Religion: An Evolutionary View
This country is described as religious; but I wonder how many take the time to consider what the term means. The organized religions seem to take the point of view that religion denotes a body of doctrines and beliefs which emanate from a particular scripture and/or a particular prophet or founder. The doctrines and practices vary from culture to culture. Yet, as I have studied the varied traditions over the years, I have found that the core concepts are usually remarkably similar, no matter which religion is explored. I have also noted that there seems to be a core within the core, a contemplative dimension which Aldous Huxley named The Perennial Philosophy. It is that “core within the core” which I would like to discuss in this note. It is a vast subject; and I can only offer a hint at this point.
Adherents to the perennial philosophy are revealed by world literature to be found in all faiths. In Catholicism, for instance, we have John of the Cross and Eckhardt; in Protestantism Jakob Boehme; in Judaism the Baal Shem Tov; in Islam Ibn Arabi and Rumi; in Hinduism Ramana Maharshi and Ramakrishna; in Buddhism Padmasambhava and Bankei. One could go on and on. But what is it that these individuals have in common?
They share a certain view, a certain spiritual orientation that centers on the following question: What is the source and essence of this being, life and consciousness which I experience; and what is my relationship to it? And the responses to this question, although there may be superficial divergences due to cultural tradition and language, are all basically the same.
They all warn at the outset, one way or the other, not to get lost in “ the-pot-figuring out- the-potter” syndrome. Ordinary intelligence is very useful in the area of practical management of life situations; and can provide pointers toward the direction of our answer. But to get lost in conceptualizations is going to dig us deeper into the hole of confusion. Of course the irony is that our discomfort in having dug ourselves in can become the impetus for our finding a new way out.
Rumi, for instance, speaks of the necessity of developing a new “organ” or a new “faculty” as the fundamental and essential means of transcending limiting consciousness. And, he says, the motivating factor is necessity itself. So “Increase your necessity”, he counsels. In that sense “coming to the end of our rope” can be a very positive thing indeed.
Actually, the “new” faculty is there already; and the varying “paths of liberation” are essentially modes of uncovering or unveiling the human being’s inherent capacity for extra-dimensional perception, a capacity which has become obscured by years ( and centuries ) of psychological conditioning. Thus the essential prerequisite of the paths of realization is the systematic resolution of social conditioning and idiosyncratic psychological material and the loosening of the ego structure in general. Genuine paths have adapted their methodologies to the requirements of particular times, places and people. But the essential orientation of the varying ways remains unchanged.
And what is the purpose- the goal- of the developmental process we have described? Huxley speaks of the spiritual paths as ways to create an opening to an underlying Reality “ substantial to the world of things and lives and minds.” He adds that, as a psychology, these approaches view the psyche as similar to, or identical with, that Reality.
Various terms have been employed to describe the goal: self-realization; satori; divine union; enlightenment; awakening. And it is important to note that, once this portal has been reached, there is no final point. Similar to what every artist, musician or scientist knows, there is always something new. The process is perpetual in the view of all the spiritual explorers I have studied.
As we have seen, the “portal” of spiritual realization cannot be conceptualized by the structured intellect. It is described as a state of being entirely beyond any notion of conscious experience as we know it. Nevertheless pointers or glimpses have been provided. Here are a few:
What can I do? I am no Christian, no Jew, no Muslim. Not of the East, not of the West. Not of this world or the next.
My place placeless, my trace traceless. Neither body nor soul: All is the life of my Beloved . (Rumi)
Why, it’s but the motion of eyes and brows!
And here I’ve been seeking it far and wide.
Awakened at last, I find the moon
Above the pines, the river surging high. (Yuishun)
Just see the person you imagine yourself to be as part of the world you perceive within consciousness; and look at consciousness from the outside. For you are not the consciousness. You are at one with the Supreme Absolute, the Source and Heart of all. ( Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj )
For too long the organized religions have crystallized into doctrinal and ethical systems which have thrown aside the deeper realizations of their founders and played the numbers game to the detriment of the spiritual evolution of their adherents. And they have quite often pursued an overly fragmentary and separatist course, an exclusivity that has too often resulted in intolerance and aggression. This is a tragic situation and it must come to its end if humanity is to be truly served. There needs to be the birth of genuine ecumenism; and that must be based on re-exploration of the unitive truths which inspired the minds and souls of the great founders.
Readers of this introduction who may be interested in pursuing the subject further might want to take a look at Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy. Other valuable resources are the works of Idries Shah; Krishnamurti; Ramana Maharshi; Nisargadatta Maharaj; and Jalaludin Rumi.