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At the outset, I want to acknowledge that it is not through intellectual concepts alone that we will move into the new age. Intellectual ignorance is a symptom of spiritual ignorance, and it is spiritual enlightenment alone which can dispel spiritual ignorance.
Having said that, it is clear to any student of metaphysics, or indeed to any forward-thinking person, that certain long-cherished assumptions will have to give way or be transmuted into a higher expression before Western society as a whole can move forward. I think of these ignorant assumptions as so many "knots" that will have to be cut through. The image comes to mind of a lion tied with rope, and, as in the children's fable, the mice come in the night and gnaw through the knots. Once the spiritual educators who are at work in Western society are able to gnaw through enough of these knots, and the lion of real spiritual understanding is set loose, you will see something worth seeing!
Let me give you an idea of what we're up against, in an example from my own chosen speciality, reincarnation.
Recently, PBS broadcast a documentary about Benjamin Franklin. We know that Franklin was a Mason and that he believed in reincarnation, from the epitaph he wrote as a young man:
The body of B. Franklin,
Like the Cover of an Old Book,
Its Contents Torn Out
Stripped of its Lettering and Gilding,
Food for Worms
But the Work shall not be Lost,
For it Will as He Believed
Appear Once More
In a New and more Elegant Edition
Revised and Corrected
By the Author
In this documentary, an actor playing Franklin addressed the camera. At first it seemed to me that he was paraphrasing the epitaph quoted above. However, my delight turned to dismay when he said something like, "I lived a good life, though there were things I would do differently if I could. However, since repetition is impossible..." (my emphasis)
Now, you see that the writer of that show saw fit to reverse Franklin's meaning and his belief in reincarnation. They are not so much to be blamed as the consciousness of the entire society. This nonsense got through the editorial process because society supports television which "dumbs down" anything to do with metaphysics or mysticism. This was a clear opportunity for reincarnation to gain some legitimacy, but what the public saw reinforced their belief that nobody of any stature ever believed in such things.
To give another example, NPR's radio talk show, "The Infinite Mind" recently broadcast a show concluding that clinical depression is caused by brain abnormalities. So here we have the irony that a show called "The Infinite Mind" is equating the mind with the brain! (I would not dispute their findings, but I would dispute their interpretation of those findings, since in my opinion it is the reincarnating mind which creates the new brain according to its impressions, through the medium of physical genetic structures.)
This same process whereby society reinforces its own ignorance is going on all the time in several areas. For convenience, we will break it into two major categories, fundamentalism and materialism, and we will examine the largest "knots" found in each.
First, however, I want to delve briefly into what these knots are made of. These knots are constructed of "assumptive leaps" influenced by spiritual ignorance, or what Hinduism calls "avidya." We are all familiar with mistakes of judgement based on assuming something in everyday life. We assume our partner has paid the bill while he or she is assuming we paid it; or we assume that the oil level in our rental car has been checked (don't laugh--I once drove across the state of Florida in a rental car that was 2-1/2 quarts low on oil).
But these assumptions go much deeper.
Some of them I've always wondered about (if you express these things in general society, this is where people start to decide you're crazy). Okay, it's necessary to kill animals sometimes. But, should we jump to the conclusion that it is acceptable to do it cruelly? It's necessary to make a profit when in business--but should we jump to the conclusion that this should be at the top of our priorities? Evolution clearly exists--but should we jump to the conclusion that it is driven primarily by considerations of physical survival? My religion is valid--should I jump to the conclusion that yours is not? And on and on it goes. Going deeper still, we find assumptive leaps like "I can understand things by categorizing them and creating intellectual models--therefore this is the only valid way to understand something." "I love this person in their body--therefore what I love is their body, and when the body dies, they have ceased to exist." "A sage gives certain instructions out of his state of inner enlightenment appropriate for the state of development of the persons of that age--therefore we can codify those teachings and it would please that sage to see us try to force conformity to these rules on people of a different culture a thousand years later." I suspect this goes to some very basic issues. For example, for hundreds of thousands of lifetimes, when we have awakened each morning, we have assumed, "This is real." But I had an experience once in which I woke up from a deep sleep a split second before my daily reality had kicked in--then, like a movie-house projector being restarted, it all came back, with me watching it come back. It scared the heck out of me, so much so I couldn't think about it for weeks, even though I had read in Eastern philosophy that this world is like a dream (it came at a time when I was in deep grief over my younger son's death, so I think it was a reminder not to get too immersed in the drama of life).
