament. We are seeing a great deal of scriptural activity at the moment.
This is ironic, because the concept of scripture has become problematic in the modern period. The Scopes trial of 1925, when Christian fundamentalists in the United States tried to ban the teaching of evolution in the public schools, and the more recent affair of The Satanic Verses, both reveal deep-rooted anxiety about the nature of revelation and the integrity of sacred texts. People talk confidently about scripture, but it is not clear that even the most ardent religious practitioners really know what it is.
Protestant fundamentalists, for example, claim that they read the Bible in the same way as the early Christians, but their belief that it is literally true in every detail is a recent innovation, formulated for the first time in the late 19th century. Before the modern period, Jews, Christians and Muslims all relished highly allegorical interpretations of scripture. The word of God was infinite and could not be tied down to a single interpretation. Preoccupation with literal truth is a product of the scientific revolution, when reason achieved such spectacular results that mythology was no longer regarded as a valid path to knowledge.
We tend now to read our scriptures for accurate information, so that the Bible, for example, becomes a holy encyclopaedia, in which the faithful look up facts about God. Many assume that if the scriptures are not historically and scientifically correct, they cannot be true at all. But this was not how scripture was originally conceived. All the verses of the Qur'an, for example, are called "parables" (ayat); its images of paradise, hell and the last judgment are also ayat, pointers to transcendent realities that we can only glimpse through signs and symbols.
We distort our scriptures if we read them in an exclusively literal sense. There has recently been much discussion about the way Muslim terrorists interpret the Qur'an. Does the Qur'an really instruct Muslims to slay unbelievers wherever they find them? Does it promise the suicide bomber instant paradise and 70 virgins? If so, Islam is clearly chronically prone to terrorism. These debates have often been confused by an inadequate understanding of the way scripture works.
People do not robotically obey every single edict of their sacred texts. If they did, the world would be full of Christians who love their enemies and turn the other cheek when attacked. There are political reasons why a tiny minority of Muslims are turning to terrorism, which have nothing to do with Islam. But because of the way people read their scriptures these days, once a terrorist has decided to blow up a London bus, he can probably find scriptural texts that seem to endorse his action.
Part of the problem is that we are now reading our scriptures instead of listening to them. When, for example, Christian fundamentalists argue about the Bible, they hurl texts back and forth competitively, citing chapter and verse in a kind of spiritual tennis match. But this detailed familiarity with the Bible was impossible before the modern invention of printing made it feasible for everybody to own a copy and before widespread literacy - an essentially modern phenomenon - enabled them to read it for themselves.
Hitherto the scriptures had always been transmitted orally, in a ritual context that, like a great theatrical production, put them in a special frame of mind. Christians heard extracts of the Bible chanted during the mass; they could not pick and choose their favourite texts. In India, young Hindu men studied the Veda for years with their guru, adopting a self-effacing and non-violent lifestyle that was meant to influence their understanding of the texts. In Judaism, the process of studying Torah and Talmud with a rabbi was itself a transformative experience that was just as important as the content.
The last thing anyone should attempt is to read the Qur'an straight through from cover to cover, because it was designed to be recited aloud. Indeed, the word qur'an means "recitation". Much of the meaning is derived from sound patterns that link one passage with another, so that Muslims who hear extracts chanted aloud thousands of times in the course of a lifetime acquire a tacit understanding that one teaching is always qualified and supplemented by other texts, and cannot be seen in isolation. The words that they hear again and again are not "holy war", but "kindness", "courtesy", "peace", "justice", and “compassion".
Historians have noted that the shift from oral to written scripture often results in strident, misplaced certainty. Reading gives people the impression that they have an immediate grasp of their scripture; they are not compelled by a teacher to appreciate its complexity. Without the aesthetic and ethical disciplines of ritual, they can approach a text in a purely cerebral fashion, missing the emotive and therapeutic aspects of its stories and instructions.
Solitary reading also enables people to read their scriptures too selectively, focusing on isolated texts that they read out of context, and ignoring others that do not chime with their own predilections. Religious militants who read their scriptures in this way often distort the tradition they are trying to defend. Christian fundamentalists concentrate on the aggressive Book of Revelation and pay no attention to the Sermon on the Mount, while Muslim extremists rely on the more belligerent passages of the Qur'an and overlook its oft-repeated instructions to leave vengeance to God and make peace with the enemy.
We cannot turn the clock back. Most of us are accustomed to acquiring information instantly at the click of a mouse, and have neither the talent nor the patience for the disciplines that characterised pre-modern interpretation. But we can counter the dangerous tendency to selective reading of sacred texts. The Qur'an insists that its teaching must be understood "in full" (20:114), an important principle that religious teachers must impart to the disaffected young.
Muslim extremists have given the jihad (which they interpret reductively as "holy war") a centrality that it never had before and have thus redefined the meaning of Islam for many non-Muslims. But in this they are often unwittingly aided by the media, who also concentrate obsessively on the more aggressive verses of the Qur'an, without fully appreciating how these are qualified by the text as a whole. We must all - the religious and the sceptics alike - become aware that there is more to scripture than meets the cursory eye.
· Karen Armstrong is the author of The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism
The Road Less Traveled may well have been a life-changing work and one of the best-selling books of all time.
By Robert Epstein Ph.D., published on November 1, 2002 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016
Scott Peck had a station-wagon with plates that read "THLOST" in his driveway. They speak of his lifelong journey as a self-described mystic. His last book is a memoir titled Glimpses of the Devil. He said it was his last effort because of his affliction with Parkinson's disease. In 2002, Robert Epstein visited him at his home on Lake Waramaug, in Connecticut.
Most people struggle with issues of spirituality in one form or another. Sometimes they arrive at a place of peace, and sometimes they don't. Must we go through this struggle, or can you point us to a shortcut?
I do not think that everybody has to struggle. But to probably at least half of the people, it never seems to enter their minds that they might be engaged in a struggle or that there might be something to struggle with.
One of my shticks is about why we need to do hard scientific research on religion. A study shows that if you ask people whether they believe in God, probably 95 percent of Americans will say they do. And there is nothing particularly great about their mental health. But if you ask them whether they have ever had any personal experience with God, only about 15 to 20 percent will say "yes." Those few have also been judged as more mentally healthy than the others. And the experience is not necessarily one we choose. Everyone is different, so your spirituality is not going to be my spirituality; your wrestling match is not my wrestling match. But right off the bat, the wrestling match has been a gift of God to you.
In the 1970s, when you wrote The Road Less Traveled, where were you at spiritually?
Although I was raised in a profoundly secular home, I had a belief, an awareness of God, from as far back as I can remember. In poetic form, there is a footnote in The Road Less Traveled about my earliest memory: "In the autumn, when I was three, my mother woke me from dark sleep to see the northern lights dancing in the cold. In her warm night arms, I danced all the way to China before she carried me in. I still dance, and I do not know if I can ever forgive her for such love." That is quite a first memory. I credit my mother with that, rather than credit God.
In my senior year at Friends Seminary, a little Quaker school on the edge of Greenwich Village in New York City, I took an elective course in world religions. The book we used was very objective, and it contained quotes from the Upanishads and Zen Buddhism. It wasn't that these religions taught me mysticism, for I was already a mystic. But for the first time, I had a religious identity. I had come home. And so I called myself a Zen Buddhist at the age of 18.
Around age 30 I found myself thirsting for a less abstract religion. I'd always been into Jewish mystical stories, Hasidic stories. Then I discovered Sufism. All Sufi stories are about psychotherapy and teaching and learning. So I started being nurtured by the Muslim mystics; they were a little more down-to-earth.
I'd turned down a lucrative Harvard fellowship and stayed in the Army as a psychiatrist. Together with a senator's aide, we toured the new drug-abuse programs to get a feeling for how they were doing. One of the places we went was Fort Jackson in South Carolina. When we got there, everyone wanted to see this controversial new show coming to town called Jesus Christ Superstar. That show was a real eye-opener. It was the first thing that put me in touch with Jesus' humanity and realness.
The other major thing was reading the Gospels at the age of 40. I lay in bed at night reading the New Testament. And just as I had felt with Jesus Christ Superstar, I was blown away. Now I think a small part of the Gospels is made up. But I found this incredibly real person. Jesus was lonely and sorrowful and scared—an unbelievably real person. And it was at that point that I began to take becoming a Christian seriously. Some people who arrive at Christianity start with Jesus' divinity, and some with his humanity. With me, it was his humanity. And only later did I begin to get in touch with his divinity, which was initially difficult for me to swallow.
This whole time, you were a practicing psychiatrist. You were in a community of confident mainstream mental health and medical professionals, many of whom had research backgrounds. How were you reconciling your spirituality with what you did for a living, namely practicing psychiatry, where there is little or no religious orientation?
Well, when I began to practice psychiatry it was 1964, so I was 28. My spirituality had not developed, so I could not talk about it fluently the way I do today. But I already saw no great difference between the psyche and spirituality. To amass knowledge without becoming wise is not my idea of progress in therapy. As soon as I became comfortable doing so, therapy became for me a quasi-spiritual endeavor. And, often with trepidation, I would carefully use certain religious concepts in therapy when appropriate.
For example, take people with phobias. Two things characterize them. One is that they see this world as a very dangerous place. The other is that they see themselves as isolated in this dangerous world. So it is up to them, by their wits alone, to keep themselves alive. You usually treat them by converting them to adopt a more benign view of the world as a less dangerous place, or by persuading them that there is something called grace protecting them so they don't have to worry about everything all the time.
You must have had some serious doubts.
Are you familiar with James Fowler? He's the expert on the stages of faith development. I simplify them a bit. Jim's theory has six stages; mine has four. The fundamental stage, one I call "chaotic antisocial," is a stage of absent spirituality. The second stage is "formal institutional," in which the fundamentalists fall. Stage three I call "skeptic individual," where religion is either thrown out or seriously doubted. And then there is stage four, which I call "mystical communal." To get from stage two to stage four—if you can in a lifetime—you must go through stage three. You have to go through a phase of doubting. One of the great sins of the Christian church is the discouragement of doubting. There's a limit to doubting. If you become really good at stage-three doubting, you begin to doubt your own doubts. And that's when you begin to move to stage four.
Most people achieve this without being in therapy.
Right. But therapy can—although not very well without the use of religious concepts—sometimes facilitate this transition.
People who are trained in psychology and psychiatry keep religion at arm's length. In The Road Less Traveled you wrote, "My plea would be that psychotherapists of all kinds should push themselves to become no less involved but rather more sophisticated in religious matters than they currently are." That philosophy contradicts the training that's provided in the field. Even mental health professionals with strong religious beliefs don't bring them into the therapeutic exchange. You're saying this is wrong?
Yes. I said it was wrong many years ago, and I say it's wrong today. In 1992, the American Psychiatric Association, for political reasons, decided it needed to give me recognition because people were getting pissed off at [the APA] for not giving me any. So [the APA] gave me a plaque that read, "For his work as a teacher and clinician." I also gave a lecture. As did William Styron, the author of Sophie's Choice, who wrote a book about his own depression. The best-attended APA lectures were his and mine. [At my lecture] they started off with a room that seated 500. Then they removed a wall [to expand the room] and got 1,000 people in. Then 200 or 300 more came in, and then there were about 200 or 300 outside. At the end, there was a standing ovation.
I wrote to the president of the APA and said, "We've got to do more, and I am here to consult with you in any way you might like." And he said, "Yes, we have to do more." I never heard back from him. There are lots of reasons for this state of affairs historically, going back to Galileo, with the fight between science and religion. And psychiatry really does begin with Freud, who was extremely secular and scientific-minded. He was terribly conflicted about religion, as many people are. Of course, most people are familiar with stage-two religion. And by God, we're going to keep psychiatry scientific. And then, for often crass motives, the APA has run with the medical model for insurance purposes. Thank God I've been out of practice for 15 years now. There are a lot of reasons for this split. But that doesn't mean it's right, or it's real.
There's some irony here. They flock to you because of your spirituality, and then spurn you for the same reasons. Another irony is that your books sell well in the Bible Belt. And yet, you are down on fundamentalism, and the fundamentalist Christians are very down on you.
They picketed me twice some years ago as me being the Antichrist. Not an antichrist, but the Antichrist. That's power.
Can you tell me more about the roots of your spirituality—about the intellectual and experiential side?
All my work can be traced back to my Harvard college thesis, "Anxiety, Modern Science and the Epistemological Problem." I outlined three basic ways to try and look at things. They can be looked at as if they were caused by something external, or they were caused by something internal, or they were caused by relationships between things. Unfortunately, none of these three ways can answer all the questions we have. That is, our questions about the cause for intellectual anxiety. Increasingly, modern science is about our realization that we just don't know. Much of my life since has consisted of working out that thesis. The answer to understanding things is not one of those three, but all of them simultaneously. It's more than a paradox—it's a “triadox."
I am really an empiricist, a believer in the importance of experience. I've had all kinds of experiences with God in terms of revelation through a still, small voice or dreams or coincidences. Hundreds of them. Once, a secular Jewish woman wrote a negative review of me in The New York Times, ending it with the comment that unfortunately, most of us don't have a direct phone line to God. I wrote her back and said, "You know, please don't think that my phone works very well. A lot of times I can't get ahold of God, and sometimes the phone rings and I forget to answer. So I suspect there are a lot of people who deliberately leave the phone off the hook because they have these same experiences and they just don't recognize them as the miracles that they are."
I can remember years ago sitting on my bed and suddenly thinking, "I am God." And my next thought was that I better not go down to New Milford, Connecticut, and start talking to people about this. On further contemplation, I realized that, to a significant degree, it was my responsibility to decide who God was. And that, in some ways, made me God's creator. It was at that point that I began to feel sorry for God. I mean, think of the burdens that God shoulders with unfailing gaiety. That was the real beginning of my personal relationship with Him or Her. When I realized that we are "co-creators," for better or worse.
In The Road Less Traveled, you present us with an outrageous challenge: "God wants us to become himself or herself or itself. We are growing toward Godhood. God is the goal of evolution."
That idea has been recognized for ages. Unification with God is the goal of contemplatives. St. Paul clearly expressed it when he said, "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
You've influenced tens of millions of people. Are you satisfied with your impact?
Oh, I'm more than satisfied. I was really lucky. Had I written my books much earlier, they wouldn't have sold at all.
But I am not talking about book sales.
That is just a measurement of the impact. One of the things I regret is that some of my books other than The Road Less Traveled have not been more successful. I think my best books are not my most popular, although they were the best reviewed. They are the more complicated and multileveled, and many people don't like complicated things.
How would you like to be remembered?
I've spent little energy thinking about it, and I guess I don't care much. I would like to be recognized. It amuses me that I've gotten all kinds of honors but never an honorary degree. But I think there are reasons for that. I'm a popularist. I have made a fair amount of money, and most academicians don't make a fair amount of money. They sneer at my scholarship—as well they might, because I am a poor scholar. My wife and I have long been involved with community building and set up a foundation [the Foundation for Community Encouragement], which spawned similar work around the world. Maybe I will be remembered for that.
I've said a lot of things that I think are new and true ideas that may someday be incorporated into psychiatry. In The Road Less Traveled, I said most psychological disorders were considered to have their root in the unconscious, under all these little demons of anger and sex and lust, etc. But the reason they are in the unconscious is because the conscious mind puts them there, because it will not tolerate the pain of dealing with them. But then they become ghosts that haunt us and ultimately cause more pain. As far as I am concerned, virtually all psychological diseases have their origin in our conscious minds. And that is not what we are taught.
Do you have any significant regrets?
A significant regret is that I was not as good a father as I would have ideally liked to be. I was not, I think, a bad father. I did fine until my children were two, two and a half. But from two and a half to eleven or so, they bored me. You need to flow with children, and it is hard to flow when your mind is filled with working on an article about religious ecstasy. I also regret very much, every day now, the lack of sympathy that I had for my parents in their old age. There was a lot I could have given them if I had only been empathetic. Of course, I had not been through their aches and pains.
You had, many years ago, a problem with infidelity that you later overcame.
I didn't overcome it, I lost my libido.
You still smoke and drink. There's the occasional cynic who says, "This man is a hypocrite because he is saying this, but he is doing that." How would you reply?
Cynicism is a terrible disease. I don't think I ever suggested that it's good to smoke, or that people should drink or have affairs. I am not going to justify it. I've never said anywhere that they are supposed to imitate me. I've gone to great lengths not to be a guru. I think the notion of guruhood is utterly pathological, and I couldn't live that way. I am just a person. It isn't my choosing, but my fault. In a number of ways, I don't understand who I am. I have an unpublished first draft of a novel about somebody very special who was born that way—born the son of a sultan, and consequently, he ruled the region. And he, the sultan's son, kept asking throughout the book, "Why me? Who am I?"
You can tell [the cynics] that if by some chance I am a saint, I'm one who smokes and drinks. I'm somebody who often, like so many people, preaches what he needs to learn.
By Charlie Badenhop
Your physiology plays a major role in determining your emotional state and how you perceive the world. I have written about this on many occasions. Usually when I write about physiology I emphasize the importance of your breathing and posture, and today I would like to take this concept a bit further by writing about how you and your world change when you slow down and allow yourself to have an open focus, wide angle perspective. When you change the way you attend to life you change your experience of yourself and the world you live in.
Invariably, when you experience stress you feel incapable of cultivating the life experience you deeply desire, and that is much of what stress is all about - feeling incapable or out of control. When you feel stressed you perceive yourself and the world around you in a tight focus. The tighter your focus, the more you miss out on the many opportunities for change that are all around you. When you are stressed it is like looking at the world through a telephoto lens. A lens that only allows for a narrow field of view and a magnified image of your perceived problem. The tighter your focus the larger your problem appears to be, the more alone you feel, and the less you breathe. The tighter your focus the more the present moment and your potential future gets overwhelmed by your past!
