Monday 4 November 2013

Belief in God

This question came in response to the previous article. I consider it to express a common contemporary misconception which is why I am posting my reply here even though it's a subject I've touched on more than once before. 

Q. You’ve talked a lot about God in your recent posts but I incline towards Buddhism and don’t accept the idea of God which I see as an invented concept to give people something they can understand, like a powerful king to whom they owe allegiance and who will protect them if they serve him. That seems so out of date now. We know the universe is far subtler than that. Why do you believe God is so necessary to the spiritual path?

A. Because He exists! And without Him nothing would exist. Just because people in the past (and now) have understood God according to their own lights does not mean that that on which they base their inevitably limited understanding is false. I don’t think it is sufficiently realised today how Buddhism arose in part as a reaction to the prevailing Brahmanical religion with its plethora of gods for the masses and guarding of ultimate truth for the elite. The Buddhist position is not wrong but it can be one-sided, and that makes it unsuitable for those Westerners who, because they want to dispense with God, focus on its philosophical aspect but ignore the fact that traditional Buddhism has a religious side too. All spiritual aspirants need to understand that you cannot go beyond God and reach enlightenment until you have reached a stage of oneness with God. And you won't reach that without fully acknowledging God and your total dependence on Him. That is why the Masters told me many years ago (when my spiritual practice consisted mostly of meditation) that I did not pray enough, adding "Do you think yourself above prayer? Even the greatest saints prayed and while meditation is necessary you need to have the humbling experience of prayer also." We notice most the faults in others that we ourselves have or had, and I have observed that many people today think you can have spirituality without God, pointing to Buddhism or one of the non-dualistic philosophies in support of their position. But they are mistaken and they need to ask themselves why they want this to be true because it seems to me that in this case, as in many others, the desire is father to the belief. Of course, that is an argument that atheists have often, and sometimes justifiably, levelled at believers, but it cuts both ways.

God is the personhood of life. Without this aspect of personhood you have compassion but you do not have love. God is the 'I' that stands behind all other 'I's. If there were no archetypal 'I' there could be no individual 'I's. God's is the mind from which springs this whole universe. Without this original mind there would be no lesser minds. God is not a person but He has individuality and this universe is the expression of that, though not, it must be said, in the purest form on the physical level.

The Buddha is the greatest human spiritual figure known to history but I think Christ embodied divine truth to a higher degree and not least because, whereas the Buddha was honoured and respected until his death in old age, Christ was the suffering saviour who died ignominiously and who, to all outer appearances, failed completely in his mission. There is a great teaching there. The Buddha was the Enlightened One. He was a man who became a god or even more than a god according to the Buddhist conception of gods. But Christ was God who became Man. I don't mean this literally, which is what separates me from regular Christians, but on the symbolic level it is undoubtedly true, and even on the literal level I believe there is a mystery to the incarnation of Christ that cannot be adequately explained by seeing him as no more than a prophet or enlightened being. In his person the end and purpose of creation were made clear and fulfilled while for the Buddha, or so it seems, creation was, if not rejected, certainly seen as something to be gone beyond and left behind. For the Buddha the purpose of life was to attain Nirvana, but for Christ the world of creation was an integral part of the whole of life, there to be redeemed not just transcended.

I know Buddhism has the idea of the Bodhisattva but I see some of the later developments of Mahayana Buddhism as inspired by the Incarnation of Christ. Not directly as in a religious influence travelling in the physical world, but through a spiritual energy that was released by the Incarnation and which spread by suffusing the mental plane of the entire planet, and from there being reacted to independently throughout the world according to the understanding of those sensitive enough to respond to it, but expressed within their existing mindsets.

The reason for this brief comparison of the differences between the Buddha and Christ (I know comparisons are odious but they can be revealing as well) is to make the point that the non-theistic aspect of Buddhism is not a higher spiritual concept than a belief in God. It may relate to a deeper level of reality but that level of reality on its own is not all there is, certainly not in terms of manifested existence, and, in fact, on its own, is only half the truth for God Impersonal and God Personal are two sides of the same coin. On the level of ultimate reality all is one but when all is one then nothing is anything. Creation has a purpose which is to express the Uncreated, and that purpose can only be realised on an individual level, as Christ showed in himself, by fully acknowledging the Creator. As Jesus said, ' No one comes to the Father except through me', and what that means is that nobody realises the Impersonal Godhead without fully acknowledging the Personal God. The form in which we make this acknowledgment need not be the same but the spiritual perception and impulse behind it must be.

There is a further difficulty that may arise from unwillingness in a spiritual aspirant to believe in the Creator. Why do you tread the spiritual path? What is your motive? Is it because you seek something, wisdom, fulfillment, enlightenment, realisation, heaven? Or is it because you have perceived something that calls forth all your love and you want to conform your being to that, and to do so purely because of this love and not because you wish for anything? The Masters made very clear to me that only in the latter case is there any chance of spiritual success which always requires submission and surrender to a higher power. Not as a vassal submits to an overlord but as a lover submits to his love.


Paul Hillman said...

I agree with you completely about the Buddha and Jesus, William. Organised Cristianity has done so much to apparently obscure and distort the facts (and the words) that the truth is almost impossible to imagine, let alone acquire any certainty thereof.
The Gospel of John rings true to me when it echoes The Creation from Genesis in the first words of its text, showing , for me, God becoming involved in his Creation in a new and powerful way.
I have a friend who makes a good case for Paul's being the Antichrist of Revelation. I can see what he means but do not accept his argument although it is based on good sources and scholarship. There has even been a recent attempt to prove that Jesus never existed and was an invention of the Roman Hierarchy to control its subjects! Needless to say Paul is seen as playing a part in this.

We can never know or prove beyond any doubt the truth of this matter and can only rely on our own truth and intuition, I feel. Steiner who rejected all forms of organised religion, stated, clearly and firmlty , that The Crucifixion was an event of Cosmic relevance and proportions but never espoused the veneration which Catholics applied to its symbolism of Jesus tortured on the cross.

I suppose we must all find our own truth in the matter, if it is important to us , and for me it certainly is, and we only have our intuition to tell us what we need to know.I agree wholeheartedly with your view of the nature of our relationship to God, which is shared by Rumi and Sufi traditions, said to have cross fertilized the more mystical and esoteric Christian streams.

William Wildblood said...

I'd be less hard on organised Christianity as, for all its failings, it's achieved some wonderful things. Produced great saints and mystical teachings, comforted millions in distress, built extraordinary cathedrals and also inspired Handel's Messiah and the Passions of Bach! As for St Paul being the Antichrist, that makes no sense. I can see why your friend might think he interpreted Jesus' teachings according to his own lights but his role was different. He was a great spreader of the word and early Christianity needed someone like that to get it off the ground.

Whenever a new spiritual current arises in the world the forces of darkness, both terrestrial and spiritual, seek to co-opt it and bend it to their will. They are often very successful. This certainly happened with Christianity and it is still happening. Unfortunately the more spiritual members of a particular group are usually the least interested in power and vice versa, but I think there were still enough good men and women throughout the past centuries to counterbalance the seekers after prestige and influence who undoubtedly corrupted Christ’s teachings for their own ends.

I think Steiner had many insights on what you might call an occult level but that he lacked a mystical sense. Also his writings are pretty indigestible! I agree with you about the Sufis who seem to have had a perfect balance between the devotional and metaphysical aspects of spirituality, something which is rarely found elsewhere.