But, we won't dig that deep. We are concerned here with the level of societal beliefs. So we will proceed with the fundamentalist contingent and then move on to the materialistic contingent.
Knot #1: Fundamentalism
Fundamentalism is driven by the urge to get back to the essence, to the roots of religion, and to find its pure origin. As such it's a correct and noble impulse. The problem is not the urge to get the to "fundamental thing." The problem is planting the flag prematurely, i.e., not getting there but thinking one has gotten there. That means that fundamentalists by and large haven't succeeded in getting to the fundamental thing about Christianity. They have jumped to the assumption that the book, or the system of beliefs, or acceptance into the organization, are the essence of it. It is these mistaken assumptions and the clinging to these limited forms that gives the ego something to grasp and identify with as against other books, systems of belief, and organizations. This does two things. It prevents people from moving into the transformative depths of Christianity; and at the same time, it serves to protect people who aren't ready for those depths. So everything in its place--but if we are talking about what will eventually have to happen if society is to move into the new age, moving beyond this immature type of fundamentalism is one of them. The book is not the (transcendental) Truth, though it can be a gateway to the extent you can weed out distortions from thousands of years of malicious or even well-intentioned editing. The system of beliefs is also not the Truth. At best beliefs can point in the right direction, leading one to the doorstep of mystical experience. (If you are clinging to the doorstep, you will not be able to pass through the door.) Certainly, many people have learnt the hard way that acceptance into or rejection from a religious organization, in and of itself, has little to do with one's spiritual progress.
Knot #2: Jesus as the only Saviour
Again, it is not that this is wrong, but that it is wrongly interpreted. This could be the subject of a book itself, so of necessity I can only touch on it without developing the lines of thought fully. But if Jesus is taken to be an Incarnation of the Universal Christ, then speaking as the Universal Christ, it was true when he said that He was the only way back to the Father, if by Father we mean not an anthropomorphic figure, but the Ground of all Being and the Source of everything. Speaking as this Universal Christ, Jesus also said, "Before Abraham was, I Am" and, "I and my Father are One." Now, we know that Jesus of Nazareth as a physical personality was born a little over 2,000 years ago, and did not exist in that form at the time of Abraham, no less before Abraham.
It appears to me that Jesus himself made this distinction when he referred to himself, the man, as the "son of man"; and then referred to himself as the Universal Christ with the phrase, the "Son of God". All that appears to have been garbled so that the references are considered interchangeable. (First of all you have to let go of the idea of the virgin birth, which I understand from my studies to have been a myth--because, obviously, if you don't, you can't accept this interpretation of the phrase, "son of man.")
Now, if it is the Son of God, or Universal Christ who is the only way to the Father, or Cosmic Source, and if Jesus of Nazareth was an Incarnation of that Christ, then it is clear that this passage does not preclude previous or subsequent Incarnations--as we find in the Hindu concept of the Avatar.
What happens is that people jump to the assumption that this passage is referring to the historical Jesus of Nazareth. In effect, they have subtly substituted a kind of football fan mentality--"my team rules!"--for the original meaning of the passage." This, again, gives the ego plenty of scope to plant its feet on one side and oppose the other side, rescuing it from the perceived threat to its existence posed by a deeper understanding of Jesus's teachings.
Knot #3: Christianity as the only valid religion
Of course there are shades of this "knot," ranging from the assertion that non-Christian religions are all of the devil, to patronizing admissions that there may be some merit in the other religions, but if you really want to find God you will have to convert to Christianity.
It's a poignant dilemma, because there are pure transmission of Truth in the Eastern cultures which can clear away much of the 2,000-year-old debris cluttering and clogging Christianity, as many individuals here and there amongst the crowd have discovered (many of them were cruelly persecuted for it).
Consider this: the first people on record to recognize Jesus as the Christ, and to worship him, were the wise men from the East. These were not Christians, since there was no such thing at that time. Nor did they ever become Christians so far as we know. They recognized the Incarnation while he was an infant. Where did they get that wisdom? From a star? This is figurative language. My guess is that the "star in the East" is symbolic of the sixth chakra, which means that they were spiritually illumined and could see the incarnated Christ with the inner eye of fully-developed intuition. So right at the beginning of the story of Jesus, we have the irrefutable declaration that Eastern spirituality is genuine and of the highest order.
Now, have we all jumped to the assumption that the wise men who worshipped Jesus were the last of their kind? Or has the East continued to produce such men? Never mind the smokescreen of pretenders who come to the attention of the popular press by their inappropriate behavior--where there is smoke, there is sure to be fire.
And have we all assumed that the wise men can't find a subsequent Incarnation as well?