When you change your perspective to open-focus wide-angle, you come to realize that you have only been constructing one of many possible realities. Change the way you focus and attend to the world and you will change your reality and your sense of what is possible. Learning and the living of one’s life, is a creative act of self-discovery in which you extract meaning from everything you encounter. You are constantly engaged in the artful and “artificial” synthesis of diverse and paradoxical fragments of “information” into a new integrated whole.
When you are experiencing stress you lose your sense of context (circumstances and setting), proportion (the relationship of one “thing” to another), and scale (the relative size of one “thing” compared to another). The more exaggerated or out of whack these three components of your experience are, the more you will experience anxiety, fear, and stress.
So what to do?
You can change the way you pay attention, which in turn will change what you pay attention to, which in turn will change your perception of what is possible. When your awareness is expansive and wide angle you can achieve a deeper fuller sense of being an active participant in life, an active player in life, an active team member, who is not alone and separate.
You can cultivate the capacity to have a compassionate, composed experience of your life. An experience that is expansive, multidimensional, and multicolor. An experience similar to the many times in your life when you felt great and had the sense that your life really can be all that you have been hoping for.
Slow down your thinking mind by breathing fully, sit up straight, tense and then release various muscle groups throughout your body, place your current challenge in the context of your entire life, and look at your challenge from a distance with the perspective of a wise person. Consider the many resources you have available to you, and the many other times you have overcome challenges. Imagine your have already overcome your challenge, and ask yourself “What did I do to accomplish this?” Let the answer to this question “come to you” slowly over time. You really do have the ability to achieve all you truly desire!
The Devil and the Seraph
by A.H. Almaas
Man is asleep. Little do we know what this means, the extent of this sleep. Little do we know what it means to be really awake, to be ripened, completed, a whole person. Sometimes, when a drop of grace kindles my heart, my first feeling is to cry, with a burning heart for how asleep I am, how blind I can be, without even knowing it. I feel so sad then, so sorry for how far I go from God, how estranged I can be from my true nature. My deep love for Truth, for the precious gold of Reality, melts my heart into warm running tears when I remember how hard it is to remember. The realization that when I am asleep I don't even know how far I am from God makes my heart burn with more fire. It is so easy to forget. And it is such a sad affair, for what I forget is my own true nature, the precious wine of my innermost soul. No wonder the Sufi makes it his first and foremost duty to remember God, day and night. God's name is always on his tongue, constantly within his heart. It is so easy to forget who I am because identifying with my ego patterns is such a smooth and automatic process. It's like gravity, always there to pull me down. Even when I am keenly aware of my process, there always comes a time when a subtle game takes over, and without realizing it I am cut off from the origin, estranged from the source of Being.
Identification always comes with blindness. They go together. When I identify with a particular reaction or a pattern of mine I am really saying that I am this reaction or this pattern, without being aware that I am saying so. The blindness can go so far that I feel self-righteous about this particular identification. And this really means that I am asserting the existence of the devil, and negating what is real. I blind myself from seeing this by rationalization or pretension. Essentially it is self-deception. So I find myself running after gratification of my games with complete justification and self-righteousness, of course. Forgetting God, the one Reality, always means siding with the devil, the delusion we call ego. It's so painful, it's so shameful, that sometimes I actually say to the devil, "Yes, I believe you." I turn my back on God, on Reality, on the source of life, believing that the devil, my ignorant ego, will give me the satisfaction and contentment I desire. Time and time again, with a lot of pain and sorrow, I find that I only end up in more frustration, more suffering, and more alienation.
It is in the nature of ego striving and the desire for gratification that the heart is upset. There can be no peace with craving and grasping. This craving is a certain energy, a certain state that is by its very nature harsh, hard, excited, and violent. It is the seed and source of all negative emotions. It is felt and experienced as violence within the heart. It feels like sand grating against the pure smoothness and softness of the heart. It is no wonder greed, craving and desire for gratification produce wars and violence, for it is actually the energy of war within our hearts, inside our own bodies.
Still, rare is the individual who will even listen to such a fundamental truth, let alone do anything about it. It's as if our very nature does not want us to see this truth or to admit to its validity and significance. Of course not, the devil does not want to see its deception, ego does not want to die. NO. It will fight fiercely with all weapons possible, more weapons than we can even conceive of, to avoid the truth, to conceal it, to reject it. The devil will not see itself as the devil. It has to point to something else as the cause of trouble. And it will continue opening its hungry mouth, screaming, "Give me, fill me, satisfy me." But of course, this is another illusion; it will never be filled, it can never be satisfied. For its hunger is bottomless, its emptiness has no limits. It is always the temptation of satisfaction, but never total satisfaction. The Buddhists found an apt image for this state of ego. They call it the hungry ghost. It is a being with a huge stomach and a tiny mouth, like the hole of a needle. It can never get enough through the small hole to fill the huge stomach. This is the usual state of ego, whether we are conscious of it or not.
The core of ego is a feeling of deficiency, of poverty, of emptiness, of saying: "I am no good, I am worthless, I am empty. Give me, give me, more, more, more, more." In this state of deficiency I don't love myself, I don't accept myself. I reject myself. I want to run away, distract myself; maybe go to a movie, see a friend, have sex, eat, fill myself with knowledge, or pretend I am O.K. I am always wanting to fill this emptiness, always rejecting it, always afraid of it. In fact, we are all terrified by it. Most of the time people don't know that this emptiness, this deficiency is what is driving most of their actions. It's such a desperation, such a race to fill this bottomless pit. But how sweet it is to say "yes" to this emptiness. How courageous it is to say: "I feel empty, I feel deficient, and I won't attempt to fill it. I want to see the truth. I want to experience the reality of me. I refuse to manipulate. I want to wake up regardless of how painful it is." Only the hero will take this attitude, for it is a heroic act to see your deficiency, your neediness, your emptiness, and yet not try to manipulate your life to fill it. We are so compulsive, so driven to manipulate, to avoid feeling this basic deficiency of our personal ego. But believe me, my friend, there's no other way towards fullness. God will not pour His grace if you don't accept your deficiency and stop manipulating. Manipulation, striving to fill this emptiness, is only the devil doing its efficient work. It is constantly working to hide its weakness.
PHILOSOPHY OF THE TAO BY Alan Watts
(Lecture by Alan Watts, circa 1970 transcribed by Scott Lahteine)
The subject of this seminar is going to be Taoism as contained in the teachings of Lao-Tzu and Chuang Tzu who lived approximately 400 years or more before Christ, separated probably by 100 years from each other. And as is often repeated, Lao-Tzu started out by explaining that "The Tao which can be explained is not the eternal Tao," and then went on to write a book about it, also saying "Those who say do not know; those who know do not say." Because there's nothing to be explained. You must remember that the word "explain" means to lay out in a plane. That is, to put it on a flat sheet of paper.
All mathematics is done on a flat sheet of paper until very recent times. But it makes a great deal of difference, because this world isn't flat. If you draw a circle on a flat sheet of paper it has an inside and an outside which are different. On the other hand if you draw a circle around a doughnut the inside and the outside are the same. So what we are first of all saying is that the Tao - whatever that is - cannot be explained in that sense.
So it's important, first of all, to experience it so we know what we're talking about. And in order to go into Taoism at all we must begin by being in the frame of mind which can understand it. You cannot force yourself into this frame of mind, any more than you can smooth disturbed water with your hand. But let's say that our starting point is that we forget what we know - or think we know. That we suspend judgment about practically everything, returning to what we were when we were babies. When we have not yet learned the names, or language, and although we have extremely sensitive bodies - very alive senses - we have no means of making an intellectual or verbal commentary on what is going on.
Now can you consider that as your state? Just plain ignorant, but still very much alive. And in this state you just feel what is without calling it anything at all. You know nothing at all about anything called an external world in relation to an internal world. You don't know who you are. You haven't even got the idea of the word "you" or "I." It's before all that. Nobody has taught you self-control. So you don't know the difference between the noise of a car outside and a wandering thought that enters your mind. They're both something that happens. You don't identify the presence of the thought, which might be just an image of a passing cloud in your mind's eye, and the passing automobile. They happen. Your breath happens. Light all around you happens. Your response to it by blinking happens.
So you simply are really unable to do anything. There's nothing that you're supposed to do. Nobody's told you anything to do. You're unable, completely, to do anything but be aware of the buzz. The visual buzz, the audible buzz, the tangible buzz, the smellable buzz, all buzz that's going on. Ha ha. Watch it! Don't ask who's watching it. You've no information about that yet, that it requires a watcher for something to be watched. That's somebody's idea. You don't know that.
And Lao-Tzu says, "The scholar learns something every day. The man of Tao unlearns something every day... until he gets back to non-doing." And that's what we are in at the moment.
Just simply, without comment, without an idea in your head, be aware. What else can you do? Don't try to be aware. You are. You'll find, of course, that you can't stop the commentary going on inside of your head. But at least you can regard it as interior noise. Listen to your chattering thoughts as you listen to the singing of a kettle. We don't know what it is we are aware of. Especially when you take it all together. And there's this sense of something going on. I won't even say that. This. You see? This.
Well, I said it was going on. That's an idea. It's a form of words. Obviously I wouldn't know if anything was going on unless I could say something else wasn't. Huh. I know motion by contrast with rest. So while I am aware of motion I am also aware of rest, so maybe what's at rest isn't going on and what's motion is going on. So I won't use that concept because I've got to include both. And if I say, "Well here it is," that excludes what isn't - like space. And if I say "this" it excludes "that." Ha ha ha, I'm reduced to silence!
But you can feel what I'm talking about, can't you? That's what's called "Tao" in Chinese. That's where we begin.
Tao means basically "way" - and so "course" - the course of Nature. Of which Lao-Tzu says "Tao fa tzu yan," which means - the "fa" - "Tao fa" means the way of functioning of the Tao. "Tzu yan" is of itself, so. That is to say, is spontaneous.
Watch again what's going on. If you approach it with this wise ignorance you will see that you are witnessing a happening. In other words, in this primal way of looking at things there's no difference between what you do on the one hand and what happens to you on the other. It's all the same process. Just as your thoughts happen the car happens outside. The clouds. The stars.
When a Westerner hears that he thinks of fatalism or determinism. That's because he still preserves in the back of his mind two illusions. One is that what is happening is happening to him, and therefore he is the victim of circumstances. But when you are in primal ignorance there is no you different from what's happening, and therefore it's not happening to you. It's just happening. Ha ha. So is you, you know, what you call "you," what you later call "you" is part of the happening. You're part of the Universe. Although the Universe, strictly speaking, has no parts. We only call certain features of the Universe parts of it, but you can't disconnect them from the rest without causing them to be not only nonexistent but never to have existed. Ha ha.
So when you have this happening the other illusion that a Westerner is liable to have is that it's determined in the sense that what is happening now follows necessarily from what happened in the past. But you don't know anything about that in your primal ignorance. Cause and effect? Why, obviously not! Ha ha ha! Because if you're really na•ve you see that the past is the result of what's happening now. It goes backwards into the past like a wake goes backwards from a ship. All the echoes are disappearing, finally, going away and away and away. And it's all starting now. What we call the future is nothing, the great void. And everything comes out of the great void.
That's the way a na•ve person - and as I explained if any of you were at my lecture last night, if you shut your eyes and contemplate reality only with your ears you'll find there's a background of silence and all sounds are coming out of it. They start out of silence. If you close your eyes - listen, just listen. [rings meditation bell] You see the bell came out of nothing, floated off, off, off, off, and then stopped being a sonic echo and became a memory, which is another kind of echo. A wake. It's very simple!
It all begins now. And therefore it's spontaneous. It isn't determined. That's a philosophical notion. Nor is it capricious! That's another philosophical notion. As we distinguish between what is orderly and what is random. Of course we don't really know what randomness is. If you talk to a mathematician about randomness he'll make you feel quite weird.
What is so of itself? "Sui generis" in Latin. That means coming into being spontaneously on its own accord. It's the real meaning of "virgin birth." Sui generis. And that's the world. That is the Tao. That makes us feel scared. Perhaps. Because we say "Well if all this is happening spontaneously who's in charge? I'm not in charge, that's pretty obvious! Ha ha ha! But I hope there's God or somebody looking after all this." Though why should there be someone looking after it? Because then there's a new worry that you may not have thought of. Like who takes care of the caretaker's daughter while the caretaker's busy taking care? Who guards the guards? Who supervises the police? Who looks after God? Well you say "God doesn't need looking after." Oh. Oh, then nor does this!
Tao. Because Tao is a certain kind of order. And this kind of order is not quite what we call order. When we arrange everything geometrically in boxes or in rows that's a very crude kind of order. But when you look at a plant it's perfectly obvious that this bamboo plant has order. We recognize at once that that is not a mess. But it is not symmetrical. And it is not geometrical looking. It looks like a Chinese drawing. Because the Chinese appreciated this kind of order so much that they put it into their painting. Non-symmetrical order.
In the Chinese language this is called "li" and the character for li means originally the markings in jade. Also means the grain in wood, and the fiber in muscle. We could say too that clouds have li, marble has li, the Human body has li. And we all recognize it, and the artist copies it whether he is a landscape painter, a portrait painter, or an abstract painter, or a non-objective painter. They all are trying for li.
And the interesting thing is that although we all know what it is there's no way of defining it. But because Tao is the course we can also call li the watercourse, because the patterns of li are patterns of flowing water. And we see those patterns of flow memorialized as it were in sculpture, in the grain in wood (which is the flow of sap), in marble, in bones, in muscles. All these things are patterned according to the basic principles. That is the fa, Tao fa, the Tao's principle of flow.
There is a book called "Sensitive Chaos" by Theodore Svenk with many many studies and photographs of flow patterns. And there in the patterns of flowing water you will see all kinds of motifs from Chinese art. Immediately recognizable, including the S-curve in the circle, the yang-yin, like this.... See?
So li means then the order of flow, the wonderful dancing pattern of liquid. Because Lao-Tzu likens Tao to water. "The great Tao," he says, "flows everywhere, to the left and to the right. [Like water]," - I'm interpolating that - "it loves and nourishes all things but does not lord it over them." "Because," he says elsewhere, "water always seeks the lowest level, which men abhor." Because we're always trying to play games of one-upmanship and be on top of each other. Well, Lao-Tzu explains that the top position is the most insecure. Everybody wants to get to the top of the tree. But then if they do the tree will collapse.
That's the fallacy of American democracy. You too might be president. The answer is, no one but a maniac would want to be president! [Laughter] Who wants to be put in charge of a runaway truck? [Laughter]
So, Lao-Tzu says that the basic position is the most powerful. And this we can see at once in Judo, or Aikido, which are wrestling arts or self-defensive arts where you always get underneath the opponent, and so he falls over you if he attacks you. The moment he moves to be aggressive you go either lower than he is, or in a smaller circle than he's moving. And you have spin if you know Aikido. You're always spinning, and you know how something rapidly spinning exercises centrifugal force. So if somebody comes into your field of centrifugal force he gets flung out, but by his own bounce. Huh, it's very curious. So, therefore, the watercourse way is the way of Tao.
Now, that seems to white Anglo-Saxon Protestants and Irish Catholics... lazy... spineless... passive. And I'm always being asked when I talk about things, "If people did what you suggest wouldn't they become terribly passive?" Well, from a superficial point of view I would suggest that a certain amount of passivity would be an excellent corrective for our kind of culture. Because we are always creating trouble by doing good to other people. [Laughter] You know, we wage wars for people's benefit. [Laughter] And educate the poor for their benefit, so that they desire more things which they can't get. I mean, that sounds rather callous. But our rich people are not happy, whereas the poor people of Haiti are - to judge by the way they laugh. And we think-- we're sorry, really, not for the poor but for ourselves. Guilty.
So a certain amount of doing nothing, and stopping rushing around, would cool everything. But also it must be remembered that passivity is the root of action. Where do you suppose you're going to get energy from, just by being energetic? No, you can't get energy that way. That is exhausting yourself. To have energy you must sleep, but also much more important than sleep is what I told you at the beginning. Passivity of mind, mental silence. Not-- you can't, as I tried to explain, be passive, as an exercise that's good for you. You can only get to that point by realizing there's nothing else you can do. So for God's sake don't cultivate passivity as a form of progress. That's like playing because it's good for your work. [Laughter] You never get to play! [Laughter]
ABIDING IN THE TAO
In the Judeo-Christian religions, one hears much of “fear of God” and “love of God”—also “obedience to God”. In early Chinese Taoism, one speaks not so much in terms of “love of Tao”—and certainly not “fear of Tao”!—but rather of “being in harmony with the Tao”.
Fear of Tao is completely ludicrous! Tao loves and nourishes all things, but does not lord it over them! Tao is something totally friendly and benevolent—friendly to all beings, not just those who believe in it or “accept it as their Savior!” Thus Tao is the sort of thing which is impossible to believe in without loving. But the loving of Tao is not stressed for the simple reason that it is so obvious. To command love of Tao would be as silly as commanding one to love his closest friend!
By contrast the Bible commands us to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy might”. We are also enjoined to seek salvation; it is our duty to seek salvation, our very purpose is to be saved. Indeed some Protestant sects say that the purpose of man is to “love God and enjoy Him forever”.
Now, is it not strange that the Taoist Sage abides in the Tao, not because he is “commanded” to nor because it is his “duty”, but simply because he loves to! He is not seeking anything from the Tao; he is not striving to “save his soul”, nor does he seek any “future reward”; he has no purpose in abiding in the Tao; he is in the Tao simply because it is delightful to be there.
The situation is like that of the many children and friends who visit us—sometimes for extended periods—in our country house in Elka Park. They abide with us not because they are commanded to, or because it is their duty, nor do they “discipline themselves” for some future good. They come because—to use the children’s words—“we like it here”.
---BUY THE BOOK:
Nov., 16, 2011
Over the past thirty years, Western societies have repeatedly come into conflict with radical Islamist movements, to the point that many Americans regard the faith of Islam as almost synonymous with terrorism. After an atrocity such as the September 11 attacks, Western observers often express concern about the violent and militaristic nature of passages within the Qur’an, and ask whether fanaticism is somehow hard-wired into the faith of Islam. By implication, global terrorism and jihadism can only be solved by a quite fundamental shift in the nature of the religion itself.
