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
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.
Questioner: Some teachers say that there is nothing you can do to become enlightened or awake. That there is no choice and no one there to make choice. Is this true ?
Mooji: On hearing this, what was your response ?
Q: actually it was mixed. On one side it felt deeply freeing, simple and natural, followed by a sense of real frustration and anger. Honestly, I felt quite irritated and oppressed by the thought of having no free will. It was very strange.
M: Which of these two responses have remained the strongest with you ?
Q: Well, as I said before, initially the feeling of freedom was strong, beautiful and expansive but short-lived, while the frustration, doubt and confusion have been more lingering.
M: And these feelings have again brought you to satsang, is that right ?
Q: You could say that. Actually, I don’t feel I took any decision to come here. I feel like I was drawn here by some force. When I’m here with you it all feels fine; your words and presence makes me feel secure in this truth. The problem starts when I’m outside in the world. Then I doubt myself. I feel weak, unfocused and lack that conviction I’m feeling now. I need help.
M: Thank you. ‘ I need help’ is the important statement here. It is wise to seek help, until you go beyond the need for help. Not the arrogance which claims ‘There’s no one to be helped, no I, no you. No one exist, only that which Is’, which though true when spoken through the mouth of the sage, is completely false when uttered from the ego mind- the ego rising through the intellect posing as some kind of spiritual hero. This understanding cannot be grafted onto the ego-centred mind, for true understanding dissolves the seeker-ego. There is no one left to claim freedom as an achievement. The one unicity alone exist, manifesting through and as consciousness, it expresses as the cosmic play. It is consciousness expressing itself in the role of the humble seeker who ultimately, through grace, attains ultimate understanding, thus realising itself as the Impersonal Awareness/Being. Your seeking help opens the floodgate of grace which manifest in the form of the ‘teacher’, who is a reflection of your true self, whose authority and presence assists by pushing the externalised mind into its heart source, resulting in final understanding. This grace comes from your own Self and is your Self. You’ve heard the saying ‘ We’re called by our own self’, and yet all this takes place as a mere play in consciousness. The Absolute, One’s real Being- The sat-guru within, does not benefit from, or undergo any change at all, it remains the unalterable substratum or background. This is the truth.
Q: There is joy again, at being reminded of this, perhaps this is the pull of satsang. But I must say, I’m still a little confused about…
M: No ! Stop right there. Actually, ‘you’, what you truly are, cannot be confused. Confusion is a state of mind. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that you feel or notice confusion arising in you ? And that both confusion feeling and comfort feeling are perceived by you, including their effect in the body and the subsequent thoughts and judgements accompanying these feelings. That these are states which come and go in the presence of some background ‘field’ of impersonal intelligence or natural witnessing ?
Q: Yes. There seems more distance in this way of looking. Feels more detached and spacious somehow.
M: Let’s return to your original question ?
Q: Yes, but I would like you to speak more on this point.
M: Ok. Ok, we’ll come back if necessary. In the statement ‘ there’s nothing you or anyone can do to gain ‘enlightenment’ or ‘awakening’. Who or what is it that hears this ? and who or what is the ‘you’ in the statement ?
Q: Myself ! What I am.
M: And what is that ? ( pause.. ) Now you’re wearing ‘thinking eyes’, Don’t think ! Observe !
Q: My mind.. My individuality. My sense of self, I suppose. My intellect ?
M Musn’t there be something behind which sees the mind, the individuality, the intellect ? From where these very statements are arising, and which remains unaffected, untouched by the functioning of mind, intellect. Are these not phenomena being observed ? Can you confirm ?
Q: Yes, ( nodding slowly) I can confirm this as so.
M: Leaving aside whatever noticeable phenomena arising, turn your attention to the observing itself. What exactly is it that observes ? Is it a person, a thing ? Does it have a form, characteristic or quality ? Is it personal ?
Q: No. No one’s there. Nothing.
M: Are you there ?
Q Yes. No. I must be. I am in it.
M: What sees or knows this ?
Q: I don’t know. I just know but I don’t know how I know. I am nothing here exactly. I mean no form. Here comes that feeling again. This is what I felt, what I experienced the last time.
