Pigrim, What Calls You?
Originally printed in the January - February 2003 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Ravindra, Ravi. "Pigrim, What Calls You? (Part 1)." Quest 91.1 (JANUARY - FEBRUARY 2003):16-25.
By Ravi Ravindra
Hear my prayer, O Lord;
to my cry give ear;
to my weeping be not deaf!
For I am but a wayfarer before you,
a pilgrim like all my fathers.
In a generous comment on my book The Yoga of the Christ, the justly highly regarded comparative religionist, Huston Smith, hailed it as a landmark in interfaith dialogue. However, I have become increasingly uneasy about this comment because I do not believe that I was engaging in interfaith dialogue in that book or in any of my other writings or talks. I have wished to engage in what may be called an interpilgrim dialogue. In my judgment, there is something wrong with interfaith dialogues. When the East-West or interfaith dialogues are too much bound by the past, the dynamic nature of cultures and religions, and above all of human beings cannot be appreciated.
If one has never met someone from another culture or religion, interfaith or interculturalconversation is obviously a good idea. But I wish to suggest as strongly as I can that interfaith dialogues are at best a preliminary stage of human-to-human dialogue and can even be an impediment to a deeper understanding. A dialogue of cultures and worldviews, in which the parties involved declare their adherence to one or another faith or culture, can freeze the way the adherents talk and think and thus prevent real dialogue. In fact, cultures and religions are alive and dynamic and are undergoing large and serious transformations right now.
An interpilgrim dialogue, which is of necessity somewhat transcultural, transreligious andtransdisciplinary, is needed to move into a future of a larger comprehension. We don't need to stunt the growth or prevent a radical reformulation of the traditions by insisting that everyone declare their adherence to one or another version of the past. Every major spiritual teacher, especially the really revolutionary ones like the Buddha and Krishna and the Christ, has pointed out both the great call to what is new and fresh in the subtle core of the traditions as well as their betrayal (a word which ironically comes from the same root as tradition) of the real living heart of the Sacred. To fix the other or myself in some past mold and thus to deny the possibility of a wholly unexpected radical transformation is surely a sin against the Holy Spirit: treating the other as an object rather than a person, an it rather than a Thou.
These days when I visit my family in the city of Chandigarh in India, almost everyone I meet hasa friend or a relative who has been to a Western country. Dialogue of worldviews is not merely an academic matter for discussion in learned assemblies. When people brought up in very different cultures, with different religious and musical backgrounds, whisper to each other sweet nothings in intimate embraces, much nonverbal and direct dialogue of worldviews takes place. A great deal of such dialogue is now going on, especially in large urban centers all over the globe.
The products of such dialogues include scholarly cross-cultural and comparative studies of manykinds, as well as literature, films, theater, and music that are not bound by one geographical ornational boundary or influence. Above all, an increasing number of children of combined ethnic and cultural parentage, often highly beautiful and intelligent, are by their very existence culture jammers and embodiments of worldviews in dialogue.
Culture is not imbibed only from books. The festivals celebrated in one's family, the music in the background, the myths and legends, the food one eats, and much more, all embody a culture. The musical dialogues between Yehudi Menhuin and Ravi Shankara, and the attempts of Peter Brook to portray the intricacies of the Mahabharata in theater are examples of the results of exchanges between cultures. These days, the Governor General of Canada is a woman of Chinese origin; and the premier of the Province of British Columbia last year was an immigrant from Punjab. A couple of years ago, it was amusing to see in the financial section of a Canadian newspaper a photograph of the CEOs of two large airlines that were proposing a merger, United Airlines and U.S. Air. Both the CEOs were of Indian origin. All these people are engaged in a dialogue of worldviews, not necessarily under such a label, but in their daily activities. More and more, people from quite different cultural backgrounds are interacting, not necessarily in self-conscious dialogue, but dialogue takes place.
I myself have now lived longer in the Western world than in India. For many years now I havethought and expressed myself in a Western language. Also for years I was trained in physics, which surely has been the Western yoga of knowledge par excellence, and I am married into Christianity and the Western culture. I occasionally ask my friends, or organizers of the symposia to which I am sometimes invited to represent the East, What makes me an Easterner? I am happy enough to be an Indian or an Easterner, but what makes me an Easterner? Place of birth? Skin color? Certain philosophical or religious inclinations? Because I am a Hindu I can happily embrace both the Christ and the Buddha, just as anyone can appreciate and love the great creative contributions of Albert Einstein or Dogen Zenzi without having to be a Swiss Jew or a Japanese.