Absent though from such discussions is any sense of the still more unforgiving passages that litter the Hebrew Bible, which is also the Christian Old Testament. Many passages quote God as commanding acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and racially-based mass murder. To take just one example of many, when God orders the conquest of Canaan, he supposedly commands his followers to exterminate the native inhabitants: “You must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.” The violence attributed to God in these texts is far more extreme, far more ruthless, than anything that appears in the Qur’an, although those Biblical atrocities spawn nothing like the same outcomes among that book’s devotees.
This in itself is a significant comment on the relationship between the scriptures on which a religion is founded and the ways in which that faith develops through history. To say that terrorists or extremists can find religious texts to justify their acts does not mean that their violence actually grows from those scriptural roots. Indeed, such an assumption itself is based on the crude fundamentalist formulation that everything in a given religion must somehow be authorized in scripture—or that the mere existence of a scriptural text means that its doctrines must shape later history. When Christians or Jews point to violent parts of the Qur’an and suggest that those elements taint the whole religion, they open themselves to the obvious question: what about their own faiths? If the founding text shapes the whole religion, then Judaism and Christianity deserve the utmost condemnation as religions of savagery. Of course, they are no such thing; nor is Islam.
The most striking fact about the violent Biblical passages is not that they exist, but that they have been so utterly forgotten by the vast majority of Christians and Jews, including among devoted Bible-readers. And Western Christians who scarcely know the Bible’s dark passages potentially face real difficulties in their own faith. Although they are not likely to come across these texts in church, they still find them through their own reading or, just as likely today, through hearing the militantly anti-religious attacks of a New Atheist writer, a Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. When atheist writers point out the alarming texts, contemporary Christians have little effective response, and many are unnerved to find that, yes indeed, God does apparently offer these frightful commands. Believers who ignore their own scriptural realities have no credible basis on which to debate atheists or secularists.
Unless they hear these texts read and discussed, what is an ordinary believer to make of them? The greatest menace is that a modern reader simply dismisses the bloody passages as no more than a primitive substratum of the Bible that has no possible relevance to later eras, and certainly not to Christianity. It thus becomes “just the Old Testament.” In practice, many Christians treat the Old Testament as basically archaeological or historical material, not terribly relevant to the content of the New, creating a Christianity that is thoroughly distorted and unhistorical.
The observation that the Bible contains brutal and unpalatable texts is not new, as these passages have been a commonplace of secularist and anti-religious writers at least since the Enlightenment. I am not interested, though, in using these texts to attack or undermine faith, but rather to develop a mature framework of understanding by which such passages can be absorbed, comprehended, and freely discussed as part of a Christianity that fully acknowledges its Old Testament roots. Above all, I show how individual scriptural texts are incomprehensible except in the context of the historical development and maturing of the monotheistic traditions.
The more Westerners probe the unacceptable portions of the Quran, the more urgent becomes the need to confront the texts of terror in their own heritage.
Raymond Smullyan's "THE TAO IS SILENT"
And therefore, O God, I pray thee, if thou hast one ounce of mercy for this thy suffering creature, absolve me of having to have free will!
You reject the greatest gift I have given thee?
How can you call that which was forced on me a gift? I have free will, but not of my own choice. I have never freely chosen to have free will. I have to have free will, whether I like it or not!
Why would you wish not to have free will?
Because free will means moral responsibility, and moral responsibility is more than I can bear!
Why do you find moral responsibility so unbearable?
Why? I honestly can't analyze why; all I know is that I do.
All right, in that case suppose I absolve you from all moral responsibility but leave you still with free will. Will this be satisfactory?
Mortal (after a pause):
No, I am afraid not.
Ah, just as I thought! So moral responsibility is not the only aspect of free will to which you object. What else about free will is bothering you?
With free will I am capable of sinning, and I don't want to sin!
If you don't want to sin, then why do you?
Good God! I don't know why I sin, I just do! Evil temptations come along, and try as I can, I cannot resist them.
If it is really true that you cannot resist them, then you are not sinning of your own free will and hence (at least according to me) not sinning at all.
No, no! I keep feeling that if only I tried harder I could avoid sinning. I understand that the will is infinite. If one wholeheartedly wills not to sin, then one won't.
Well now, you should know. Do you try as hard as you can to avoid sinning or don't you?
I honestly don't know! At the time, I feel I am trying as hard as I can, but in retrospect, I am worried that maybe I didn't!
So in other words, you don't really know whether or not you have been sinning. So the possibility is open that you haven't been sinning at all!
Of course this possibility is open, but maybe I have been sinning, and this thought is what so frightens me!
Why does the thought of your sinning frighten you?
I don't know why! For one thing, you do have a reputation for meting out rather gruesome punishments in the afterlife!
Oh, that's what's bothering you! Why didn't you say so in the first place instead of all this peripheral talk about free will and responsibility? Why didn't you simply request me not to punish you for any of your sins?
I think I am realistic enough to know that you would hardly grant such a request!
You don't say! You have a realistic knowledge of what requests I will grant, eh? Well, I'll tell you what I'm going to do! I will grant you a very, very special dispensation to sin as much as you like, and I give you my divine word of honor that I will never punish you for it in the least. Agreed?
Mortal (in great terror):
No, no, don't do that!
Why not? Don't you trust my divine word?
Of course I do! But don't you see, I don't want to sin! I have an utter abhorrence of sinning, quite apart from any punishments it may entail.
In that case, I'll go you one better. I'll remove your abhorrence of sinning. Here is a magic pill! Just swallow it, and you will lose all abhorrence of sinning. You will joyfully and merrily sin away, you will have no regrets, no abhorrence and I still promise you will never be punished by me, or yourself, or by any source whatever. You will be blissful for all eternity. So here is the pill!
Are you not being irrational? I am even removing your abhorrence of sin, which is your last obstacle.
I still won't take it!
I believe that the pill will indeed remove my future abhorrence for sin, but my present abhorrence is enough to prevent me from being willing to take it.
I command you to take it!
What, you refuse of your own free will?
So it seems that your free will comes in pretty handy, doesn't it?
I don't understand!
Are you not glad now that you have the free will to refuse such a ghastly offer? How would you like it if I forced you to take this pill, whether you wanted it or not?
No, no! Please don't!
Of course I won't; I'm just trying to illustrate a point. All right, let me put it this way. Instead of forcing you to take the pill, suppose I grant your original prayer of removing your free will -- but with the understanding that the moment you are no longer free, then you will take the pill.
Once my will is gone, how could I possibly choose to take the pill?
I did not say you would choose it; I merely said you would take it. You would act, let us say, according to purely deterministic laws which are such that you would as a matter of fact take it.
I still refuse.
So you refuse my offer to remove your free will. This is rather different from your original prayer, isn't it?
Now I see what you are up to. Your argument is ingenious, but I'm not sure it is really correct. There are some points we will have to go over again.
There are two things you said which seem contradictory to me. First you said that one cannot sin unless one does so of one's own free will. But then you said you would give me a pill which would deprive me of my own free will, and then I could sin as much as I liked. But if I no longer had free will, then, according to your first statement, how could I be capable of sinning?
You are confusing two separate parts of our conversation. I never said the pill would deprive you of your free will, but only that it would remove your abhorrence of sinning.
I'm afraid I'm a bit confused.
All right, then let us make a fresh start. Suppose I agree to remove your free will, but with the understanding that you will then commit an enormous number of acts which you now regard as sinful. Technically speaking, you will not then be sinning since you will not be doing these acts of your own free will. And these acts will carry no moral responsibility, nor moral culpability, nor any punishment whatsoever. Nevertheless, these acts will all be of the type which you presently regard as sinful; they will all have this quality which you presently feel as abhorrent, but your abhorrence will disappear; so you will not then feel abhorrence toward the acts.
No, but I have present abhorrence toward the acts, and this present abhorrence is sufficient to prevent me from accepting your proposal.
Hm! So let me get this absolutely straight. I take it you no longer wish me to remove your free will.
No, I guess not.
All right, I agree not to. But I am still not exactly clear as to why you now no longer wish to be rid of your free will. Please tell me again.
Because, as you have told me, without free will I would sin even more than I do now.
But I have already told you that without free will you cannot sin.
But if I choose now to be rid of free will, then all my subsequent evil actions will be sins, not of the future, but of the present moment in which I choose not to have free will.
Sounds like you are pretty badly trapped, doesn't it?
Of course I am trapped! You have placed me in a hideous double bind! Now whatever I do is wrong. If I retain free will, I will continue to sin, and if I abandon free will (with your help, of course) I will now be sinning in so doing.
But by the same token, you place me in a double bind. I am willing to leave you free will or remove it as you choose, but neither alternative satisfies you. I wish to help you, but it seems I cannot.
But since it is not my fault, why are you still angry with me?
For having placed me in such a horrible predicament in first place!
But, according to you, there is nothing satisfactory I could have done.
You mean there is nothing satisfactory you can now do, that does not mean that there is nothing you could have done.
Why? What could I have done?
Obviously you should never have given me free will in the first place. Now that you have given it to me, it is too late -- anything I do will be bad. But you should never have given it to me in the first place.
Oh, that's it! Why would it have been better had I never given it to you?
Because then I never would have been capable of sinning at all.
Well, I'm always glad to learn from my mistakes.
I know, that sounds sort of self-blasphemous, doesn't it? It almost involves a logical paradox! On the one hand, as you have been taught, it is morally wrong for any sentient being to claim that I am capable of making mistakes. On the other hand, I have the right to do anything. But I am also a sentient being. So the question is, Do, I or do I not have the right to claim that I am capable of making mistakes?
That is a bad joke! One of your premises is simply false. I have not been taught that it is wrong for any sentient being to doubt your omniscience, but only for a mortal to doubt it. But since you are not mortal, then you are obviously free from this injunction.
Good, so you realize this on a rational level. Nevertheless, you did appear shocked when I said, "I am always glad to learn from my mistakes."
Of course I was shocked. I was shocked not by your self-blasphemy (as you jokingly called it), not by the fact that you had no right to say it, but just by the fact that you did say it, since I have been taught that as a matter of fact you don't make mistakes. So I was amazed that you claimed that it is possible for you to make mistakes.
I have not claimed that it is possible. All I am saying is that if I make mistakes, I will be happy to learn from them. But this says nothing about whether the if has or ever can be realized.
Let's please stop quibbling about this point. Do you or do you not admit it was a mistake to have given me free will?
Well now, this is precisely what I propose we should investigate. Let me review your present predicament. You don't want to have free will because with free will you can sin, and you don't want to sin. (Though I still find this puzzling; in a way you must want to sin, or else you wouldn't. But let this pass for now.) On the other hand, if you agreed to give up free will, then you would now be responsible for the acts of the future. Ergo, I should never have given you free will in the first place.
I understand exactly how you feel. Many mortals -- even some theologians -- have complained that I have been unfair in that it was I, not they, who decided that they should have free will, and then I hold them responsible for their actions. In other words, they feel that they are expected to live up to a contract with me which they never agreed to in the first place.
As I said, I understand the feeling perfectly. And I can appreciate the justice of the complaint. But the complaint arises only from an unrealistic understanding of the true issues involved. I am about to enlighten you as to what these are, and I think the results will surprise you! But instead of telling you outright, I shall continue to use the Socratic method.
To repeat, you regret that I ever gave you free will. I claim that when you see the true ramifications you will no longer have this regret. To prove my point, I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I am about to create a new universe -- a new space-time continuum. In this new universe will be born a mortal just like you -- for all practical purposes, we might say that you will be reborn. Now, I can give this new mortal -- this new you -- free will or not. What would you like me to do?
Mortal (in great relief):
Oh, please! Spare him from having to have free will!
All right, I'll do as you say. But you do realize that this new you without free will, will commit all sorts of horrible acts.
But they will not be sins since he will have no free will.
Whether you call them sins or not, the fact remains that they will be horrible acts in the sense that they will cause great pain to many sentient beings.
Mortal (after a pause):
Good God, you have trapped me again! Always the same game! If I now give you the go-ahead to create this new creature with no free will who will nevertheless commit atrocious acts, then true enough he will not be sinning, but I again will be the sinner to sanction this.
In that case, I'll go you one better! Here, I have already decided whether to create this new you with free will or not. Now, I am writing my decision on this piece of paper and I won't show it to you until later. But my decision is now made and is absolutely irrevocable. There is nothing you can possibly do to alter it; you have no responsibility in the matter. Now, what I wish to know is this: Which way do you hope I have decided? Remember now, the responsibility for the decision falls entirely on my shoulders, not yours. So you can tell me perfectly honestly and without any fear, which way do you hope I have decided?
Mortal (after a very long pause):
I hope you have decided to give him free will.
Most interesting! I have removed your last obstacle! If I do not give him free will, then no sin is to be imputed to anybody. So why do you hope I will give him free will?
Because sin or no sin, the important point is that if you do not give him free will, then (at least according to what you have said) he will go around hurting people, and I don't want to see people hurt.
GOD (with an infinite sigh of relief):
At last! At last you see the real point!
What point is that?
That sinning is not the real issue! The important thing is that people as well as other sentient beings don't get hurt!
You sound like a utilitarian!
I am a utilitarian!
Whats or no whats, I am a utilitarian. Not a unitarian, mind you, but a utilitarian.
I just can't believe it!
Yes, I know, your religious training has taught you otherwise. You have probably thought of me more like a Kantian than a utilitarian, but your training was simply wrong.
You leave me speechless!
I leave you speechless, do I! Well, that is perhaps not too bad a thing -- you have a tendency to speak too much as it is. Seriously, though, why do you think I ever did give you free will in the first place?
Why did you? I never have thought much about why you did; all I have been arguing for is that you shouldn't have! But why did you? I guess all I can think of is the standard religious explanation: Without free will, one is not capable of meriting either salvation or damnation. So without free will, we could not earn the right to eternal life.
Most interesting! I have eternal life; do you think I have ever done anything to merit it?
Of course not! With you it is different. You are already so good and perfect (at least allegedly) that it is not necessary for you to merit eternal life.
Really now? That puts me in a rather enviable position, doesn't it?
I don't think I understand you.
Here I am eternally blissful without ever having to suffer or make sacrifices or struggle against evil temptations or anything like that. Without any of that type of "merit", I enjoy blissful eternal existence. By contrast, you poor mortals have to sweat and suffer and have all sorts of horrible conflicts about morality, and all for what? You don't even know whether I really exist or not, or if there really is any afterlife, or if there is, where you come into the picture. No matter how much you try to placate me by being "good," you never have any real assurance that your "best" is good enough for me, and hence you have no real security in obtaining salvation. Just think of it! I already have the equivalent of "salvation" -- and have never had to go through this infinitely lugubrious process of earning it. Don't you ever envy me for this?
But it is blasphemous to envy you!
Oh come off it! You're not now talking to your Sunday school teacher, you are talking to me. Blasphemous or not, the important question is not whether you have the right to be envious of me but whether you are. Are you?
Of course I am!
Good! Under your present world view, you sure should be most envious of me. But I think with a more realistic world view, you no longer will be. So you really have swallowed the idea which has been taught you that your life on earth is like an examination period and that the purpose of providing you with free will is to test you, to see if you merit blissful eternal life. But what puzzles me is this: If you really believe I am as good and benevolent as I am cracked up to be, why should I require people to merit things like happiness and eternal life? Why should I not grant such things to everyone regardless of whether or not he deserves them?
But I have been taught that your sense of morality -- your sense of justice -- demands that goodness be rewarded with happiness and evil be punished with pain.
Then you have been taught wrong.
But the religious literature is so full of this idea! Take for example Jonathan Edwards's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." How he describes you as holding your enemies like loathsome scorpions over the flaming pit of hell, preventing them from falling into the fate that they deserve only by dint of your mercy.
Fortunately, I have not been exposed to the tirades of Mr. Jonathan Edwards. Few sermons have ever been preached which are more misleading. The very title "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" tells its own tale. In the first place, I am never angry. In the second place, I do not think at all in terms of "sin." In the third place, I have no enemies.
By that do you mean that there are no people whom you hate, or that there are no people who hate you?
I meant the former although the latter also happens to be true.
Oh come now, I know people who have openly claimed to have hated you. At times I have hated you!
You mean you have hated your image of me. That is not the same thing as hating me as I really am.
Are you trying to say that it is not wrong to hate a false conception of you, but that it is wrong to hate you as you really are?
No, I am not saying that at all; I am saying something far more drastic! What I am saying has absolutely nothing to do with right or wrong. What I am saying is that one who knows me for what I really am would simply find it psychologically impossible to hate me.
Tell me, since we mortals seem to have such erroneous views about your real nature, why don't you enlighten us? Why don't you guide us the right way?
What makes you think I'm not?
I mean, why don't you appear to our very senses and simply tell us that we are wrong?
Are you really so naive as to believe that I am the sort of being which can appear to your senses? It would be more correct to say that I am your senses.
You are my senses?
Not quite, I am more than that. But it comes closer to the truth than the idea that I am perceivable by the senses. I am not an object; like you, I am a subject, and a subject can perceive, but cannot be perceived. You can no more see me than you can see your own thoughts. You can see an apple, but the event of your seeing an apple is itself not seeable. And I am far more like the seeing of an apple than the apple itself.
If I can't see you, how do I know you exist?
Good question! How in fact do you know I exist?
Well, I am talking to you, am I not?
How do you know you are talking to me? Suppose you told a psychiatrist, "Yesterday I talked to God." What do you think he would say?
That might depend on the psychiatrist. Since most of them are atheistic, I guess most would tell me I had simply been talking to myself.
And they would be right!
What? You mean you don't exist?
You have the strangest faculty of drawing false conclusions! Just because you are talking to yourself, it follows that I don't exist?
Well, if I think I am talking to you, but I am really talking to myself, in what sense do you exist?
Your question is based on two fallacies plus a confusion. The question of whether or not you are now talking to me and the question of whether or not I exist are totally separate. Even if you were not now talking to me (which obviously you are), it still would not mean that I don't exist.