M: Don’t cling to this feeling now, let it be. Don’t go to the past, Stay behind. Don’t identify, don’t touch. Observe only, but remain neutral, so that if and when this joyful state subsides, there will be just this noticing remaining. You cannot ‘have’ this or ‘become’ this. No ownership, no achievement, only thoughts and sensations arising spontaneously in consciousness being perceived. You see ?
Q: But I don’t want this to go. Why push it away ? I wish to stay in this always. Isn’t that the point ?
M: That’s precisely what you must do. If it was not here before, it’s not permanent, it belongs to the changeful. It will go. Let it come and go, this is natural and this is freedom itself. Recognise the ‘ I don’t want to push this away’ is also a thought feeling arising, being noticed by something which is beyond coming or going. Be one with that. Don’t chase anything, stay as neutral awareness only. That’s all . What can awareness want ? What does it lack ? What to keep or lose ?
Q: My mind’s gone blank. Sorry, could you repeat ?
M: What is witnessing the blank ?
Q: (pause..) I am. Here again !
M: And again, who or what are you here ?
Q: Just this. There are no words to convey or describe it. Nothing-ness. Emptiness.
M: Is there some sadness ?
M: Happy ?
M Free ?
Q: No. I wouldn’t use the word ‘free’ even. ( Pause ). No words…
M Aha ! Very good ! Well done ! That is it ! that’s all, you’ve done it, Excellent ! The exercise is over. Now step out of this and return to your former state so that we may continue with your important questions.
Q: Mmm… That’s impossible ! It doesn’t make sense anymore. Step out and go where ?
M Here !
Q: There’s not even here !
M Really ? And what about Now ?
Q: No, not Now either( long pause&hellip I see clearly now that these are concepts only. There is no doubt about this- The indescribable is behind.
M: This alone is freedom, beyond any concept of freedom. The natural and supreme state of one’s true being.
( The questioner appears to have slipped into a meditative state, his face is motionless, but tranquil…Mooji chuckles.. ).
M: I wanted to talk along the lines of what happens when this ‘enlightenment’ experience fades away, but now it’s impossible to discuss this with him while he’s in samadhi. ( Laughter.. ).
Another questioner: I’ve also experienced this state which he seems to be in right now, that sort of non-experience experience, which lasted for about three or four weeks. I felt totally empty, clear, present, at one with all that Is. Everything was just going on by itself, it was really indescribable and beautiful, but after a while my mind came back, in my case I think even stronger than before. Actually I went into a kind of heavy depression and felt lost for some time. I feel afraid of repeating that experience.
M: Which experience ?
Q: The crazy one.
( Laughter.. ).
M: The real self is the changeless background underlying the changeful phenomena world. It is impersonal Awareness only; Immutable and blissful. In the experiential state it shines as the pure subjective awareness sense ‘I am’. This ‘I am-ness’ is impersonal and synonymous with consciousness- the field of perceiving. It is the direct expression of pure subjectivity. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, the great sage, describes it as like a door which swings one way into the manifestation and the other way into infinity. This expresses it beautifully. All events occur as movements in consciousness and are cognised in and by this conscious presence ‘I am’; this is the ‘witness’ or witnessing principle, which we are, while the body is here.
Q: So are we the body or ‘in’ the body or something separate ? Because…
( The questioner began recalling some experiences and observations&hellip
M: Leave all this alone for now; just stay open, allowing what is being said to simply be heard in the consciousness without taking hold of any particular thought or idea such as what to do with what’s being heard; let the listening just ‘happen’, as it were. You are there behind the listening mind. Watch the ‘I’- thought, it is not the true ‘I am’. It comes when the impersonal ‘I am’ gets identified with the body, which is merely the instrument through which it is expressing itself, with the aid of the vital force- the animating power. This association gives rise to the ego or individuality- the sense ‘me’. So you see, the individuality sense cannot exist without the supporting impersonal consciousness, and must itself be the changeful expression of that creative consciousness. Only now it operates as conditioned consciousness, believing itself to be the body-mind. Now arises the knowledge of ‘other-ness’ and the basic urge to protect itself; likes and dislikes arise, along with judgements, fear, desires, attachments and the entire play of inter-related opposites. We, as individual/being are fascinated and addicted to experiencing, which is natural and nothing ‘wrong’ in itself, when seen as the play or expression of the manifest consciousness we are. But when seen from the perspective of the individual identity, with its private agenda- Big trouble ! ( Laughter..).