I am also the father of children nourished by two great cultures, they are double breeds. They willy-nilly carry on a dialogue of worldviews in the cells of their bodies. They, and so many of their friends, who are in and out of our home, are more and more transnational and transcultural in their attitudes, tastes, and perspectives. They are not convinced of any need to deny the great wisdom and practices of other religions because of an adherence to the exclusive dogma of a particular religion. They can take delight in and be nourished by not only the two cultures of their parents but even others because they are not wholly hemmed in by the conditioning of one particular culture. Freedom of movement from one position to another and from one language to another germinates the seeds of delight, a taste of Brahman, the Vastness. A lack of mobility, a sense of being constrained and constricted, is how Dante conveys the notion of hell. On the other side, the higher the heaven, the more freedom of movement; the higher the angels, the more wings they have so that they can fly with more mobility and felicity.
Juxtaposition without Conquest
One of the outstanding features of our age since the Second World War is that now a juxtaposition of two major cultures or worldviews does not necessarily mean that one of them has to be the victor and the other the vanquished. This is one of the important features of postmodernism in the West. The modernist project in the West, dearly beloved and strenuously pursued during the period from the European Renaissance to the Holocaust in Nazi Germany and the Atomic incineration in Japan, was predicated on many assumptions and attitudes. Among these was the assumption, very much supported both by the Western intellectual tradition and by the major Western religion, that there is one expression of and one way to truth and that the West has it, religiously in the form of Christianity and epistemologically in the form of modern science.Since World War II, it has been difficult for the Western intelligentsia to hold this view seriously. It may still energize mass psychology, but most intellectuals no longer subscribe to it, certainly not as strongly as they used to.
In liberal scientific circles, it is fashionable now to acknowledge other ways of knowing; and in liberal Christian circles the official Church dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus est (outside the Church there is no salvation) creates various degrees of embarrassment and is often denied and downplayed. Vatican II especially prompted many Roman Catholics to adopt liberal interpretations about the value of other religions, even going so far as to suggest that other religions may lead to salvation. But to the dismay of these Catholics, who cannot quite persuade themselves that the Buddha has less probability of going to heaven than the members of the Mafia, most of whom have been baptized in the Catholic faith, the Vatican periodically swats down such fantasies.
There are several reasons for this massive shift in attitude, some of which are consequences ofinherent elements in the two Western institutions mentioned above, namely, science and Christianity.The amazing acceleration and increase in the means of transportation and communication brought aboutby modern science and technology has resulted in a large number of people from different cultures interacting with people from other cultures, businessmen, students, teachers, volunteers, immigrants, tourists, and scholars.
Christianity has also contributed to the major attitudinal difference, albeit unintentionally.Although very much an Asian religion in its origins, Christianity for the last sixteen hundred years has been associated primarily with Western culture. The conversion of Emperor Constantine in the fourth century made Christianity very much an imperial religion. All the major Christian doctrines were established by the first seven Councils, which were all convened by imperial initiative. The association of Christianity with European centers of power, including colonial power, has continued for so long that a deep Eurocentricism and sense of superiority adhere to Christian dogma and practice.
The conviction that no one can be saved without conversion to Christianity led to an extensivemissionary program elsewhere in the world. And the resulting conversions, especially in societieswhere high birth rates prevail, have shifted the religious demographics. Until 1920, more than 80percent of all Christians in the world were of European descent. Since 1980, however, the majorityof Christians in the world are of non-European descent, and a great many of them now live in cultures where they are a religious minority. That fact, coupled with a general decline of European colonialism, has activated a dialogue of worldviews. About a decade ago, the World Council of [Christian] Churches was meeting in British Columbia, Canada. A television report on one of their open meetings was a particularly colorful spectacle, much of the color being in the delegates present there from various ethnic groups.
Nevertheless, Eurocentricism and the associated sense of superiority of the European races andculture, which have very much colored Christian doctrine, have not yet been erased by the shift inreligious demographics. The late Paulos Mar Gregorios, who was the Metropolitan of the Syrian OrthodoxChurch in Delhi, told me of an incident that illustrates this fact. Metropolitan Gregorios was a man of much substance: in addition to his religious qualifications, he was a distinguished scholar. At one time he was the President of the Indian Philosophical Congress. He was also for some time the President of the World Council of Churches. In the latter capacity, he had an audience with the present Pope at the Vatican.
In the course of that audience, Metropolitan Gregorios asked the Pope what he thought was the reason for only a small percentage of Indians having converted to Christianity although it had been in India for such a long time. The Pope told him the reason was that the Indian mind was not developed enough to understand the subtlety of thought of St. Gregory of Nyssa or of St. Thomas Aquinas. Somewhat taken aback, Metropolitan Gregorios asked the Pope if he had read Shankara or Nagarjuna. He was immediately shown out of the audience room. I found the incident amusing and not surprising, but Gregorios had been much saddened by it, for the issue was more personal for him. As he said, he realized for the first time that every Indian Christian is considered to be a second-class Christian in the Vatican. This was even more galling for him because he belonged to a branch of Christianity as ancient as any other.