Well, all right, of course! So instead of saying "if I am talking to myself, then you don't exist," I should rather have said, "if I am talking to myself, then I obviously am not talking to you."
A very different statement indeed, but still false.
Oh, come now, if I am only talking to myself, then how can I be talking to you?
Your use of the word "only" is quite misleading! I can suggest several logical possibilities under which your talking to yourself does not imply that you are not talking to me.
Suggest just one!
Well, obviously one such possibility is that you and I are identical.
Such a blasphemous thought -- at least had I uttered it!
According to some religions, yes. According to others, it is the plain, simple, immediately perceived truth.
So the only way out of my dilemma is to believe that you and I are identical?
Not at all! This is only one way out. There are several others. For example, it may be that you are part of me, in which case you may be talking to that part of me which is you. Or I may be part of you, in which case you may be talking to that part of you which is me. Or again, you and I might partially overlap, in which case you may be talking to the intersection and hence talking both to you and to me. The only way your talking to yourself might seem to imply that you are not talking to me is if you and I were totally disjoint -- and even then, you could conceivably be talking to both of us.
So you claim you do exist.
Not at all. Again you draw false conclusions! The question of my existence has not even come up. All I have said is that from the fact that you are talking to yourself one cannot possibly infer my nonexistence, let alone the weaker fact that you are not talking to me.
All right, I'll grant your point! But what I really want to know is do you exist?
What a strange question!
Why? Men have been asking it for countless millennia.
I know that! The question itself is not strange; what I mean is that it is a most strange question to ask of me!
Because I am the very one whose existence you doubt! I perfectly well understand your anxiety. You are worried that your present experience with me is a mere hallucination. But how can you possibly expect to obtain reliable information from a being about his very existence when you suspect the nonexistence of the very same being?
So you won't tell me whether or not you exist?
I am not being willful! I merely wish to point out that no answer I could give could possibly satisfy you. All right, suppose I said, "No, I don't exist." What would that prove? Absolutely nothing! Or if I said, "Yes, I exist." Would that convince you? Of course not!
Well, if you can't tell me whether or not you exist, then who possibly can?
That is something which no one can tell you. It is something which only you can find out for yourself.
How do I go about finding this out for myself?
That also no one can tell you. This is another thing you will have to find out for yourself.
So there is no way you can help me?
I didn't say that. I said there is no way I can tell you. But that doesn't mean there is no way I can help you.
In what manner then can you help me?
I suggest you leave that to me! We have gotten sidetracked as it is, and I would like to return to the question of what you believed my purpose to be in giving you free will. Your first idea of my giving you free will in order to test whether you merit salvation or not may appeal to many moralists, but the idea is quite hideous to me. You cannot think of any nicer reason -- any more humane reason -- why I gave you free will?
Well now, I once asked this question of an Orthodox rabbi. He told me that the way we are constituted, it is simply not possible for us to enjoy salvation unless we feel we have earned it. And to earn it, we of course need free will.
That explanation is indeed much nicer than your former but still is far from correct. According to Orthodox Judaism, I created angels, and they have no free will. They are in actual sight of me and are so completely attracted by goodness that they never have even the slightest temptation toward evil. They really have no choice in the matter. Yet they are eternally happy even though they have never earned it. So if your rabbi's explanation were correct, why wouldn't I have simply created only angels rather than mortals?
Beats me! Why didn't you?
Because the explanation is simply not correct. In the first place, I have never created any ready-made angels. All sentient beings ultimately approach the state which might be called "angelhood." But just as the race of human beings is in a certain stage of biologic evolution, so angels are simply the end result of a process of Cosmic Evolution. The only difference between the so-called saint and the so-called sinner is that the former is vastly older than the latter. Unfortunately it takes countless life cycles to learn what is perhaps the most important fact of the universe -- evil is simply painful. All the arguments of the moralists -- all the alleged reasons why people shouldn't commit evil acts -- simply pale into insignificance in light of the one basic truth that evil is suffering.
No, my dear friend, I am not a moralist. I am wholly a utilitarian. That I should have been conceived in the role of a moralist is one of the great tragedies of the human race. My role in the scheme of things (if one can use this misleading expression) is neither to punish nor reward, but to aid the process by which all sentient beings achieve ultimate perfection.
Why did you say your expression is misleading?
What I said was misleading in two respects. First of all it is inaccurate to speak of my role in the scheme of things. I am the scheme of things. Secondly, it is equally misleading to speak of my aiding the process of sentient beings attaining enlightenment. I am the process. The ancient Taoists were quite close when they said of me (whom they called "Tao") that I do not do things, yet through me all things get done. In more modem terms, I am not the cause of Cosmic Process, I am Cosmic Process itself. I think the most accurate and fruitful definition of me which man can frame -- at least in his present state of evolution -- is that I am the very process of enlightenment. Those who wish to think of the devil (although I wish they wouldn't!) might analogously define him as the unfortunate length of time the process takes. In this sense, the devil is necessary; the process simply does take an enormous length of time, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. But, I assure you, once the process is more correctly understood, the painful length of time will no longer be regarded as an essential limitation or an evil. It will be seen to be the very essence of the process itself. I know this is not completely consoling to you who are now in the finite sea of suffering, but the amazing thing is that once you grasp this fundamental attitude, your very finite suffering will begin to diminish -- ultimately to the vanishing point.
I have been told this, and I tend to believe it. But suppose I personally succeed in seeing things through your eternal eyes. Then I will be happier, but don't I have a duty to others?
You remind me of the Mahayana Buddhists! Each one says, "I will not enter Nirvana until I first see that all other sentient beings do so." So each one waits for the other fellow to go first. No wonder it takes them so long! The Hinayana Buddhist errs in a different direction. He believes that no one can be of the slightest help to others in obtaining salvation; each one has to do it entirely by himself. And so each tries only for his own salvation. But this very detached attitude makes salvation impossible. The truth of the matter is that salvation is partly an individual and partly a social process. But it is a grave mistake to believe -- as do many Mahayana Buddhists -- that the attaining of enlightenment puts one out of commission, so to speak, for helping others. The best way of helping others is by first seeing the light oneself.
There is one thing about your self-description which is somewhat disturbing. You describe yourself essentially as a process. This puts you in such an impersonal light, and so many people have a need for a personal God.
So because they need a personal God, it follows that I am one?
Of course not. But to be acceptable to a mortal a religion must satisfy his needs.
I realize that. But the so-called "personality" of a being is really more in the eyes of the beholder than in the being itself. The controversies which have raged, about whether I am a personal or an impersonal being are rather silly because neither side is right or wrong. From one point of view, I am personal, from another, I am not. It is the same with a human being. A creature from another planet may look at him purely impersonally as a mere collection of atomic particles behaving according to strictly prescribed physical laws. He may have no more feeling for the personality of a human than the average human has for an ant. Yet an ant has just as much individual personality as a human to beings like myself who really know the ant. To look at something impersonally is no more correct or incorrect than to look at it personally, but in general, the better you get to know something, the more personal it becomes. To illustrate my point, do you think of me as a personal or impersonal being?
Well, I'm talking to you, am I not?
Exactly! From that point of view, your attitude toward me might be described as a personal one. And yet, from another point of view -- no less valid -- I can also be looked at impersonally.
But if you are really such an abstract thing as a process, I don't see what sense it can make my talking to a mere "process."
I love the way you say "mere." You might just as well say that you are living in a "mere universe." Also, why must everything one does make sense? Does it make sense to talk to a tree?
Of course not!
And yet, many children and primitives do just that.
But I am neither a child nor a primitive.
I realize that, unfortunately.
Because many children and primitives have a primal intuition which the likes of you have lost. Frankly, I think it would do you a lot of good to talk to a tree once in a while, even more good than talking to me! But we seem always to be getting sidetracked! For the last time, I would like us to try to come to an understanding about why I gave you free will.
I have been thinking about this all the while.
You mean you haven't been paying attention to our conversation?
Of course I have. But all the while, on another level, I have been thinking about it.
And have you come to any conclusion?
Well, you say the reason is not to test our worthiness. And you disclaimed the reason that we need to feel that we must merit things in order to enjoy them. And you claim to be a utilitarian. Most significant of all, you appeared so delighted when I came to the sudden realization that it is not sinning in itself which is bad but only the suffering which it causes.
Well of course! What else could conceivably be bad about sinning?
All right, you know that, and now I know that. But all my life I unfortunately have been under the influence of those moralists who hold sinning to be bad in itself. Anyway, putting all these pieces together, it occurs to me that the only reason you gave free will is because of your belief that with free will, people will tend to hurt each other -- and themselves -- less than without free will.
Bravo! That is by far the best reason you have yet given! I can assure you that had I chosen to give free will, that would have been my very reason for so choosing.
What! You mean to say you did not choose to give us free will?
My dear fellow, I could no more choose to give you free will than I could choose to make an equilateral triangle equiangular. I could choose to make or not to make an equilateral triangle in the first place, but having chosen to make one, I would then have no choice but to make it equiangular.
I thought you could do anything!
Only things which are logically possible. As St. Thomas said, "It is a sin to regard the fact that God cannot do the impossible, as a limitation on His powers." I agree, except that in place of his using the word sin I would use the term error.
Anyhow, I am still puzzled by your implication that you did not choose to give me free will.
Well, it is high time I inform you that the entire discussion -- from the very beginning -- has been based on one monstrous fallacy! We have been talking purely on a moral level -- you originally complained that I gave you free will, and raised the whole question as to whether I should have. It never once occurred to you that I had absolutely no choice in the matter.
I am still in the dark!
Absolutely! Because you are only able to look at it through the eyes of a moralist. The more fundamental metaphysical aspects of the question you never even considered.
I still do not see what you are driving at.
Before you requested me to remove your free will, shouldn't your first question have been whether as a matter of fact you do have free will?
That I simply took for granted.
But why should you?
I don't know. Do I have free will?
Then why did you say I shouldn't have taken it for granted?
Because you shouldn't. Just because something happens to be true, it does not follow that it should be taken for granted.
Anyway, it is reassuring to know that my natural intuition about having free will is correct. Sometimes I have been worried that determinists are correct.
They are correct.
Wait a minute now, do I have free will or don't I?
I already told you you do. But that does not mean that determinism is incorrect.
Well, are my acts determined by the laws of nature or aren't they?
The word determined here is subtly but powerfully misleading and has contributed so much to the confusions of the free will versus determinism controversies. Your acts are certainly in accordance with the laws of nature, but to say they are determined by the laws of nature creates a totally misleading psychological image which is that your will could somehow be in conflict with the laws of nature and that the latter is somehow more powerful than you, and could "determine" your acts whether you liked it or not. But it is simply impossible for your will to ever conflict with natural law. You and natural law are really one and the same.
What do you mean that I cannot conflict with nature? Suppose I were to become very stubborn, and I determined not to obey the laws of nature. What could stop me? If I became sufficiently stubborn even you could not stop me!
You are absolutely right! I certainly could not stop you. Nothing could stop you. But there is no need to stop you, because you could not even start! As Goethe very beautifully expressed it, "In trying to oppose Nature, we are, in the very process of doing so, acting according to the laws of nature!" Don't you see that the so-called "laws of nature" are nothing more than a description of how in fact you and other beings do act? They are merely a description of how you act, not a prescription of of how you should act, not a power or force which compels or determines your acts. To be valid a law of nature must take into account how in fact you do act, or, if you like, how you choose to act.
So you really claim that I am incapable of determining to act against natural law?
It is interesting that you have twice now used the phrase "determined to act" instead of "chosen to act." This identification is quite common. Often one uses the statement "I am determined to do this" synonymously with "I have chosen to do this." This very psychological identification should reveal that determinism and choice are much closer than they might appear. Of course, you might well say that the doctrine of free will says that it is you who are doing the determining, whereas the doctrine of determinism appears to say that your acts are determined by something apparently outside you. But the confusion is largely caused by your bifurcation of reality into the "you" and the "not you." Really now, just where do you leave off and the rest of the universe begin? Or where does the rest of the universe leave off and you begin? Once you can see the so-called "you" and the so-called "nature" as a continuous whole, then you can never again be bothered by such questions as whether it is you who are controlling nature or nature who is controlling you. Thus the muddle of free will versus determinism will vanish. If I may use a crude analogy, imagine two bodies moving toward each other by virtue of gravitational attraction. Each body, if sentient, might wonder whether it is he or the other fellow who is exerting the "force." In a way it is both, in a way it is neither. It is best to say that it is the configuration of the two which is crucial.
You said a short while ago that our whole discussion was based on a monstrous fallacy. You still have not told me what this fallacy is.
Why, the idea that I could possibly have created you without free will! You acted as if this were a genuine possibility, and wondered why I did not choose it! It never occurred to you that a sentient being without free will is no more conceivable than a physical object which exerts no gravitational attraction. (There is, incidentally, more analogy than you realize between a physical object exerting gravitational attraction and a sentient being exerting free will!) Can you honestly even imagine a conscious being without free will? What on earth could it be like? I think that one thing in your life that has so misled you is your having been told that I gave man the gift of free will. As if I first created man, and then as an afterthought endowed him with the extra property of free will. Maybe you think I have some sort of "paint brush" with which I daub some creatures with free will and not others. No, free will is not an "extra"; it is part and parcel of the very essence of consciousness. A conscious being without free will is simply a metaphysical absurdity.
Then why did you play along with me all this while discussing what I thought was a moral problem, when, as you say, my basic confusion was metaphysical?
Because I thought it would be good therapy for you to get some of this moral poison out of your system. Much of your metaphysical confusion was due to faulty moral notions, and so the latter had to be dealt with first.
And now we must part -- at least until you need me again. I think our present union will do much to sustain you for a long while. But do remember what I told you about trees. Of course, you don't have to literally talk to them if doing so makes you feel silly. But there is so much you can learn from them, as well as from the rocks and streams and other aspects of nature. There is nothing like a naturalistic orientation to dispel all these morbid thoughts of "sin" and "free will" and "moral responsibility." At one stage of history, such notions were actually useful. I refer to the days when tyrants had unlimited power and nothing short of fears of hell could possibly restrain them. But mankind has grown up since then, and this gruesome way of thinking is no longer necessary.
It might be helpful to you to recall what I once said through the writings of the great Zen poet Seng-Ts'an:
If you want to get the plain truth,
Be not concerned with right and wrong.
The conflict between right and wrong
Is the sickness of the mind.
---BUY THE BOOK:
A Boat in the Sea by Arkhip Kuindzhi, c.1875. Oil on canvas.
“ZEN FREEDOM” by Tim Lott
Tim Lott is the author of The Scent of Dried Roses (Penguin Modern Classics) and Under the Same Stars (Simon and Schuster). His writings can be viewed at: https://aeon.co/users/tim-lott
Free will and fate are both illusions. The trick is learning to sail with the prevailing winds of life
There is a line in J G Ballard’s book The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) that strikes at the heart of the issue of free will versus fate. Ballard writes: ‘Deep assignments run through all our lives; there are no coincidences.’ It is an arresting line — and no doubt many of us at one time or another have felt just this way about our lives, that they have a fated quality to them — but just what these ‘deep assignments’ consist of is unclear. The issue of free will versus fate might, for many people, feel a little rarefied, and irrelevant. Yet it seems to me it is absolutely crucial to how we approach the countless dilemmas that confront every one of us each day.
Perhaps it’s peculiar, but this question has vexed me for as long as I can remember. At one point in my life, this challenge pretty much sent me crazy. In the late 1980s, when I was studying history at university, I found myself grappling furiously with the question of why things happened — this question being, really, at the heart of all historical analysis.
Why did the Russian Revolution happen in 1917 rather than the ‘first time round’ in 1905? What caused the Second World War? Was it ‘larger historical forces’? Or just individuals making individual decisions? And, at the same time, in my own life — after I had split up with my then long-term girlfriend — I was left asking, what had I done to make that happen? What did I have to do to get her back? Was it in my control?
After three years, I was no wiser than when I started. Did we choose freely? Or were we just victims of larger historical, social and biological forces? It was impossible to tell. What I did realise was that philosophers had been struggling with such questions for thousands of years, but were no closer to understanding the answer than they were when they started out. Today, the consensus among most modern physicists, chemists and biologists is that free will is impossible — it is simply an illusion generated by a consciousness that is itself illusory. This explanation didn’t satisfy me. After all, if consciousness is an illusion, who is generating the illusion, and who is perceiving it as an illusion? For me, mechanistic determinism — that there is a sort of fated cause and effect at play in the universe, with no room for choice — raised more problems than it solved.
Consider your breathing: are ‘you’ breathing, or is breathing happening to you?
It also just felt wrong. I felt so sure that I could decide whether or not to drink the glass of water in front of me that I would find it impossible to be convinced otherwise. That direct experience of reality is valid, particularly since it also takes into account the fact that I might drink the water without consciously choosing to, without thinking about it first.
At the same time, it seemed impossible to believe wholeheartedly in free will. At one level, I intuited that there were paths that you just ‘had’ to take, even if you didn’t want to. When I decided to leave my publishing company to go to university later on in life, it felt like something I had to do. When I ended my marriage, I felt I had no choice — but of course, in theory at least, I did.
More objectively, there is no doubt that we are profoundly affected by our genes and brain chemistry. We are created by our social and parental environment, shaped by the language we speak, and fashioned by the things that happen to us, accidentally or otherwise. Our character is subject to so many forces beyond our control. How can any choice, then, be said to be free?
It was only after I finished studying history [or to give it another name, ‘Western notions of cause-and-effect’] and began to study Zen Buddhism that some kind of meaningful answer began to occur to me. No one could resolve the question of free will versus determinism because, fundamentally, it was the wrong question. The real question was not: Do I have a choice? Rather it was: Who is the ‘me’ that’s asking if I have a choice?
