Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Are You Real? Then God Is

My approach to reality has inevitably been coloured by my experience with the Masters, as set out in my book about them, but the fact is that, even if I had not had this experience, that approach would in most essentials be the same.

Even before I met Michael Lord, the man who properly introduced me to spiritual ideas, I had come to a conclusion. I realised that if the world was as described by materialism, which was and still is the intellectual background of most people, even the nominally religious (by which I mean many religious people still go along with the tenets and assumptions of materialism in their daily lives), then nothing meant anything.  Worse, if the teachings of biology, physics, chemistry and psychology were true on their own terms then I didn't exist, not as a real person.

But I knew I did exist as a person.  I knew this as a fact of experience. Indeed, I see it as the prime spiritual fact and even a proof of the existence of God.  I am a person and I am real, not formed by mechanical, material forces which would make me an artificial thing with no substance. Therefore, there must be something beyond these. There must be spiritual forces and these forces must include, at the very least, a personal element.  My reality is not self-sufficient but I am real. Hence there must be something from which I take my reality which has its own self-sufficient reality.

These are intellectual reflections but actually my attitude was largely an intuitive one. I remember being told by a Buddhist monk that the self did not exist. In line with standard Buddhist teaching he maintained it was just a phenomenal thing held together by thought, sensation and the like. Now, if the self really were no more than this he would be right but I don't consider the Buddhists go far enough. They have deconstructed the ego but have not seen beyond that to the real self which is more than the phenomenal version. It is the reality of which the ego self is the illusionary distortion. The Buddhists are right when they say that the ego is a false thing but they don't see that it is a false version of a real thing. I recall standing in the rain on the platform of some dreary station in North London waiting for a train to go home after my meeting with this Buddhist monk, and my whole 22 year old self rebelled against his teaching, supposedly the wisest, most spiritually profound understanding of our true nature there was. It was logically impeccable and came with the highest qualifications, and there clearly was a deep state of peace that could be attained if self was renounced. But that didn't make it right. And I knew it wasn't right even though it took me a long while to work out why it wasn't. That's because, on its own terms, it is true. But, from the broader perspective, it's not the whole truth.

In a way, the Buddhist position is easy. For once you have decided that the self is not real you can detach yourself from your own problems and suffering without really having to confront them and deal with them as real issues. They are all nothing but passing states from which you stand aloof. And yet, while the Buddha is impassive, Jesus wept. In that little phrase lies something that Buddhism, for all its talk, genuine talk, of compassion, misses. If you renounce the self you kill something inside yourself which actually gives life its quality and flavour. As has been said, you cure the disease by killing the patient.

Buddhism is a magnificent teaching for rising above the pain of this world and establishing yourself in formless being, but it can only do this by turning its back on God's reason for creation and retreating to a state in which creation has no meaning. But creation does have meaning and this meaning is tied up with the fact of relationship or love. To forgo this is to repudiate God's purpose for expressing himself through the created universe and human beings who are not supposed to return to the formless source whence they arose but to become more individual though individual in the sense of being unique individualisations of God himself not separate individuals, cut off one from another. As the Masters have said, the aim is to be individual but not individualistic. 

So it was the reality of the person that first convinced me of the logical impossibility of materialism. I knew I was real, as does everyone who is not plagued by some form of mental illness, and I saw this knowledge as the basic fact that disproved materialism. I am quite aware that some materialists will say that this was just the mind playing tricks on itself but they are just caught up in intellectualising games. No-one lives as though they aren't real unless they are ill. No one looks at their own children as no more than assemblages of impersonal material forces unless they are sick.

If you are a real person then God exists.


Unknown said...

Its very interesting, but for me, I actually returned to God and monotheism after I delved deeper and deeper into Buddhism and Zen and begin to realize with astonishment that both do believe in a self and in a monotheistic God.

And yet for you, it was precisely by contrasting your intuitions with Buddhism (as it is commonly, if mistakenly, understood in the West), that encourages your belief in God :)

God works in mysterious ways, and carries us along different routes !

I was so impressed by the unanimous record of mankind converging in belief in a One God, a monotheistic God, such that even East Asia ended up developing the hints of early Buddhism into a thoroughgoing monotheistic religion with the most adherents of any sect (Pure Land), and that even Zen, with its "world unconsciousness" is a form of God, that it struck forcibly how true it must be.

We can try, but we cannot get away from God.

All our abstract theories and complex ratiocinations ultimately lead back to Him.

William Wildblood said...

To be sure, Buddhism is a profound spiritual system and one for which I have the greatest respect, and yet I believe that if the words and teachings of the Buddha are taken literally then something important, even vital, is missed.