Now listen, there’s nothing in particular to ‘do’ here and no one to do or undo either. Just a change in understanding must happen and everything will be set right. It’s all One. Let’s take the example of the telescopic car aerial, it is one unit- this represents the Absolute. Extend or Pull once- the impersonal ‘I am’ appears; it is still one unit. Pull again – the ‘I’- thought or ‘me’/ individuality sprouts and simultaneously- the personalised world manifestation comes into play. Like Russian dolls- One inside the other, successively- yet one whole ! One unicity expressing as manifest and unmanifest, two aspects of the one Reality. Such is the play in the theatre of consciousness. You are the ultimate witness; Happy, unaffected and whole. You are That ! It’s nothing personal. It’s not a compliment I’m paying you.
Q: Please could you repeat the point about the ‘theatre of consciousness’.
M: No ! I cannot repeat. For now, be attentive, open and present but neutral here, without letting your attention drift off or land on any particular thing. This position I’m inviting you to take. Trust your intuitive listening. It is your mind, appearing as a vigilant seeker, that strives for exactness then gets caught up with the feeling of missing something vital. At this point it is a subtle form of resistance or avoidance. My advice is; If you miss it, simply let it go. All is well for now. The real you is here and behind it all, effortlessly observing; from where the sense of losing and finding arises, is felt, but discarded as ‘not real’- ‘neti-neti’ as the jnanis say. You, as awareness are not any particular feeling. Thoughts and feelings come and go like waves playing on the surface of the ocean. Let everything come and go by themselves, this is natural for waves. Ocean, water, waves- all the same. Stay as witness only. For awareness, nothing is lost or found, or is good or bad. It is the immaculate substratum against which the shadow mind/world of names and forms dance their apparent existence.
Q: But Mooji, surely it is vigilance to make sure we understand correctly, to avoid misunderstanding; especially as all this is new to me, also many scriptures and teachers point to vigilance as a necessary quality or virtue for spiritual growth.
M: That is true if there really is a ‘someone’ who will make use of this understanding. But if you would really investigate, that ‘someone’; the ‘person’, the ‘individual’, will not be found ! All is consciousness only – the ‘you’, the ‘me’, the speaking, listening, satsang, everyone here, everything- all consciousness; this is the wonderful discovery ! Consciousness conversing with consciousness about consciousness through consciousness. How simple ! Yet how baffling when searched for through the ego-mind. Look, I point you to where you are right now, to stay with that, nothing else, but your mind landed on some point of interest to it. While you were engaged with holding onto that, you miss everything else- this is called the play of ‘maya'( The cosmic illusion). It’s like reading a book on exotic fruits and reggae music while strolling through Brixton market ! ( laughter..). One zen master named Bankei said: ‘it’s like a man losing his sword over the side of a ship at sea, and marking the spot on the railing where it fell in the water. ( Big laughter&hellip.
Q: Just now as you said that, everything stopped. I can’t think. There are no thoughts. ( Raising hand to her mouth ) That is amazing !
M: What seeing all this ?
Q: Nothing… I.
M: ‘I’- nothing, witnessing the stopped mind. When mind is stopped, can it be called mind anymore ?
M: And now ?
Q: Silence and peace.
M: For whom ?
Q: Here.. For me.
M: For you ? Are you sure ? What, where and how are ‘you’ exactly in this ?
Q: Not me; just silence and deep peace and a real feeling of gratitude. Is that right ?
M: You tell me.
Q: Yes. Gratitude for hearing and seeing this so clearly. Thank you.
M: You are welcome. Self thanking Self. Very nice !
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?
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—PURCHASE FROM ORBIS BOOKS
[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.
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