If there is no ‘I’ to make a choice, then there is only one process going on — that of existence as a whole. No one — no fate, or brute circumstance — is pushing you around because there is no one to be pushed around. Or to put it another way, you are both simultaneously the one who is doing the pushing and the one who is being pushed. To think of this process in another way, consider your breathing: are ‘you’ breathing, or is breathing happening to you?
Of course, this is no simple solution. It merely shifts the focus and takes us on to another equally dense philosophical question: Who am I? Individuals in the West tend to consider themselves as a sort of ‘first cause’, an isolated ego that somehow acts on ‘the world out there’. We see ourselves as struggling against our external world, as that same world struggles to dominate us. And it feels, for some, like a fight to the death.
The view that there is no ‘you’ for things to happen to is a hard, even painful one to accept
But what if, for a moment, we entertain the possibility that there is no ‘me’. No ‘I’ who can act freely or be fated to become X or Y. What if, as Carl Jung suggested, the ego is simply a complex of the unconscious, a mere concept, and as such quite powerless? This might go against everything we have ever been taught, both overtly and subliminally, but to me, it seems and feels convincing. After all, can you show me your ego? Where is it? How can you be so certain that it exists? It’s not a tangible sensation, like ‘love’ or ‘fear’. Rather, it’s an idea that perhaps we don’t even realize is an idea, so much do we take it for granted. Maybe it’s just an abstraction — like the number three.
If you take this admittedly large leap – that there is no such thing as the you that ‘you’ imagine yourself to be – then what? Then ‘you’ at the deepest level are simply one particular expression of everything else that is going on. Or as the Zen writer Alan Watts put it: ‘Will and fate are two aspects of the same thing. Life lives you, you do not live life. Everything that happens is “of itself so”.’
What you do is what the whole universe is doing now. In the same way, a single wave is something the whole ocean is doing — you cannot point to a discrete end or beginning of a wave. You are experiencing different aspects of one thing happening, not separate events linked by cause and effect. Imagine a dance between two people that looks so seamless you can’t tell who’s leading and who’s following. Is it the ‘you’ who is called ‘Tim Lott’ or ‘Joe Doakes’ or whatever, or is it the sum total of everything that’s going on? Ultimately, what’s the difference?
But where does this leave you? ‘Free’ to do whatever you want to do? Possibly. Or perhaps its means you’re absolutely unfree. It depends which way you look at it. The view that there is no ‘you’ for things to happen to is a hard, even painful one to accept. There is only a continuum: you, everything. There is no such thing as progression in time, with one cause pushing a certain effect. This is also an illusion.
For some this could be a terrifying prospect. But for me this is a good arrangement. It involves a universe full of surprises rather than a dead machine, as the determinists would have it. And neither is it a factory of regret, guilt and anxiety, which tend to be suffered by those who believe in free will too much. It leaves existence as a profound mystery and, without mystery, life would be intolerably boring.
Let your brain do the work without interference, just as you let your liver or your heart do their jobs
When I am faced with a difficult choice now, I neither make it nor don’t make it. As Zen teaching has it, I try to await the condition of being ‘choicelessly aware’. At some point, the choice ‘just happens’, in the same way that your breath ‘just happens’, when you’re not thinking about it. Let your brain do the work without interference, just as you let your liver or your heart do their jobs without interference. Don’t let your ego — your centre of conscious reflection — get in the way. In other words, you are trusting ‘nature’ — or if you prefer, your unconscious — to make the choice for you. Nature is not always to be trusted, but it is a better bet than so called ‘rational action’; it contains a wisdom that is far deeper than reason.
If you think too much about a choice, it is bound to go awry. The same instinct that governs, lightly, your decision whether or not to go out for a walk should be the same instinct that decides whether or not to stay in your marriage. It is not motivated action. It does not involve a cost-benefit analysis. It just recognises when, and if, the door of action is open, and suggests whether you might want to walk through it — or not. What happens next is not a matter of reason, but only of courage, and faith.
Having spent the past 10 years writing and teaching on Asian religions, I now have something to confess:
Asia does not have religion.
“But what,” you may ask, “about that college class I took on ‘world religions?’ We learned about Hinduism, Confucianism, Daoism (Taoism) and Shinto. Half the class was about Asia.”
Between you and me, I hate that class. I hated it as a student, because I thought it didn’t make sense. I hate it even more as a professor, because I know it doesn’t make sense. Here’s why.
Think about the religions the Western world knows best: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Whatever the differences that separate them, these three religions all share a great deal in common. Each one, for instance, is centered on a text — a holy and inviolate scripture. For Jews, Christians and Muslims, the sacred text is never wrong — although man’s interpretation of it often is. Based on this knowledge, it would seem sensible to assume that religion and scripture are inseparable. But in fact, the central role of scripture, like much of what we assume about “religion” as a concept, is uniquely Western.
The same applies to the rules about how religion functions in society. What the West knows best is its own religious history, which was shaped in large part by the question of where Christianity should fit into politics. As we all know, European kings once claimed to rule by divine right, at least until the age of the great revolutions came along and banished organized religion from political life. But the declining political prominence of Western Christianity was more than just a battle between kings, popes and the awakened masses; it was also mirrored by a new understanding of religion itself, a sense that God resides, not in the church, but in the heart of and soul of the believer. True religious belief thus came to be seen as something very personal. This understanding shapes our idea that religion does not belong in the public sphere (some countries like France take this idea very seriously), but also means we do not accept the validity of religious conversion made at the point of a gun. The freedom of religious conscience has taken on a global currency, and is now portrayed as a basic human right. It is the standard used by the United Nations, and most of the world pays lip service to it in at least some form. Whatever the reality, religious freedom is enshrined in the constitutions of Cuba and North Korea. At least on paper, even Iran formally accepts the existence of certain religious minorities.
The fact is that the Western idea of religion did not reach Asia until very recently. When it did, the concept was so foreign that many Asian languages had to invent a new word for it [specifically for making diplomatic treaties with the Western powers who insisted on a clause protecting “religious freedom”]. This puts Asia’s own traditions into a strange bind. Even now, we face the problem in deciding just what to call the ideas of Confucius or the Buddha. Calling them “religions” clearly doesn’t work, because Asian traditions look and behave so differently from what we know in the West.
Daoists, for example, don’t have a Bible. In the entire canon of Daoist scripture, there is nothing that compares to the central role occupied by the sacred books of Western religion. Shinto has no scriptural tradition at all. Historically, East Asia has had far less religious conflict than the West, not because Asian religions are inherently any more peaceful, but rather because they have a very different concept of religious membership. In Western religions, affiliation is absolute: you cannot be a hyphenated Muslim-Jew, or a Christian-Hindu. Asian religions, in contrast, treat religious membership in more fluid terms. Everyone in China is to some degree influenced by Confucian ethics, but nobody would call himself a “Confucian.” Trying to fit Asian beliefs into Western categories produces the classic square peg-round hole scenario.
As always, one needs travel no further than “The Simpsons” for a good example. When Lisa’s quest for religious identity (driven by her dissatisfaction with the fictitious Presbylutheran congregation) led her to embrace Buddhism, she promptly shouted the epiphany, “I’m a Buddhist!” out her bedroom window. In doing so, she was actually echoing a classic Christian metaphor of religious belonging — the lightning-bolt conversion of Paul of Tarsus. Lisa may have been a Buddhist, but she became one in a very Christian way.
This is not merely a cartoon dilemma (pun very much intended). Our understanding of what religion is, what it should look like, and what role it should play in society all have real world ramifications. When political figures like Michele Bachmann cynically promise to outlaw shariah, they are doing more than merely repeating the mistaken assertion that the United States is foundationally a Christian nation, they are also making a broader statement about what constitutes legitimate religion. Such ideas may play well with American voters, but they compromise our ability to understand the world outside our borders, and tangibly harm our image abroad.
Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that many of those who reject religion themselves rely on this same limited definition. Religion is in no way inimical to science. Certain interpreters of Christianity may reject evolution and global warming. That is unfortunate, but it is neither representative nor exclusive. Pig-headedness is not unique to Christianity, or even to religion. Just like the anti-Islamic screed emerging from the political right, dumping everything we dislike about Christianity into a single bucket we call “religion” serves only to muddy the waters.
Private "I," Private Property
The name that can be named is not the real name.
The primary or original consciousness, the Tao—the innate intelligence of the universe—is there all the while, whether we are aware of it or not. The man who has amnesia has not become someone else—he has simply forgot-1 ten who he is. In the Western world, which is today (in a cultural sense) ] most of the world, we have a collective amnesia regarding the unnameable Tao—we have lost touch with a consciousness that is prior to the ego. It is j not only that we have failed to open the Wisdom Eye; we have forgotten that it even exists. As a result, the field of consciousness available to us is limited to that defined by the ego.
One manifestation of our collective amnesia regarding transcendence is ' our unwavering commitment to the concept of private property. Like the ego, private property may well serve a useful social function. Yet if we take a man-made social convention and confuse it with the underlying reality, we are sure to go astray. Standing out in the middle of the desert, a sign marks an imaginary line that separates the states of Arizona and New Mexico. Nothing in the landscape distinguishes this side from that. The boundary [line is clearly arbitrary and imaginary. In truth, this is the case with all property. The boundary lines are always arbitrary and imaginary. They exist as a function of belief—not in the physical world, and much less in the transcendent unity of all things. This is an obvious and easily demonstrable fact of life, yet one which, in our daily living, we choose to ignore.
We fail to understand that a particular thing is merely an artificial definition by our senses, of some indefinable . . . infinitely surpassing that thing.
—P. D. Ouspensky
Despite the implications that our belief in private property has on our 1 experience of abundance or lack, we seldom, if ever, hold it up to critical analysis. The concept of ownership is meaningless without a name to attach the object to. Name is, as we have said, the original seed of the ego. It bis through names that we distinguish differences, and it is by identifying \ with and clinging to our own names and their associations that we stake tout our personal territory. (We forget too easily that persona means "mask," which implies both an illusion and a cover.) Having marked the territory, Live look for how what is inside the boundaries can be distinguished from [what is outside. This territory is the original, and the most private, property. Name (and its associations) is the first thing that we own.
Since name is the core of the ego, we seek to enlarge, protect, and prepare our names. We feel pleasure when "good" things are said about our names, and pain when "bad" things are said about them. From this comes the sense of gain and loss, the psychological origins of credit and debt. iMentally attaching an object to your name gives the sense of possession. ^Preserving possessions is a way of preserving your name, that is, the ego. [Since we realize that we as egos are destined to die, we want somehow to [extend our ego identities beyond the scant seventy, eighty, or perhaps ninety [years we are normally allotted. One device for achieving an illusion of ego [life-extension is the conception of the inheritance of private property. It allows us to pass on the possessions (objects attached to our names) to our offspring, and in so doing, preserve our names and ego identities beyond the grave. It is an attempt of the ego to find security and permanence in a world of constant change.
The universal human problem of recognizing, transcending, and integrating the ego is compounded by the artificiality of modern life. One who lives in nature is constantly in touch with, and immediately aware of, a field of power and experience transcendent to the life of ego and society.] People in most traditional cultures tried to live in accord with the cycles! seasons, and powers inherent in the natural world. Today, we try as much as we can to insulate and isolate ourselves in an artificial man-made world. I Like no other in human history, our society tries to project and protect the illusion that we are separate from nature and its universal life processes! Wrapped up in the complexity of modern technological society, we find it difficult to see that the order of nature governs our own lives collectively and individually, and therefore to put our trust in the Tao.
The Taoists, then, condemned the differentiation of society into classes. Rightly they associated the process with increasing artificiality and complexity of life. . . .
If there is anything like a law of consciousness, it is this: whatever we focus our attention on expands in our lives. Every major spiritual tradition in the world employs this fundamental principle of consciousness a an essential part of its path to liberation. The first of Christ's two commandments is to love (focus on) the Lord with all of thy mind and heart and strength. The yoga tradition of India, from the sutras of Patanjali to the Bhagavad-Gita, tells us that awakening is achieved through the focus of attention—be it on the individual's own higher self, or Atman, the impersonal universal Brahman, or the personal deity forms of God, Bhagavan. Similarly, the Taoist teachings of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu instruct us that we are to cultivate (become more aware of) the Tao.
In traditional cultures, myth, ritual, and art provided points of focus on transcendent symbols as means of projecting or pitching the consciousness beyond the field of the ego. For the society, this served two primary functions: First, it provided the mass of people with authentic rituals that promoted a temporary release from the ego state—a peek into the beyond. Second, it gave a relative few individuals a general blueprint for, or path to, enlightenment. The awakening of these individuals in turn enriched the whole society.
Lawerence Boldt - “EmpowerYou.com
"Ornament on Bible" by Hall Groat II
How Biblical Literalism Took Root
by Stephen Tomkins
Written for the Guardian
The Bible doesn't state that it should be read literally – yet an all-or-nothing approach is the core of many Christians' faith
Where does biblical literalism come from? What is the genesis, if you will, of the habit of mind that makes many Christians read the Bible with a different brain to the one they'd use with any other writing?
It is by no means an essential Christian tenet. No creed says anything about how to read the scriptures. The highest claim the Bible makes for itself is when the writer of Paul's letter to Timothy says the Hebrew scriptures were "God-breathed", which is wonderfully suggestive but hardly precise or dogmatic. I mean, Adam was God-breathed, and look what happened to him.
The Bible is the word of God, Christians believe, but why should the fact it's God's mean it has to be read with naive absolutism? Many Christians call the church "the body of Christ" without considering it anything like infallible, or refusing to see its rites as symbolic.
Part of the problem is historical. The deification of the Bible is a result of the Protestant reformation. Before then, the final authority, the ultimate arbiter and source of information in religious matters was the church, with its ancient traditions and living experts. When Luther and friends opposed the teaching of the Catholic hierarchy, they needed a superior authority to appeal to, which was provided by the Bible.
Fair enough. But in defending or reclaiming the Bible from papists and then liberals, evangelical Protestants made it the very heart of the faith. Hence the ludicrous situation where many evangelical organizations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, have statements of faith where the first point is the Bible, before any mention of, for example, God. Hence the celebrated idolatrous aphorism of William Chillingworth: "The BIBLE, I say, the BIBLE only, is the religion of Protestants!”.
One practical problem of this text mania is that the Bible, unlike the church, can't answer questions, clarify earlier statements, arbitrate disagreements or deal with new developments. So those in search of religious certainty have to find it all in the text: if it says the earth was created in six days, or that gay sex is an abomination, them's the facts, end of story. And if it forbids charging interest, well there's always wriggle room.
The other practical problem is that for more moderate Christians, Christ is the heart of the faith, and the Bible offers information and ideas about him and is one of the things that point us in his direction. But if the Bible itself is the heart, then to read it is to enter the Holy of Holies, making it that much harder to accept any normal human ambiguity or inaccuracy in its words.
This effect is magnified by a more recent historical development: the charismatic movement. Even among evangelicals who don't speak in tongues or put their hands in the air when the sing Shine Jesus Shine, the movement has had profound effects, one of which is that they don't read the Bible just to be reminded and shaped by its teaching, but to hear what God has to say to them today.
If you read the Bible asking: "What was St Paul saying to the Galatians?" all kinds of critical questions arise: How would first-century Asia Minor have understood these words? Would Paul have phrased it differently to a church he was less pissed off with? Would other witnesses have recalled the events he describes differently? But if you read the Bible asking: "What is God saying to me today?" it seems less appropriate to do anything but accept it at face value.
One last factor in biblical all-or-nothingism is the part that biblical criticism plays in evangelical conversion, which is none at all.
People who convert to evangelical Christianity, including those who grow up with it, are persuaded by the experience of a religious community, and by finding that evangelical theology seems to hold water. All this is totally underpinned by the Bible – it's the foundation and guarantee. But the only test of its reliability that inquirers are invited to make is to read it and ask "Is this something that I can accept wholesale and entrust my life to?”
It's generally much later that a convert will have to consider concrete evidence that biblical writers were human beings, capable of being one-sided, of writing myth, of exaggerating, of guessing, of having opinions it's impossible to agree with.
Some of us, faced with this evidence, shape our faith in the light of it, making the Bible a far more fascinating, revealing and diverse record of human religious experience. But it's not surprising if for others the evidence comes as an attack that threatens to undermine the foundation of their faith, and has to be beaten off blindfold.
"CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM AS A THREAT TO PAPAL TRADITIONS"
by Hayley E. Pangle
Grand Valley State University, firstname.lastname@example.org
This Article is brought to you for free and open access by ScholarWorks@GVSU. It has been accepted for inclusion in Grand Valley Journal of History by an authorized administrator of ScholarWorks@GVSU. For more information, please contact email@example.com.
From the Gnostics of the second century to the Waldesians of the thirteenth century, popular religion as practiced outside the structures of the Roman Church challenged the religious authority of the papacy and greatly influenced the decisions it made as it refined doctrines, decrees, and practices that it deemed acceptable to the church. Christian mysticism, although having its roots in the earliest days of Christianity, expanded and intensified in the eleventh through fourteenth centuries in Europe. Several aspects of the mystic Christianity in the Middle Ages challenged the traditions of the church, including the mystics’ theological interpretation of scripture, their graphic visions, and their threat to established gender roles.
But first it is important to explain the basics of Christian mysticism. The term mysticism taken by itself embodies an idea that is prevalent amongst the world’s religions: that a human has the ability to experience a deep connection with the divine on his or her own terms, without the use of scripture, doctrine, and other rules dictating how the person should perceive or believe in the divine. Mysticism “is an experience, not an idea”1 which cannot be explained easily since it stresses the “inability of human reasoning to know the incomprehensible deity.”2 Commonly a mystical movement within a religion is viewed with skepticism from the doctrinal tradition; this was especially true with the medieval papacy and Christian mysticism. For although mysticism produced wonderful role models of Christian believers to laypeople, many of its aspects, i.e. the mystical interpretation of scripture, mystic visions, and challenge to gender roles, were “often on the periphery of acceptable practice”3 and directly challenged Roman Catholic traditions.