Knot #4: There is only one life and then heaven or hell for eternity
This "knot" is a garbled mixture of truth and ignorance, and sawing our way through it will be a chore. The first thing is to address the issue of misidentification with the body. Our body is our outermost covering. Inayat Khan says, "Hardly one among thousands realizes that life lives, and death dies." Death is more like molting than ceasing to exist. Through habit and long association with many bodies over many lifetimes, we have jumped to the assumption that we are the body itself. Usually, it is only when someone close to us dies, or we face death ourselves, that we think to question this assumption.
Secondly, heaven and hell exist as states. They exist here in our physical existence, as we all know, and they also exist after we "molt" and live in our subtle bodies in-between incarnations. They are states of mind, projected and self-created. We have jumped to the assumption that they were physical places somewhere in the sky, or under the earth.
Thirdly, the experience of heaven or hell is temporary, although we all know that a heavenly experience seems to be over all too soon, and a hellish experience seems to drag on forever.
It is not incorrect to say that there is only one life--but it is a very, very long life--as long as the mind exists--which includes uncounted thousands or even hundreds of thousands of physical births and physical deaths. Reincarnation is being proven by increasing numbers of solid cases, and Christians will have to find a way to embrace it if they are to move into the coming age.
Now we turn our attention to the materialists, and a sampling of the knots that they will have to untie or cut through.
Knot #1: Reductionism
Reductionism is a kind of mind-trick. Its basic premise, like that of fundamentalism, is not inherently wrong. In fact reductionism is actually a close cousin to fundamentalism. Like fundamentalism, it seeks the truth of something by reducing it to its most basic components. Unfortunately, people have jumped to the assumption that what is most real is the physical realm that we can touch, see, hear and measure. This assumption holds Western society back as much as any we have made, but as with other assumptions, it does shield people who are not ready to safely assimilate deeper spiritual truths. It has its place in the developmental scheme of things, but I think that society as a whole will be moving past it very soon.
What I would call mature reductionism seeks the spiritual source of a thing. It understands that everything we see in this world is a manifestation of its counterpart in the higher spiritual realms ("as above, so below"). The world of energy which enlivens this world of physical matter is more real; the world of mind which creates the world of energy is still more real; and the Source from which it all manifests is the most real--so much so, that those who have experienced it say that none of the levels below are real at all in comparison. That means that what the materialists consider a fantasy is real, and what they consider real is a fantasy. Accomplishing this perceptual flip-flop, just intellectually (to say nothing of experientially) requires cutting one of the biggest knots that currently binds our society.
Knot #2: Taking existence for granted as a small, impersonal fact
As we go about our daily life, what do we take existence to be, if we ever pause to give this any thought at all? Speaking for myself, I have always taken it for granted. I assumed that it was impersonal, just a fact, and not a very important one. It assures that my pen is still on my desk where I left it, that it will still work if it isn't out of ink or clogged, that when I sit on my chair it will hold me--that kind of thing.
What would you think if I told you that I am now convinced that existence is much, much more? What we take as being existence is a very faint shadow of the real thing. What we experience as existence is dumbed-down, dampened down, frozen, fragmented into numberless objects, and spread out into time. In the West, most of us have rendered it impersonal (though some other cultures are awake to its personal aspect). This is why we can trash the environment and feel quite justified and unconcerned about it.
But those who have experienced existence in its pure essence tell us that it is both personal and impersonal, and inexplicably beyond both. They also tell us that it is unimaginably intense, like the brightness of a million suns put together. They tell us that the nature of existence, if you were to experience it fully, is Infinite Existence, Infinite Knowledge, and Infinite Bliss. And contrary to our experience, it is neither dumbed-down, dampened down, frozen, fragmented into numberless objects, nor spread out into time. Amazingly, it is not only Impersonal, but it is also Personal. Logically it has to be Personal, if everything we see here is a reflection or manifestation of it. If we find persons here, then the Existence from which those persons manifest must also be Personal. If we find impersonal things here, then the Existence of which they are a reflection must also be Impersonal. We find the personal and impersonal separate here--at the level of pure Existence, they are not so.
This means that one of the most important knots materialistic society will have to cut through is underestimating what existence itself is. It has been necessary that people take this mundane, physical existence for granted in order for the long process of incarnational and karmic learning to proceed. But there comes a time when we question whether this existence we know is all there is--or put another way, whether this is the real existence or a bad knockoff. If society is going to move into a new age, it will have to realize that the gnat of existence it has so long taken for granted is actually an Elephant.
