We have just celebrated our version of the Northern Hemisphere’s festival of the Winter solstice. This is a ubiquitous celebration. It was celebrated by the Celts, the Germanic peoples, the Chinese, the Jews, the Hindus, the Egyptians, the Persians to name but a few. It was subsumed by the early Christians and in our Western world has become Christmas.
Before the winter solstice the days get shorter and the world gets colder. With the winter solstice, at last the days begin to lengthen and we can imagine spring coming to warm and cheer us. Consequently the celebration of this time has universally been associated with hope.
(Then we have to deal with the impertinence of the Christmas messages of an aging monarch with a dysfunctional family, and a handful of elderly church leaders with dwindling constituencies who are presumptuous enough to advise us how to lead our lives but whose underlying sentiments seem to be about restoring their institutions to their former glory!)
And it is fitting that we should look positively unto the world at this time. But on what basis should we build such hope? Those conventionally religious will turn to their scriptures and say, “We are hopeful because Jesus was sent to save us”, or “If we follow the teachings of Mohammed then all will be well.” If these thoughts give you comfort, I am loathe to question them.
But we seem somewhat uneven in our judgment of such things. If you were ill would you consult a book of apothecary’s remedies a thousand years old or would you go to the doctor who has received the best modern medical education available? Most people would have no hesitation in selecting the latter. Yet many of us make judgments about our spiritual well-being based on the writings of those who centuries ago maintained they had some special relationship with a deity. Now don’t get me wrong, most of the ancient spiritual traditions contained some fabulous insights about the nature of humanity. But it seems a universal human foible that we should seize upon these writings which were largely allegorical as though they were literal truths.
If someone in our modern age had purported such things as many religious adherents take as the literal truth we would doubt their sanity! Wherein therefore lies the basis of our hope?
In a previous blog, I made a case against nationalism and indeed anything that divides and separates us from each other. A sign of a person’s maturity is how wide can we make the circle that encompasses “we”. Scientifically it is easy to show through an analysis of our genetics that we are all essentially Africans! Religious identities seem to be much more entrenched and therefore more difficult to discard. As Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy wrote in The Laughing Jesus, “All the stories we tell to define our separateness are dangerously divisive, but none more so than religious ideologies that pretend to represent the absolute Truth. Religious Literalism creates a divinely sanctioned gulf between believers and infidels which has driven believers through the centuries to commit the most horrendous crimes against humanity to please their God.”
The problem was alluded to by Einstein when he wrote, “A human being is a part of a whole, called by us the ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
It is bizarre to continue to believe that by an accident of birth we become somehow part of the “chosen people” and that others are somehow inferior. If I belong (accidentally) to the wrong people, then there can be no hope!
The Vedantic teachings of the early Hindus had a vastly different approach. Vedanta is based on two simple propositions:
1. Human nature is divine.
2. The aim of human life is to realize that human nature is divine.
Such a teaching is far removed from the concept of “original sin” and all the trappings of guilt that come with it.
In essence it is a similar message to that propagated by Anthony De Mello in Awareness. De Mello said, “Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing we call human existence.”
And further, “In that sense spirituality is the most practical thing in the whole wide world. I challenge anyone to think of anything more practical than spirituality as I have defined it – not piety, not devotion, not religion, not worship but spirituality – waking up, waking up!”
My good friend Dr Phil Harker says that the basis of the human dilemma is the fact that we identify with what we are aware of, that we erroneously believe constitutes who we are, viz: our body and our mind. We fail to understand that who we really are is that which is aware of these things (sometimes called by the eastern traditions “the Witness”) At the level of the Witness, we all are One. (See previous blogs.)
One of the founders of Quantum Mechanics, Nobel prizewinner Erwin Schrodinger wrote, “The overall number of minds is just one. I venture to call it indestructible since it has a peculiar timetable, namely mind is always now. We do not belong to this material world that science constructs for us. We are not in it; we are outside. We are only spectators. The reason why we believe we are in it, that we belong to the picture, is that our bodies are in the picture.”
So for me, that is the basis for hope. When we truly understand who we are, there is nothing to be afraid of. When we truly understand who we are, there is no separateness, only love. So it is my hope that more and more might wake up to this realisation that has been known to the mystics for millennia and reinforced by the understandings of some of our most eminent scientific minds. When you awaken to this awareness you will come to know as De Mello did, that despite how the world might sometimes appear, “All is Well!”
(I would remind readers there are a number of parables concerning this issue in my book Augustus Finds Serenity. If you would like a copy just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org )