There were two main phases of mysticism in medieval Europe. Twelfth century mysticism was characterized by personal experimentation of the laity’s faith and subsequently having mystical experiences without the “benefit of theological training.”4 Evidence of this was religious community living and the production of theological literature that gained popularity in popular culture without papal sanction and control. The fourteenth century ushered in the second phase, an “age of intolerance and repression,”5 which was characterized by the papacy’s attempts to gain control or even eliminate these lay movements. As a result, many of the movements that started in the twelfth century deteriorated during this second phase. However a key idea ran strongly through both phases: the mystic should be “dissatisfied with a religion of external devotion” and must possess a spirit entirely dedicated to God through extreme asceticism and “inwardness.”6 Medieval mysticism stressed that the mystic needed to trust God to reveal himself to him or her, which he often did in areas that challenged papal traditions.
Studies on medieval Christian mysticism have placed heavy emphasis on women, their contributions to the movement, and the papal response to those contributions. Yet there were some things that the papacy had to suppress in both men and women, and one of these was the mystic’s theological interpretation of scripture. The issue of personal interpretation of the Bible came to the fore with reformers such as Jan Hus and John Wycliffe in the fourteenth century who challenged the traditional idea that the papacy was the ultimate answerable authority in Christianity.7 Although this issue did not permanently hurt the church until the Protestant Reformation in the early sixteenth century, mystical interpretation of scripture started with Origen of Alexandria in the mid-third century CE and continued to be an important feature of a mystic’s faith.
1 Elizabeth Alvilda Petroff, Body and Soul: Essays on Medieval Women and Mysticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 3.
2 Steven Fanning, Mystics of the Christian Tradition (New York: Routledge, 2006), 1.
3 Petroff, Body and Soul, 5
4 Fanning, Mystics, 85.
5 Ibid., 102.
6 Ibid., 108.
7 Judith M. Hollister and C. Warren Bennett, Medieval Europe: A Short History, 10th ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2006), 343.
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As mystics read the Bible, they refused to simply read the texts and accept its message at a literal level. They exhaustively studied the scriptures and tried to find multiple meanings in order to grow closer with God. Song of Songs in the Old Testament is a prime example of this. Bernard of Clairvaux in the twelfth century wrote eighty-six sermons alone describing his understanding of the book.8 Traditionally the speakers of the poem were thought to be two lovers, but the book became analogous to the relationship between Christ and the church. Mystics took the interpretation a step further and suggested in their writings that Song of Songs represented God’s love and (sensual) desire for the mere human soul. The church was familiar with literal and allegorical interpretations of scripture; it was the mystics who added an anagogical, or spiritual, dimension to them.
Meister Eckhart, a Dominican preacher of the early fourteenth century, was an example of a “scriptural mystic”9 who added spiritual depth to the verses he studied. In one sermon, he closely analyzed verse thirty-eight in chapter ten of the Gospel of Luke. He applied mystical meanings and themes behind every portion, and purposefully translated certain phrases incorrectly from Latin to vernacular German to fit his message.10 This latter point was particularly seen in the way he translated a word as “a virgin who was a wife” instead of simply “woman.”11 This purposeful mistranslation was to make the point that in order for the soul to “be fruitful” in good works, much as a wife is fruitful in marriage, it must first “be ever virginal” and pure to accept Christ.12
A mystic’s personal interpretation of scripture challenged the papacy because it undermined the role of the clergy, especially priests with congregations. The call for personal interpretation ignored the educated men who were trained to read and interpret scripture in a way that was acceptable to the Roman Catholic Church. Meister Eckhart was reprimanded for several of his works because of the many liberties he took when he translated and interpreted them for his audience. As mentioned above, his studies of divine scripture were tropological in nature, that is, he added moral significance to each passage not readily seen or interpreted. Because of his method of interpretation, he had to defend himself and his theologies many times throughout his life. A papal bull, “In Agro Dominico,” was passed against him post humorously in 1329 and listed over two dozen statements from Eckhart’s sermons “that clouded the true faith” and were deemed heretical by Pope John XXII.13 It is interesting to point out, however, that with added “explanations” to some of his ideas, they might have been “able to take on or have a Catholic meaning.”14 This little disclaimer at the end of Eckhart’s papal bull brings to mind the idea that mysticism was often on the “periphery” between doctrinal faith and heresy.
Visions were another area in a mystic’s faith that posed challenges to the papacy. It was often an uncomfortable area of contention because they were frequently erotic in nature, especially the visions of beguine mystics. The beguines were religious sisterhoods or communities run by women in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and were an alternative to nunneries. They offered a Christian life rich in contemplation, education, and spiritual growth for the woman who did not want to marry, bear children and follow the traditional path of medieval womanhood. She could also come and leave whenever she wished since the beguines did not have official or formal monastic vows.15 Many of the famous Christian women mystics came from the beguine tradition, such as Hadewijch of Antwerp who lived in the mid-thirteenth century.
8 Bernard McGinn, ed., The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism (New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006), 27.
9 McGinn, Essential Writings, 35.
11 Meister Eckhart, “Sermon 2,” in The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, ed. Bernard McGinn (New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006), 36.
13 “In Agro Dominico,” in The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, ed. Bernard McGinn (New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006), 496.
Pangle: Mysticism vs Papal Traditions
Hadewijch’s “Vision VII” was one she had “one Pentecost at dawn”16 and contained many archetypes found in other visions by women mystics. The erotic and almost fanatical tone and desire to be with God was expressed by Hadewijch in this way:
I desired to consummate my Lover completely and to confess and to savor to the fullest extent—to fulfill his humanity blissfully with mine...and to be strong and perfect so that I in turn would satisfy him perfectly...And to that end, I wished, inside me, that he would satisfy me with his Godhead in one spirit and he be all he is without restraint.17
This passionate yearning to feel God’s presence was followed with an image of Christ as a child presenting himself to Hadewijch as the Eucharist.18 The vision of Christ as a handsome young man or child was a common theme in women’s visions, along with the vision of a mystical marriage with Christ.
Despite living in the repressive phase of Christian mysticism in the mid-fourteenth century, Catherine of Siena had two such mystical marriage experiences. The first was when she was twenty-one years old in which she envisioned a ring Jesus placed on her finger in the company of Paul, the Virgin Mary, and other important biblical and saintly figures.19 The second and most graphic of Catherine’s visions consisted of Christ opening the left side of her body and exchanging her heart with his own, forever joining them together.20 This intimate visionary experience became the ultimate reason for Catherine’s authority within fourteenth century papal politics (explained more below).
Graphic visions were a common feature of a mystic’s faith. They comforted the mystic and served as proof that his or her methods of pursuing Christ were correct. They served as evidence that the mystic was closing the gap between humanity and the divine. For a religious person who was devoted to a life of chastity and ideally resisted any and all sexual temptations to have such strongly erotic desires of God posed a strange dilemma to papal tradition. The church had to ask whether or not it was acceptable for a Christian to have these visions and to feel an almost sexual desire for God’s love and acceptance of their faith.
Mystical marriage was the biggest obstacle in this area of Christian mysticism. The church defined marriage as two people becoming “one flesh” as was suggested in Genesis. The essence of mystical marriage entailed that the same idea might be applied. Bridal mysticism suggested that the self ceased to be the created entity God made it, as implied in Julian of Norwich’s (1342- 1416) statement that she could have no “rest or true happiness” until “I am so bound to him that there is no created thing between my God and me.”21 If that was the case, bridal mysticism therefore suggested that the self became God. Hadewijch stated this idea in her vision, that this “is what it means to satisfy [God] completely: to grow to being god with God.”22 The Roman Catholic Church condemned such ideas and declared that it “is a blasphemy against God...to say that a person can become God.”23 Aside from some of these aspects, doctrinal Christianity accepted visionary experiences since they served as testaments to the faith and were expressions of unity with God. Visions remained an essential part of mysticism throughout the Middle Ages.
15 Fanning, Mystics, 94.
16 Hadewijch of Antwerp, “Vision VII” in The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, ed. Bernard McGinn (New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006), 103.
18 Hadewijch of Antwerp, “Vision VII,” 104.
19 Fanning, Mystics, 129-130.
20 Ibid., 130.
21 Julian of Norwich, “Revelations of Divine Love,” in The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, ed. Bernard McGinn (New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006), 242.
22 Hadewijch of Antwerp, “Vision VII,” 103.
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A third area of papal tradition that mystics challenged was the concept of gender roles within society and the church. It was a “long-established custom” for women to be “passive, meditative, and receptive” to the religious authority of men.24 There were few options for a woman who felt called to the religious life. But the development of beguine communities in northern parts of Europe and tertiary branches of the Franciscan and Dominican orders prevalent in the south widened their horizons in the Middle Ages. If she joined one of these communities, a woman was expected to join men in the performance of two types of penitential acts: ones of self- contrition and ones of mercy toward others.25 Women took these acts of penance to heart and their “practice of self-denial was more austere than men’s and, in some cases, perhaps self- destructive.”26 Women might have felt this “self-destructive” pressure from the need to prove their devotion and faith to their Christian brothers and the papacy; they acted out their faith “by living virile, masculine, styles of sanctity”27 and suppressing their femininity. Their oftentimes extreme devotion to the spiritual life was inspirational to all Christians, but challenges arose against church tradition when clerical men relied on the spiritual insight and wisdom of these women.
In several cases men who served as confessors or mentors to mystic women were impressed by their faith and were inspired to learn from them. James of Vitry had this experience with Mary of Oignies (1176-1213), who was considered to be the first beguine mystic.28 Mary inspired James to pursue his ecclesiastical career, and he became an archbishop and later one of the major supporters of the beguine lifestyle within the papal court.29 He wrote a biography of Mary, in which he said he was often “moved with compassion” over her sufferings; she was known for “long fasting,” “many vigils,” and “great floods of tears” whenever her eyes beheld the crucifix.30
She was so diligent in her self-sacrifice to worldly gain and pleasures that James “was never able to perceive a single mortal sin in her whole life and manner of acting.”31 If anything, she was almost too good at confessing and punishing herself, even once cutting off a significant portion of her own skin, that James, as her religious advisor, “sometimes reprimanded her” over this.32 Yet for the most part, “this handmaid of Christ”33 was an inspiration to her community and especially James. This relationship posed a difficulty to the church’s ability to produce Catholic males who would continue accepted traditions: instead of gaining motivation from the governing body of the Catholic faith, James developed his clerical career at the behest of Mary, a woman who practiced “peripheral” Christianity and who was not even properly initiated as a nun. James’ support of Mary’s lifestyle and beguine sisterhoods was a challenge to traditional gender relations because he trusted the insights of these women and supported their faith to an extent that went beyond the minimal concessions originally granted to them by the church.
23 “The Compilation Concerning the New Spirit,” in McGinn, 491. 24 Petroff, Body and Soul, 7.
25 Ibid., 8.
27 Petroff, Body and Soul, 116.
28 McGinn, Essential Writings, 60.
30 James of Vitry, “The Life of Mary of Oignies,” in The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, ed. Bernard McGinn (New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006), 61.
31 Ibid., 62.
32 Ibid., 63.
Pangle: Mysticism vs Papal Traditions
Mysticism also provided a way for women to enter the much more public spheres of society traditionally reserved for men, namely politics and prophecy. Catherine of Siena was astonishing in the political roles she took. At barely thirty years of age she was sent as an ambassador to convince Pope Gregory XI to leave Avignon, return the papacy to Rome, and reform the corruptions of the papal court. He complied and employed her into his own services as an ambassador.34 She left behind a legacy of her good and influential works when she died at age thirty-three.
Female prophets in Christendom were common in the Middle Ages but societal reactions to their roles differed between earlier and later medieval mysticism. Hildegard of Bingen (1098- 1179) was a healer and abbess of her own convent and was considered to have prophetic powers from her contemporary, Bernard of Clairvaux. She was an avid composer of both written accounts and musical scores inspired by her visions.35 Her role, she felt, was to be an active mystic and to “admonish priests and prelates, to instruct the people of God”36 on preaching tours. She was threatened with excommunication multiple times, including an incident when she was eighty and near her death bed, but always managed to convince her ecclesiastical peers of her mystical legitimacy37 and had considerable freedom as a woman during this era.
Joan of Arc (1412-1431) was probably the prime example of mysticism’s threat to established gender roles. Unfortunately for her, this teenage girl lived at the time the Roman Church was the most intolerant of bold religious claims. They had dealt with others like her, such as Guglielma of Milan in the thirteenth century. 38 Guglielma went so far as to proclaim herself an incarnation of the Holy Spirit, condemned the ecclesiastical office of her time, and declared that the only way it would be successful is if it were run by women.39 Naturally, she was deemed heretical by the papacy. Joan was able to take her influence a step further and be very active on the military front since her powers were judged by the French court to be from God. But her position as a holy female prophet was quickly misconstrued after her capture by the English. Her age, gender, and daring spiritual claims provided a shocking spectacle for the English who regarded her divine revelations as demonic. She was attacked multiple times for the fact that she wore men’s clothing—which ultimately symbolized her success and high level of power she achieved in society’s public spheres. Fears of witchcraft were on the rise at this time and her behavior made her a “prime candidate for accusations.”40 She was burned at the stake as a warning to anyone, not just women, who dared to waver from tradition and claim support from God for their actions.
The mystic tradition of gender roles threatened not only the Roman Church but many areas in medieval life as well. Women like Mary of Oignies, although initially under the leadership of men, taught them many things about Christian living that they probably would not have gotten from traditional papal teachings. The women who occupied powerful places in public circles, from Hildegard of Bingen to Joan of Arc, went against the idea that women should remain cloistered in the home or at a nunnery. A woman was expected to only “pray for the salvation of
their own souls and for the souls of their Christian community,”41 and not take an active role in religious affairs. Not only did female mystics establish themselves in the spotlight, but the men who were involved in their lives respected and often helped them reach that high level of authority, such as Bernard of Clairvaux and James of Vitry. The challenge to preconceived gender roles in the Middle Ages was initiated by these female mystics.
34 Fanning, Mystics, 131. 35 Ibid., 82-84.
36 Ibid., 84.
37 Ibid., 82.
38 Anne Llewellyn Barstow, “Joan of Arc and Female Mysticism,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 1, no. 2 (1985): 33. Barstow argues that Joan was just one in a long line of women that challenged the Roman Church with critiques and prophecy. Another example was Marguerite Porete (d. 1310) who was burned at the stake for her book A Mirror for Simple Souls. In it, she claimed that she did not need papal authority or the sacraments in order to be a true Christian.
39 Ibid., 35. 40 Ibid., 41.
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Grand Valley Journal of History, Vol. 1 , Iss. 1, Art. 3
Traditional ideas about faith and power in the Middle Ages were challenged by Christian mysticism. This form of popular religion posed complex problems that the papacy had to grapple with repeatedly. The movement lasted and succeeded in many ways, probably because the faith required extreme devotion from its followers. “Offer me [God] yourself and everything that is yours and do not take back what you offer,” wrote Henry Suso, “let your heart always be ready to bear all adversity for my name’s sake.”42 The people of the mystic movement took this idea to heart and were unrelenting in their desire to demonstrate their faith and obey God’s orders to change the world around them.
Barstow, Anne Llewellyn. “Joan of Arc and Female Mysticism.” Journal of Feminist Studies in
Religion 1, no. 2 (1985): 29-42.
Eckhart, Meister. “Sermon 2.” In The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, edited by
Bernard McGinn. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006. Fanning, Steven. Mystics of the Christian Tradition. New York: Routledge, 2006.
Hadewijch of Antwerp, “Vision VII.” In The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, edited by Bernard McGinn. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006.
Hollister, Judith M. and Bennet, C. Warren. Medieval Europe: A Short History, 10th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2006.
“In Agro Dominico.” In The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, edited by Bernard McGinn. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006.
James of Vitry, “The Life of Mary of Oignies.” In The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, edited by Bernard McGinn. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006.
Julian of Norwich, “Revelations of Divine Love.” In The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, edited by Bernard McGinn. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006.
McGinn, Bernard, ed. The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006.
Petroff, Elizabeth Alvida. Body and Soul: Essays on Medieval Women and Mysticism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Suso, Henry. Chapter 4 from The Clock of Wisdom. In The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, edited Bernard McGinn. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006.
41 Petroff, Body and Soul, 7.
42 Henry Suso, Chapter 4 in The Clock of Wisdom, in The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, ed. Bernard McGinn (New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2006), 237.
If we really want to address the whole issue of suffering, as well as our desire and yearning for freedom, love, and connection, then we need to learn how to look clearly at our own minds…
…The difficulty of this and the problem with it is that the images we have of ourselves are often in conflict—because the perceptions and thoughts that others have about us don’t always “agree” with one another. At one moment, we have an image of ourself as being a worthy, loving, and happy person—but within minutes or an hour, our image of ourself can change quite drastically. All of a sudden, we may decide that were a terrible person because someone was critical of us, said something unkind about us, or told us that they really didn’t like us anymore. The idea we have of ourselves is something that makes us feel very insecure, because it can change so quickly, and often at the hands of another. And so we suffer, because someone’s opinion of us can so easily trigger anger, sadness, even depression. Our sense of self is very ephemeral; it’s not as solid as we imagine it to be, and the confusion around it is one of the greatest causes of human suffering that there is. To address the dilemma of human suffering, we need to look even more closely at the way our minds create this shifting sense of who we are.
The very idea that we may not be who we think we are, for many people, is something quite revolutionary. This discovery naturally gives rise to the larger question: Is our mind who we are? Are we actually able to be identified by, described by, and defined by the thoughts in our mind? When we begin to look at our experience clearly, we’ll see that there are at least two phenomena going on: one is the movement of mind, including all of the descriptions, self-images, ideas, beliefs, and opinions that arise moment to moment. The other phenomenon is the awareness of mind. Very rarely do we take into account the awareness of mind, the space in which mind arises and subsides.
Mind has a very powerful ability to put awareness into a trance. Very quickly, we find ourselves lost in that trance. This trance is precisely what we’ve been calling “egoic consciousness”—the creation of our belief in who we are, which forms the very structure of ego. Ego is nothing more than the beliefs, ideas, and images we have about ourselves—and so it is actually something completely imaginary.