The truth is we have to go beyond the everyday earthly self to find the true spiritual self. This truth is expressed in different ways but the way it is expressed does have consequences too for those adopting a particular path who are still on the journey. Which is practically all of us.

Unknown said...

Well, the literal wording of Buddhism is "this is not self", followed by a list of things as not self.

So it never actually denies self. In fact, Buddhism is the Middle Way, and avoids denying or affirming. Explicitly denying self would be a violation of its central philosophy - it would also be speculation, which the Buddha told us to avoid.

The Buddha also explicitly says speculating about whether there is or is not self is not helpful and to be avoided.

But this kind of "mystical" neutrality has been converted by modern Westerners into a positive statement of denial - despite the Buddha's explicit warnings not to do so.

The Buddhist position is obviously that the self is utterly ineffable - as is Nirvana, alsso utterly ineffable. But the modern mind does not "do" ineffability.

Anyways this is an old story, and no one will change their opinions.

What fascinates me about Buddhism is how it developed its early intuitions into a clear monotheism with the most adherents - I was like, this is what it all comes to? I already have thus.

Plus, you cannot really get rid of the ego without relying on the Other, so God is clearly necessary for the spiritual life.

William Wildblood said...

Buddhism developed in that way because as it stood it was extreme, not really a middle way at all. Just because it calls itself that doesn't mean it is! I know the middle way was supposed to be between asceticism and indulgence but Buddhism as taught by the Buddha does not accept the personal nature of God or the self and that is, in my opinion, its weakness.

You say it never actually denies self which is true but it does everything but and so effectively does deny it.

Unknown said...

Yes, early Buddhism was clearly too extreme - although it implicitly contained balance. But that definitely needed to be brought out.

The Middle Way in Mahayana was a cognitive middle way as well, which fleshed out the implications of the old system.

I agree the lack of a personal God is a weakness of Buddhism - after all, neglecting personality is an extreme.

But as I searched deeper, it became apparent that in Mahayana the Buddha takes on the semi divine character of Jesus, as the personal aspect of the Absolute that mediates between man and the Absolute. Buddha is no longer mere man.

And after all Christianity also recognized that aspect of the Divine which is beyond personality and ineffable.

Buddhism was interpreted by modern Westerners seeking modern doctrines within it. The real deal is very different.

But I agree we need a personal God - absolutely - but a God who is only personality becomes mere pagan polytheism God, which hardly satisfied our yearning. So we also need God to have an ineffable aspect.

Keri Ford said...

I enjoyed this, to me it seems to be adressing one of the most obvious modern conundrums.

I find it very strange how people can blithely be materialists and accept the idea that their consciousness is produced by the biological functioning of their body. Dawkins even says we are robots and that does seems to be a consistent view from the idea that our body produces our thoughts and consciousness. Yet no one can live under such assumptions, they accept in their normal life that they are making decisions and that they are free to do so and that their decisions matter, have consequences and meaning. As far as I can tell there this is it and all atheistic arguments tend to do is to obscure this conundrum.

Accepting the consequences of consciousness seems radical in the present time, yet humanity for the majority of it's history has been Theistic.

edwin said...

It seems to me that the buddhist and vedantin positions both deny the personal self, i.e. the individual, for if the self is simply undivided consciousness, then individuality is illusory. Steiner rejected the notion that we should aspire to dissolution in a universal consciousness, which he called "a primeval gruel." The difficulty of understanding individuality cannot be underestimated. It is at the heart of spirituality. The ego as conventionally understood is a collection of desires rooted in the physical body. The ephemeral nature of the body and its desires is then used to dismiss their ultimate reality. But this understanding rests on materialism: that individuality is rooted in the body. What if the body is an expression of a non-physical individuality? The materialists, which category includes the nondualists, argue that the body is the source of individual consciousness and that when we realize the nature of the body, we are freed from the illusion of invdividuality and can then proceed to melt into the "primeval gruel" of undivided consciousness. But the fact is that no one, not even the most committed nondualist, really longs to cease existing as an individual. He simply wants life to be all pleasure and no pain. Nonduality is like an anesthetic. But an anesthetic only lasts for so long, and then we wake up, as individuals confronting the great mystery of who we are. The truth of our being unfolds, like music. It cannot be calcified in verbal formulas or logical systems. It must be lived and can only be lived by one who is conscious of his self as spirit. Christ came so that might have life more abundantly, which would indicate some sort of spiritual growth, i.e. individual growth, is possible.

William Wildblood said...

I agree with all you say there, edwin. To me it comes down to how one approaches suffering. Do you seek to escape or transcend it as the Buddhists and vedantins do or do you accept it and offer it up to God in love and humility?

Jesus taught us that it is only the latter that leads to the real transformation of self, that actually takes us beyond our lower nature.