Knot #3: Intellect as the best way of knowing
Like the nature of existence, this one seems a foregone conclusion. It is ironic for a culture which has decided that only the physical is real, that it also assumes that only an intellectual understanding is valid--since the intellect in and of itself is not physical, whatever one takes to be its origin. Logically you would think that a society which believes only the physical is real would only accept tactile evidence, not the phantasm of intellectual activity about that evidence.
Intellectual understanding develops and proceeds by contrasts, divisions, categories, and models. It is perfectly suited for the ego, because intellectual understanding gives it the full justification for standing on this side in opposition to that side. We have jumped to the assumption that while there are other forms of knowing, they are tainted by imagination, myth, hallucination, and vagueness. And so they are--in their lesser degrees. So, for that matter, is intellectual knowing.
Here is the basis of prejudice. Are we to take, for example, the best example of this culture, and contrast it with the worst examples of several other cultures? What have we really ascertained by doing that? This is called the "straw man" technique--setting up a weak case for the opponent and then knocking it down, claiming that this proves the weakness of the entire class. Such people compare the best of intellectual work with amateur or even fraudulent efforts involving intuitive or visionary ways of knowing. They do not dare stack the intellectual method against the real champions of the other methods. In fact, much as the fundamentalist Christians don't even take the best representatives of other religions seriously, the materialists don't even take the best practitioners of these other ways of knowing seriously. But the fact is, the best of intuitive and visionary knowing blows the best of intellectual knowing out of the water, so to speak. So much so, that it turns out intellectual knowing is just a preliminary step toward direct intuitive knowing. That is because, going back to our discussion of what existence is, existence in its purest form is beyond contrasts, divisions, categories and models--the mainstays of intellectual knowing. Existence in its purest form is beyond the reach of the intellect. Therefore it must be known directly through a different type of perception. And going back to our discussion of fundamentalism and reductionism, if we want the real, fundamental thing, and we want to reduce our study to the most basic thing, we must go beyond intellect as a means of knowing, just as we must go beyond belief as a way of knowing.
Knot #4: Drugs as a means of experiencing higher realities
It may surprise you that I include drug use among the chief knots that materialistic society will have to cut through. I once "heard" (because he wrote with a chalk and slate) the yogi Baba Hari Dass say in the mid-1970's, in response to a question about drugs, that since America is materialistic, its "avatar" is drugs. He glanced around to see who understood what he meant, and I got the feeling he knew that I grasped it. He meant, if I can be so bold as to interpret, that because we are so embedded in materialism, what presented itself to us as the avataric function (the descent of Existence into our ordinary reality) was dampened down and dumbed down as a physical drug affecting the physical brain. In short, we had mistranslated the avataric function by accepting the paltry substitute of ingesting toxic, brain-stimulating chemicals. This was our excuse for an "avatar."
It is obvious if you really stop and think about it, that seeking spirituality through drug use is an inherent paradox. If you want to reach the spiritual realm, you have to go beyond slavish identification with the body. This includes slavish identification with the condition of the brain, which organ is really a go-between or pass-through mechanism. Seeking experiences by altering the chemistry of the brain through toxic substances requires that one become more slavishly identified with the condition of the brain, not less.
The high achieved by the use of intoxicants (my emphasis) is based on the metaphysical principle of death and rebirth, as the band The Grateful Dead correctly surmised. However, the "death" achieved by using toxic substances, and the "birth" of visions that results, is not the real mystical birth and death, it is a bad knockoff. Meher Baba said, "Being is dying by loving." Meaning, the more you die to selfishness through love, the more your real inner Being is released. It is inherently impossible that putting toxic substances in your brain could equate with true spirituality.
These "knots" I've identified are just a few of the major ones. There is a subtle assumption I am jumping to in the premise of this article--that society should improve. In fact, society will become more enlightened because we are leaving the Kali yuga, or the least enlightened age, and are on the upswing. But life is designed for each person to become Enlightened, or God-Realized. It is not fundamentally designed, as I understand it, for society to reach an ideal state and remain there.
Nonetheless, we find ourselves in society, and we feel dismay at the havoc wrought by these knots that perpetuate its suffering, which in turn are caused by spiritual ignorance, which in turn is necessary in the long scheme of things as we each emerge from this ignorance into Knowledge.
As I see it, the correct perspective is to play our part in the cosmic game--to play our hardest and best for the cause of the awakening of society--but not to jump to the assumption that this is the real goal, any more than fundamentalism is the real Truth, intellectual knowledge is the real Knowledge, or that this material existence is the real Existence.
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