Note what happens to your sense of self when you go to sleep and your mind isn’t thinking about who you are. What happens to your beliefs, your ideas and opinions, and the world as you think it is, when you’re in bed and asleep? While your mind is resting, none of the projections that your mind imagines exist. All of the imagination of your mind ceases when you go to sleep, at least until you start dreaming. In this state of deep sleep, what you experience is great peace. We call it “sleep,” we call it “rest,” and it’s absolutely vital to our survival. If we don’t get enough sleep, we’ll eventually go somewhat crazy. We can even die if we don’t get enough sleep, if we never allow the mind to come into a deep state of peace and rest, where it isn’t thinking anymore.
This is ironic, because we think that if we control our minds in a certain way, then peace, rest, and freedom will be ours. We think that it is simply a matter of coming up with the right thoughts, the right ideas, the right beliefs, then we’ll find the key to peace, and from there we will all begin to get along with each other. But our history shows us—hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of years of history—that our ideas haven’t saved us. Our ideas haven’t saved us from our own anger, bitterness, and violence. They haven’t saved us from wars and famine and destruction. If our history has shown us anything—the history of thought, the history of ideas—it’s that thought can’t save humanity, that thought can’t save the world, that it’s going to take something other than even the greatest ideas that we can imagine. Instead, we must start with our own minds. Because if we don’t start with ourselves, then our mind is just going to keep projecting itself into the way we view life, and we’ll be lost within another dream, another trance.
THE TRANCE OF EGO
As soon as we’re caught in a trance state, we’re imprisoned in a mechanical, conditioned movement of mind. Everyone knows what it’s like to be caught in this egoic trance state: We experience great frustration and dissatisfaction. Part of our frustration arises because the ego can’t really do anything about this underlying discontent, because the ego itself is simply a mechanical movement of thought. It can’t express any true creativity. Our egos are basically the past expressing itself in the present. By that, I mean the ego is simply our conditioning unfolding and displaying itself here and now—in the way we think, act, and react. In the egoic state of consciousness, we really don’t have the amount of choice or volition that we imagine we have.
On a deep, intuitive level, we all know this, because if we had the choice that we think we possess, we would simply choose happiness and peace; nobody who’s not insane would choose otherwise. And yet, even though we believe that we have this power of choice, life keeps showing us that we can’t even manipulate where our minds go, that we can’t even insist on the way we feel day to day, much less control every one of our behaviors or the behaviors of those around us. How many times have we made New Year’s resolutions about how we were going to change, and how many times did that change actually occur? More often than not, even the things we say we want to do, we don’t end up doing. The reason isn’t because we have a lack of willpower. The reason isn’t because we haven’t figured out how to do them. The reason is because, from the egoic level of consciousness, we don’t really have the power of choice that we imagine we have, and that’s one of the most frustrating things within the trance state of egoic consciousness.
This trance state of egoic consciousness is where 99 percent of humanity lives and breathes, yet it’s the very thing from which we yearn to escape. Even though we don’t know it’s what we long to be free of, we all have this desire to not be confined or limited imprinted within us. We all have this innate desire to be free, creative, loving, open, and compassionate—and yet when we’re trapped within the egoic state of consciousness, in this trance of ego, our options are very limited.
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February 22, 2016 by James Ford — Pathos Website
To quote from myself, because, well, because I can, in my history of Zen Buddhism come west, “Zen Master Who?” I describe the first of the several times I met Alan Watts. It was sometime, I believe, in 1969.
“I was on the guest staff of the Zen monastery in Oakland led by Roshi Jiyu Kennett. I was enormously excited to actually meet this famous man, the great interpreter of the Zen way. Wearing my very best robes, I waited for him to show up; and waited and waited. Nearly an hour later, Watts arrived dressed in a kimono, accompanied by a fawning young woman and an equally fawning young man. It was hard not to notice his interest in the young woman who, as a monk, I was embarrassed to observe seemed not to be wearing any underwear. I was also awkwardly aware that Watts seemed intoxicated.”
Alan Watts was in fact the first person to write popular books about Zen in the West, beginning in 1937 with the “Spirit of Zen,” and more importantly in 1957 with his best selling “Way of Zen.” He drew mainly on the scholarly volumes just being written by D. T. Suzuki, the first person to write authentically about Zen in European languages, through Watts engaging style made enormously readable and genuinely compelling. As I summarized in my history, “An erstwhile Episcopal priest, engaging raconteur, and scandalous libertine, Alan Watts was also a prolific author whose books created an inviting sense of Zen-as-pure-experience and a do-what-you-want spirituality. These qualities both profoundly misrepresented Zen and led many people to it.”
On that last note, some years later I attended a talk by an American Zen priest. At the end, during the question and answer period, someone asked about Watts. The priest sighed, and then said, “I know there’s a lot of controversy about Alan Watts and what he really understood about Zen.” He paused. And then, added, “But, you know, without Alan Watts, I wouldn’t be standing here on this platform.” I have to say, in large part, that’s true for me as well. In the 1960s and 70s, Alan Watts opened some important doors for many of us looking for a new way.
Over these passing years I’ve come to feel the title of his biography “In My Own Way” and the title of the English edition of Monica Furlong’s biography of him, “Genuine Fake,” taken together points to the complexities of this intriguing Anglo-American Zen trickster/ancestor of our contemporary spiritual scene.
In a relentless critique of Alan Watts, Lou Nordstrom and Richard Pilgrim point out how an authentic spirituality must encompass “practice, discipline, and effort,” features completely lacking in Alan Watts’ “Zen.” In large part I agree, but not completely. There is absolutely a place of falling away of practice, discipline, and effort. As we open our hearts we find the way is in fact broad and forgiving. And it seems he tasted that freedom and joy. I really believe he did. But, the authentic spiritual is also in that delightful conundrum of a real life, totally bound up with practice, discipline, and effort. The way is also, without a doubt, harsh and demands everything. And here Watts seems completely clueless.
Now, in my opinion, Alan Watts was at his very best during a brief period when he tried at practice, discipline, and effort. Or, at least stood in their general neighborhood. Raised in England, his natal tradition was Anglicanism, although he formally abandoned it by sixteen for the eclectic Buddhism of the London Buddhist Society. In his late twenties, having come to America and desperate for an occupation that paid something, he decided to become an Episcopal priest. He had not attended college, but by providing a very long list of the books he had read and then showing a suspicious faculty he had not only read them, but profoundly absorbed them, he was admitted into the divinity program at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.
Watts graduated with a masters degree in divinity and was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1945. He was immediately engaged as the Episcopal chaplain at Northwestern University. He was thirty years old. It appears to have been an amazing moment. He was wildly popular on campus, and his books were received in progressive religious circles as challenging and compelling. And then within five years Watts was out of the ministry, for many reasons not least of which was when his wife sued for an annulment on grounds of adultery. This part would become something of a pattern for his life.
For our time here I want to remain focused within that Christian moment. His divinity degree thesis was reworked and published as the book “Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion,” first released in 1947. I can’t tell if it has ever been out of print. What I do know is you can buy a new copy today, there’s even a Kindle version.
It’s really interesting, an attempt at synthesizing eastern and western spirituality grounded in a broad and sympathetic expression of Anglicanism. I’ve seen the term “monistic” or “non-dual Christianity” being used here and there lately. Monistic or nondual as in the reconciliation of the myriad things of the world within an interdependence so complete one can speak of it all taken together as one. Of course, variations on monism are at the heart of much of Eastern religions, certainly of Hinduism and Buddhism and Taoism.
While one can argue there have been non-dual currents in Christianity, particularly among some although not most early gnostic schools, this perspective has definitely not been a part of normative Christianity. In mainstream Christianity the world and God are seen as relentlessly separate, creator and created. A world of problems have followed this setting up of a hierarchy with the spirit above and good and the world below and condemned.
If the proposition that the world is completely separate from the divine were true, well, we would just have to live with it. But, and let me make a categorical statement rather than my general hedging: That’s not true. Rather, as I open my heart to the world, the world, the great mess that is you and me and all things, I find each thing is created by and creating the host of other things at the same time, in a dance or web of intimacy, where each of us is a moment in a shimmering play of reality. And, that play of reality is exactly where I find the divine, the holy, the sacred. Here. I don’t need to go to some other place to find it.
Me, I see no need of some extra bit. Perhaps why I am not a mainstream Christian, or anywhere near by. That said there are today a host of emergent Christians who don’t see the separation, either. Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bougeault are two contemporary and apparently popular writers that fit the bill. I would add in Bruno Barnhart, Bougeault’s mentor, as well as a variety of Hindu influenced Christians like the nun Sara Grant, the anonymous Cistercian monk who writes under the name “a Monk of the West,” as well as, well the list is increasingly long, but such folk as the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart and the moderns Thomas Keating, Bede Griffiths, and Martha Reeves, who write as “Maggie Ross” are a pretty good start for those who wish to pursue this further.
And, Alan Watts’ book kind of spells it all out in a way perhaps even best done by someone not actually immersed, as he was, standing more in the neighborhood of that “practice, discipline, and effort” than within it. Of course that distance also means he misses some things. Additionally I find Watts a tad too comfortable with his own insight, unchecked by others who’ve walked the way before, a danger for the spiritually unaffiliated. All this acknowledged there remains something quite wonderful…
Behold the Spirit was a revelation when published nearly seventy years ago. It was, I gather, and perhaps obviously, criticized for its “creeping pantheism.” The book was in fact a through going panenthiest screed, probably the most compatible Christian variation on pantheism, the other word for non-dual or monistic spirituality, where in panentheism the world is seen is divine, but that the divine, God, cannot be limited to the universe. Even with that accepting at some point an other of some sort, this panentheism is still a major step from the normative vision of the Christian church.
And with all this taken together a question bubbles up, and which, in a meditation he wrote a quarter of a century later, Watts’ asks on behalf of all those who would challenge his thesis. “Can Christianity abandon the monarchical image of God (a God separate from all that is in a great split between creator and created) and still be Christianity?” To which he responds with another question, a rather burning one, as I feel it in my heart, “(W)hich is more important – to be Christian or to be at one with God?” Or, for me: to follow some orthodoxy of separation, and cut myself off from what is calling to every molecule of my being, or commit whole-heartedly to the great play of the many as one found as I open myself to the world as it presents?
A worthy challenge, I believe, perhaps the great challenge. And, I think Watts in fact spells out a fair amount of what an affirmation of a non-dual Christianity can look like in his thesis and book. The sad thing, as I see it, was that he couldn’t follow through for himself. His personality, what he liked to characterize as his “bohemian personality” just didn’t have a fit in the organized church. I’d have to add his lack of personal boundaries would have meant he would never had made it as a Unitarian Universalist minister, either. He was born to be an outsider. And after that five years stirring up the Anglican church he made sure he would forever be an outsider.
But he also pointed a way.
First he spells out a reality that I find resonates with my experience. The metaphors are straight out of the traditional church, which I think can be helpful for Westerners hoping to find the real. More complicated for me is a relentless masculine by preference language. But, if we allow ourselves to listen, we find the underlying understanding he presents shakes the very foundations of the moral universe the conventional church preaches. He declares:
“God is the most obvious thing in the world. He is absolutely self-evident – the simplest, clearest and closest reality of life and consciousness. We are only unaware of him because we are too complicated, for our vision is darkened by the complexity of pride.
“We seek him beyond the horizon with our noses lifted high in the air, and fail to see that he lies at our vary feet. We flatter ourselves in premeditating the long, long journey we are going to take in order to find him, the giddy heights of spiritual progress we are going to scale, and all the time are unaware of the truth that ‘God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves.’ We are like birds flying in quest of the air, or men with lighted candles searching through the darkness for fire.”
Then he lays out the traditions of the Christian church as a manifestation of this truth of our radical interdependence, of our bottomless unity. The man who can only stand in the neighborhood of practice, discipline, and effort, shows where it can be found. I think in part because he really did taste the deeper truths, really did to some degree, and none of us are judge of how deep any other, or for that matter, even we ourselves have traveled, really did touch the great insight.
So, as the Episcopal priest, Martin Smith noted, Even “as a mirror reflects all colors and shapes without interference,” Alan Watts could call us to stand in the place of the wise heart. “(I)n the same way the mystical awareness of God does not contest place with other experiences and state(s) of mind. Mental states such as joy, sorrow, exaltation, dejection, pleasure, and pain are as a rule mutually exclusive. But the mystical stage is inclusive, just as God and His love include the whole universe. There is no conflict between experiencing the Now and things which happen in the Now.”
Smith touches the heart of wisdom as Alan Watts presented it. This is an extremely good pointing that even those of us with no affinity for the traditional language of the Christian church, can, nonetheless, recognize as an expression of what we all find as we open our hearts as wide as the human heart can be opened.
The field is found. And the dance of things within it is revealed.
In his little book and during those five years, Alan Watts showed those who love the Christian tradition how they can turn toward the real without abandoning their tradition.
Genuine fake. A teacher for those willing to follow the way he pointed, but could not himself go.
A wonder. And a joy.
A hint of possibilities for us all.
What Watts has done and continues to do for me is keep the light burning on the most intimate questions/challenges I struggle with in regards to orthodox Christian doctrine: the belief in the inerrancy of scripture; the exclusivity of Jesus as “THE” son of God verses “A” son of God [or as Watts describes him — the “bosses son]; the “pedestalizing of Jesus” at the expense of our connection with him; a system of monarchical rule by a Zeus-like/Jehovah overseer; guilt laden believers separated by an ever widening chasm between themselves and a perfect Jesus (even considering the Pauline “doctrine of grace” enabled).
In regards to Watt’s shortcomings consider Numbers 22:28. As a gun for hire, Balaam fell far from being an honest chap. and God’s anger against him is shown in God causing Balaam’s donkey to actually speak and rebuke him. “And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”
Watts was and continues to be a powerful voice (even if some view him as irrelevant, immoral, and surely heretical). It seems reasonable to assume that God, who could surely create the ultimate human drama, might purposely cast someone many would argue unfit for centerstage.
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Painting - “Tattooed With Emotions” by Melinda Konya
NATIONAL AND RACIAL PAIN-BODIES
Certain countries in which many acts of collective violence were suffered or perpetrated have a heavier collective pain-body than others. This is why older nations tend to have stronger pain-bodies. It is also why younger countries, such as Canada or Australia, and those that have remained more sheltered from the surrounding madness, such as Switzerland, tend to have lighter collective pain-bodies. Of course, in those countries, people still have their personal pain-body to deal with. If you are sensitive enough, you can feel a heaviness in the energy field of certain countries as soon as you step off the plane. In other countries, one can sense an energy field of latent violence just underneath the surface of everyday life. In some nations, for example, in the Middle East, the collective pain-body is so acute that a significant part of the population finds itself forced to act it out in an endless and insane cycle of perpetration and retribution through which the pain-body renews itself continuously.
In countries where the pain-body is heavy but no longer acute, there has been a tendency for people to try and desensitize themselves to the collective emotional pain: in Germany and Japan through work, in some other countries through widespread indulgence in alcohol (which, however, can also have the opposite effect of stimulating the pain-body, particularly if consumed in excess). China's heavy pain-body is to some extent mitigated by the widespread practice of t'ai chi, which amazingly was not declared illegal by the Communist government that otherwise feels threatened by anything it cannot control. Every day in the streets and city parks, millions practice this movement meditation that stills the mind. This makes a considerable difference to the collective energy field and goes some way toward diminishing the pain-body by reducing thinking and generating Presence.
Spiritual practices that involve the physical body, such as t'ai chi, qigong, and yoga, are also increasingly being embraced in the "western world. These practices do not create a separation between body and spirit and are helpful in weakening the pain-body. They will play an important role in the global awakening.
The collective racial pain-body is pronounced in Jewish people, who have suffered persecution over many centuries. Not surprisingly, it is strong as well in Native Americans, whose numbers were decimated and whose culture all but destroyed by the European settlers. In Black Americans too the collective pain-body is pronounced. Their ancestors were violently uprooted, beaten into submission, and sold into slavery. The foundation of American economic prosperity rested on the labor of four to five million black slaves. In fact, the suffering inflicted on Native and Black Americans has not remained confined to those two races, but has become part of the collective American pain-body. It is always the case that both victim and perpetrator suffer the consequences of any acts of violence, oppression, or brutality. For what you do to others, you do to yourself.
It doesn't really matter what proportion of your pain-body belongs to your nation or race and what proportion is personal. In either case, you can only go beyond it by taking responsibility for your inner state now. Even if blame seems more than justified, as long as you blame others, you keep feeding the pain-body with your thoughts and remain trapped in your ego. There is only one perpetrator of evil on the planet: human unconsciousness. That realization is I true forgiveness. With forgiveness, your victim identity dis-1 solves, and your true power emerges—the power of Presence. Instead of blaming the darkness, you bring in the light.
Painting: "Not to be Reproduced" by Rene Magritte (1937)
Who Am I? by Ken McLeod
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned I know it sounds absurd but please tell me who I am.
Let’s start again. Who are you? Every time you fill out a job application, work up your resumé, fill in your information on an online dating service (one of the many new forms of hell created by the web), or meet someone socially, that ‘simple’ question has to be answered.
In the world of social conventions, the answer is a story. Lots of things may go into this story: interests, history, quirks, talents, achievements, background, likes, dislikes, successes and failures. And the story we tell changes according to the circumstances.
We don’t stop there. We reflect, refine, and even create such stories, not only to navigate in the world, but also to understand why we do certain things or to prepare for a new stage in life. The stories are always evolving. They are not fixed. They take on new dimensions, reveal connections we hadn’t seen before, or seem to explain things about our lives in a different, perhaps even useful, way.
But none of the stories, not one of them, not even all of them, answers the question “Who am I”.
I’m a million different peoplefrom one day to the next…
— The Verve, Bittersweet Symphony
Perhaps we can answer this question by looking at how we behave. Many things affect our behavior, but here, we’ll consider just two, feelings and roles.When angry, we see the world in terms of opposition. Anyone, even our partner or our child, appears, at least for a moment or two, as an enemy, and we treat them as such, though we may well regret doing so afterwards. When needy, we see the world as not providing what we need, and we grasp and hold onto things, sometimes quite unnecessarily. The same holds for pride, or jealousy, or love, compassion, or devotion.
How we behave also depends on our role in any given situation. We tend to behave one way when we are giving orders, another way when we are receiving them, and yet another when we are mediating between those who give orders and those who receive them. We have one personality when we are accepted members of a group and another personality when we are outside or new to a group. We behave one way with our parents, and another way with our children and still another with our siblings. Who we are, even in the context of family, seems to change according to our role.
All we can conclude from this is that we are a million different people, every day.
The more we look into this question, the more mysterious it becomes. And that, right there, opens another possibility. Who am I? Could I be a mystery?
In spiritual work, a mystery is something that cannot be put into words, but can be known in experience. Can we know, experientially, who we are?
“What is the highest truth?” the emperor asked Bodhidharma. “I have no idea.” “Then who is standing before me?” “I don’t know.”
Instead of trying to describe who we are, let’s look right at our experience and keep in mind something John Audubon once said, “When the book and the bird disagree, always believe the bird.”
Look at “I”. What do you see? All sorts of thoughts and ideas may come rushing in, but don’t be distracted. Keep looking. At some point, we see that when we look at “I”, we don’t see any thing. Actually, it’s more accurate to say we see no thing. Initially, we don’t trust this “not seeing”. Something must be wrong, we feel, and we quickly shift back to thinking about who we are or trying to figure out what we are doing wrong. In effect, we don’t believe the bird and are consulting the book.
If we keep coming back to the looking, if we trust this “not seeing”, we gradually develop the capacity to rest in seeing no thing, and we come to know that we are not a thing: there is just awareness aware of awareness.
That may be all very well, but how does this help us negotiate life?
Nasrudin was visiting a friend one afternoon. They became so engrossed in their conversation that they didn’t notice the passage of time. Night fell, and the friend said, “Nasrudin, it’s dark. Why don’t you light a candle? You’ll find a candle and matches in the drawer to your right.” “What!” shouted Nasrudin, “How do you expect me to know my right from my left in the dark?”
First, let go of all absolutes. Since everything is a story, regard everything as a story. Stories change, and our relationships with people and things changes, too. Some people have such elaborate stories about things — flowers or stamps, or computers or cars — that they interact with them as if they were people. Conversely, most of us have experienced at least one relationship, be it in our personal or work life (tech support, perhaps?), in which we were treated as a thing. Peopleness or thingness aren’t absolutes: they are qualities defined by how we interact with our experience.
In other words, pay attention to relationships. The Buddhist word for this is interdependence: everything exists and is defined only in relation to other things.
Second, let go of fixed positions, inside or out. When we take a fixed position, saying, “This is how it has to be,” we create conflict — this against that, right against wrong, black against white. We see only two mutually exclusive possibilities and we are in a zero-sum game. In any conflict, the two poles are expressions of a deeper principle, expressions of a world that our fixed position prevents us from seeing. Black and white, for instance, are both expressions of the world of color. How many possibilities are there in a world of color compared to a world of black and white? When we see the underlying principle, we have a whole spectrum with which to work. In Buddhism, this approach is known as the middle way, not falling into an extreme position, but always including both poles in awareness.
Third, touch the awareness that is always present, even in the worst of times. As noted above, we carry stories about who we are and stories about who others are and, in the moment of interaction, we regard the stories as facts, as how things are. They aren’t facts. They are only ideas and projections arising in the moment. They distract us from what we are actually experiencing. To stop the projections, we drop the stories about who we are, who they are, how we are meant to be, or how they are meant to be. We drop everything and open to what we actually experience, the play of physical and sensory sensations, emotions and feelings, and thoughts and ideas. We open to the whole ball of wax, the whole mess, until we can rest in the clear empty awareness in which the whole mess arises. It’s there. It’s always there, just as silence is present in sound, and space is present in form. When we touch it, we know what to do and how to do it.
You live in confusion and the illusion of things. There is a reality. You are that reality. When you know that, you know that you are nothing, and in being nothing, are everything. That is all.
— Kalu Rinpoche (1904-1989)
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How to Quiet Your Mind (excerpt)
by Tina Su
Do you regularly feel at ease and at peace? Are you continuously overflowing with Joy and Bliss on a daily basis, such that you seem free of problems and emotional pain? If so, go directly to the comment section and share with us your secrets.
If you’re still reading, you are amongst the vast majority of us striving for a better life, yearning for a more peaceful and joyful existence. Yet, it seems like an impossible challenge, where we end up mentally punishing ourselves for failing, concluding that “I’m just not made to live in peace.”
You see, it’s not us, it’s just that we’ve become so easily distracted by the hurrying demands of modern life, that we’ve temporarily lost touch with our natural state of being. But there is a way, if we seek it.
The purpose of this article is to share a simple technique to bring more peace, joy and clarity into your life. Would you like that?
Why It’s Hard to Find Peace and Joy?
If you observe our problems, you will notice that most problems are rooted in the mind. The basic premise is the same: some external event happens, we choose to see only one side of the story, and then interpret the situation such that it causes some form of mental conflict, resulting in some form of emotional suffering.
While it is easy to simply say, “drop your problems”, you and I both know that it is not that simple. We all have had years and years of conditioning in attracting problems and conflicts. So much so, that the simple concept of ‘stop thinking about problems’ will not be so effective on us. We need tools that strike at the problem’s root.
Let’s now try something. Close your eyes for about a minute (or 5 minutes), and during this minute, send out the intention that you want silence and stillness, and you do not want to be pulled away from this silence by thoughts. (Pause your reading and go do this.)
Okay, so what happened? You probably noticed that the moment you become silent, thoughts started popping up – random and unrelated thoughts. These thoughts become a form of distraction, pulling us away from our inner silence.
This was only an experiment where we consciously observed our mind and tried to become still, but could not. Imagine the state of our inner space, while we are going about our day, unaware of the polluting in-coming thoughts.
As a result, our inner space becomes cluttered with useless information, with thoughts that are not conducive to our wellbeing, with garbage. Because our inner space is cluttered, our inner clarity and in-born wisdom becomes distant and foggy. And essentially, we loose touch with that part of our inner selves that is sacred, and wise, and peaceful, and eternal.
The distractions that we’ve declared as urgent and important, such as watching TV, updating our facebook and myspace and twitter pages, checking email, gossiping on the phone, loading mp3s on our music players, etc. all pull at us. They all pull at our attention, distracting us away from the things that are truly important to us – things that will bring lasting happiness and fulfillment to our lives and the lives of others we have yet to come to know.
Whether we recognize it or not, the information that we expose ourselves to, fills our inner space on some level, and affects our emotions and desires.
And if we are not careful, we can easily rush through life, while spending our precious time on this planet focused on that which does not matter – and then wonder where did my life go? Why do I feel unsettled and easily irritated? Why do I feel unfulfilled and incomplete? And then we die wondering.
If you are here, breathing and reading this right now, then you have been blessed with this day, to wake up! Wake up and take control of your destiny, starting with what you focus on and allow into your life (regardless of your age)…
…I had learned the following simple but incredibly effective technique from Swami Nithya Bhaktananda, spiritual counselor and direct disciple of Paramahamsa Nithyananda (Swamiji).
Follow these four rules to inner cleanse:
1 Say what you mean. Mean what you say.
2 Don’t say to anyone unless you can say to everyone.
3 Don’t say inside, what you cannot say outside.
4 Don’t say unless it is true, useful or kind.
The 4 Rules to Quiet the Mind – Explained
1. Say what you mean. Mean what you say.
—-Part A: Say what you mean.
Have you found yourself making up excuses to avoid fully dealing with a potentially uncomfortable situation?
For example, your friend asks you to some social event. You don’t really want to go, but make up an excuse that “I can’t make it” or “I’m busy“, probably so you can quietly avoid something or someone or some activity.
Another example, someone asks you for a favor that you do not wish to comply to, but you feel guilty for rejecting him, so you either avoid that person (ie. Ignoring emails or phone calls), or create an excuse that isn’t really true (ie. I am out of town.)
It is not that you cannot do something, as your excuse suggests. The truth is that you have chosen not to do something, but the act of creating an excuse or avoiding it initiates a stir in your inner space, and it takes energy to maintain. Instead of stillness and peace, you are now holding onto and thinking about this little lingering “lie”.
When you are about to say anything, make a conscious decision to say the absolute truth, or what you actually mean. The absolute truth doesn’t have to be harsh or hurtful, you can do so compassionately and authentically, but firmly. When you own what you say, no one can reject it, even if they don’t like what they hear; because you are telling the truth and you mean it.
Part B: Mean what you say.
Sometimes we say things in passing out of obligation or habit that we don’t mean or intend on following through with. For example, we say, “I love you” to our parents or significant other when we hang up the phone, not because we mean it, but out of habit. The words comes so automatically now, that they start to lose their true meaning.
In another example, we will say, “I’ll call you soon“, “let’s chat soon“, or “I’ll call you tomorrow“. Or we offer to help, as parting words to a friend, and don’t intend on keeping that statement, but say it because it was easy and made the other person feel good.
We may think that these casual comments are harmless, but we know deep down that they are not true. They become little lies that we internalize, and over time they will develop into a guilty conscience that distracts you away from this moment.
Make a conscious commitment to yourself to mean everything that you say, and not to make empty promises that you cannot, will not, do not intend to fulfill.
2. Don’t say to anyone unless you can say to everyone.
Whether we admit to this or not, most of us love some form of gossiping (myself included). We are also quick to notice fault in others, and then talk about them with our trusted allies. Or we find out about someone’s misfortune and immediately we want to tell somebody.
I’m sure you can interject and include many examples from your life. But for sake of conversation, one example is: Jenny, at work, had an emotional fit and yelled at a co-worker today, and when we got home, we immediately told our spouse about the drama.
Another example, Pat was fired from his job, once we heard about it, we called or text-messaged our best friend Jane to tell her about it, or even exchange jokes about Pat, because we don’t like him.
In both examples, we cannot repeat the same things to everyone, especially Jenny or Pat. And if we really observed our inner space during and after we said these things, we wouldn’t feel very good in our stomach.
When we consciously observe such a conversation, we learn that we have accomplished nothing that feeds our soul. All we did was spread drama and created negative energy and inner conflict that polluted our inner space.
Make a commitment to yourself, that you will not say something to one person, unless you can announce it to the world, to everybody. Make a commitment to stop the spreading of drama and bad energy.
3. Don’t say inside, what you cannot say outside.
Most of us are extremely critical of ourselves. Because we would never tell the world what we say to ourselves, in the privacy of our mind, we believe that we are the only ones affected by negative self-talk, low self-esteem, and anxiety.
When something doesn’t go perfectly, we are first to blame ourselves, criticizing what we did wrong, what we didn’t do perfect enough, what we missed.
We all have inner chattering, but problems arise when we start to believe in our inner chattering, such that false beliefs about ourselves are formed. These false beliefs become detrimental to our spirits and future wellbeing, unless we do something to unlearn these beliefs.
Next time, you hear the voice in your head say “I’m stupid” or “I’m not good enough”or “I am a failure” or other related self-defeating thoughts, recognize that it is not you. You could verbally say, “That’s not me! That’s not true!” and even declare the following to this thought, “From today forward, I choose to let you go, for you are no longer serving me. I am exposing you, for you are not real! From today onward, I am free from you.”
The basic premise of the third rule to inner cleanse is that, whatever thought you are not able to say out aloud to people (anyone), don’t even bother entertaining inside your head. Keep your inner space clean.
4. Don’t say unless it is true, useful or kind.
Some people have so much inner chatter that it spills out of them in the form of useless speech.
Observe the people who talk on buses, or love to chitchat at work by the water fountain. If you observe and count the number of things they say that are actually useful or truly interesting, it would be a low number.
Not only is this distracting for those around this person, it takes an enormous amount of energy for this person to keep talking. Recall the last time you talked for a long time about something random, and how drained you felt afterwards. Plus, the more useless things we say, the more useless things we feed back into our head.
If you feel that I’ve described you, don’t feel discouraged. I’ve been there too, and can contest that it is possible to quiet down.
Some people practice sabbatical days where they don’t speak at all, or read, or use the computer. And at the end of such a day, they feel a tremendous sense of peace, space and energy bubbling inside them.
Be conscious of what you say and only say it if any of the following is true:
Is what I’m saying …
• True to me? An authentic statement from my heart?
• Useful or helpful to someone or some situation?
• Kind or compassionate? Such as a compliment, or an offer of help?…
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Painting - “Tattooed With Emotions” by Melinda Konya
(Our pain-bodies are the energy of our past hurts: the bumps, bruises and scars of life that we never really dealt with fully in the moment. The result is that we carry that pain in an energy field within us)
The collective dimension of the pain-body* has different strains in it. Tribes, nations and races, all have their own collective pain-body, some heavier than others, and most members of that tribe, nation, or race have a share in it to a greater or lesser degree.
Almost every woman has her share in the collective female pain-body, which tends to become activated particularly just prior to the time of menstruation. At that time many women become overwhelmed by intense negative emotion.
The suppression of the feminine principle especially over the past two thousand years has enabled the ego to gain absolute supremacy in the collective human psyche. Although women have egos, of course, the ego can take root and grow more easily in the male form than in the female. This is because women are less mind-identified than men. They are more in touch with the inner body and the intelligence I of the organism where the intuitive faculties originate. The female form is less rigidly encapsulated than the male, has greater openness and sensitivity toward other life-forms, and is more attuned to the natural world.
If the balance between male and female energies had not I been destroyed on our planet, the ego's growth would have been greatly curtailed. We would not have declared war on nature, and we would not be so completely alienated from our Being.
Nobody knows the exact figure because records were not kept, but it seems certain that during a three-hundred-year period between three and five million women were tortured and killed by the "Holy Inquisition," an institution founded by the Roman Catholic Church to suppress heresy This surely ranks together with the Holocaust as one of the darkest chapters in human history. It was enough forH woman to show a love for animals, walk alone in the fields or woods, or gather medicinal plants to be branded a witchcraft then tortured and burned at the stake. The sacred feminine was declared demonic, and an entire dimension largely din appeared from human experience. Other cultures and religions, such as Judaism, Islam, and even Buddhism, and suppressed the female dimension, although in a less violent] way. Women's status was reduced to being child bearers and I men's property. Males who denied the feminine even I within themselves were now running the world, a world I that was totally out of balance. The rest is history or rather a case history of insanity.
Who was responsible for this fear of the feminine that j could only be described as acute collective paranoia? We could say: Of course, men were responsible. But then why in many ancient pre-Christian civilizations such as the Sumerian, Egyptian, and Celtic were women respected and the feminine principle not feared but revered? What is it that suddenly made men feel threatened by the female? The evolving ego in them. It knew it could gain full control of our planet only through the male form, and to do so, it had to render the female powerless.
In time, the ego also took over most women, although it would never become as deeply entrenched in them as in men. We now have a situation in which the suppression of the feminine has become internalized, even in most women. The sacred feminine, because it is suppressed, is felt by many women as emotional pain. In fact, it has become part of their pain-body, together with the accumulated pain suffered by women over millennia through childbirth, rape, slavery, torture, and violent death.
But things are changing rapidly now. With many people becoming more conscious, the ego is losing its hold on the human mind. Because the ego was never as deeply rooted in woman, it is losing its hold on women more quickly than on men.
Tolle “The New Earth” p. 155-57
--PAINTING - “Power of Wisdom” by Linda Apple
THERE ARE TEACHERS EVERYWHERE
by Mark Nepo
The Upaguru—Hindu for the teacher that is next to you at any moment.
From the rotting tree felled by lightning to the water re-smoothing after the whale dives down, everything is of equal sanctity and grace. From the darkness we can't see through to the [ tenderness of a grandfather afraid to speak, everything and everyone is a teacher. Each flower, each bird, each suffering, great and small, each eroded stone and crack in that stone, each question rising from each crack—every aspect of life holds some insight that can help us live. We can learn and deepen from anything anywhere.
Yet one of the paradoxes of being human is that no one can see or comprehend all of it. Thus, each of us must discover the teachers that speak to us, the ones we can hear. This seems to be our job as initiates of being: to pursue our curiosity and passion and suffering in an effort to uncover our teachers. Just as different insects are drawn to certain flowers, though pollen is everywhere,different souls are drawn to certain aspects of the living Universe,
though God is in everything.
While the geography of stars pulsing in the night may help you discover the peace waiting in your soul, digging in the earth may help your sister know where she belongs. And yet listening to elders speak of their lives as they near death unlocks the things I learn. Each is equally a teacher, one no truer than the other. It's as if everything has to carry what is holy because each of us 1 one set of ears and one set of feet to help us stumble on our way.
The moments that hold mystery, whether dressed in wonder, wait to be treated with respect and sincerity, as i sage was carved in stone for you before you were born, and a storm has washed it ashore just in time, and you need all you can get to decipher its meaning. And we will be found by teachers repeatedly—be they the moon, the thief, or the until we can uncover their meaning.
It makes a difference when we can look at experience a vastness. And the moments that open our lives become p stories in our own personal mythology, the retelling o renews our vitality. For me, such moments include God err solitude through the waves of the sea, and Grandma star eternity at ninety-four when she thought no one was look when I woke after surgery to the miracle of freshly squeezed juice.
So, who and what have been your teachers? What stories carry the teachings? And what inner history do they form? Who can you share this with? If no one, find someone. It's one of things that matter.
And where is your next teacher? In the loss about to that you won't be able to make sense of? Or in the stone shoe next month that has the imprint of a bird's wing?
It is all very humbling. For plan as we will, study as I search as we can, it is all a guess—a wild attempt to land ourselves in the open or in the dark until our teachers appear.