In due course, all this is bound to change. However strongly entrenched, such attitudes hardlyrepresent the best of Christianity. Non-Western cultures of the world have brought forth or fosteredquite distinct sorts of Christian understanding. Some people, such as Father Bede Griffiths, have setup Christian ashrams in India, where they have tried to incorporate many distinctly Indian ceremonies and rituals. Many others have learned meditation in the context of Hinduism or Buddhism and have set up Christian ashrams in the West. However, the needed transformations are much deeper than these. What is needed is an interpilgrim dialogue, n which the pilgrims do not already know what God is and what Truth is, but are searching, rather than interfaith dialogues, in which some past councils or texts have already established the creeds and the dogmas one must believe and it does not matter what one's experience actually teaches.
We are, each one of us, on a journey, a journey without end, with a longing for the Infinite. Someof us wish to speak from a pilgrim soul to another pilgrim soul. What is a pilgrim soul? It is a soul that says, not yet. There is a certain restlessness, a willingness to put up with some discomfort, a hunger for the unknown, an inquiry, no fixed positions, a reverence for the journey, a willingness to be surprised. A pilgrim is a student, a searcher, a sojourner here below, a wanderer, not quite satisfied with anything except the Infinite.
Shadows of the Sun
As long as we speak in terms of defined identities and engage in interfaith or interculturaldialogues, we add to the entrenchment of the faiths and traditions of the past and interfere with their dynamic transformations, which alone bespeak the life and vitality of the traditions. An illustration of two very subtle insights, one from India and the other from the Biblical tradition, indicate how a nonexperiential dogmatic adherence to past formulations of these insights, possibly their highest insights, have produced shadows.
Indian sages have insisted on the oneness of all there is. This is one of the fundamental truths ofthe Sanatana Dharma (a label for the Indian tradition from the Rig Veda through Gautama Buddha, Mahavira, Nagarjuna, Shankara, Kabir, Nanak, and Ramakrishna to Ramana in our own times). Sometimes this insight is expressed in a stark and transpersonal manner, such as Shankara's realization that all is Brahman and therefore Brahman satya jagat mithya(Brahman is truth, and the world, if seen apart from it, is false). Sometimes it is expressed in more personal terms, such as by the Bhagavad Gita, which affirms that all there is, is Krishna. In spite of differences in the formulations over several thousand years, the degree to which this essential truth is realized and embodied marks the largeness of being and wisdom of a sage.
On the other hand, attachment to an exclusive traditional formulation of this vision of Oneness haslimited the recognition of the uniqueness of each individual manifestation. The Indian mind's abstractcommitment to the essential unity of all religions has often prevented a detailed study and enjoymentof the wondrous and quite remarkably different manifestations of various religions. Well-meaning liberalHindus often claim that Christianity is the same as the Bhaktimarga or Path of Devotion of Hinduism and leads to the same truth. A practical consequence is that very few Hindus have ever made a detailed and serious study of Christianity or of any other religion. There are happy exceptions, but very few in the long history of the encounter of India with non-Indian religions.
Can a person, or a religion or a culture, be satisfied and feel acknowledged, if they are told that they are all essentially Divine, or lead to Divinity, and that therefore there is no need to engage with their particularity? An analogy in the Chandogya Upanishad (6.1.4), much quoted and admired by the Vedantists, says that clay alone is real, whereas its modifications are only names arising from speech. However true this statement may be at the mountain peak of consciousness, a vantage point achieved by very few persons in human history, here below it can become a facile and destructive dismissal of all art, uniqueness, and individuality. Is an exquisite Chinese vase the same as a lump of clay?
Turning to the Biblical traditions, we hear the very subtle and powerful enunciation of monotheism in the Jewish Shema: Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might. (Deuteronomy 6.4 -5). This proclamation has had an enormous impact on Christianity and Islam as well. Monotheism is often considered by pious people and scholars in the West to be the acme of religious understanding. But no other religious notion has had a more pernicious consequence in creating bigotry and fanaticism than monotheism. Monotheism has resulted everywhere in My-theism, leading to warfare against other people's religious forms. No one would say, There is one God, and it is not my God but yours.The late Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz once said:
We owe to monotheism many marvelous things, from cathedrals to mosques. But we also owe to it hatred and oppression. The roots of the worst sins of Western civilizationâ€”the Crusades, colonialism, totalitarianismâ€”can be traced to the monotheistic mindset. For a pagan, it was rather absurd that one people and one faith could monopolize the truth. [Cited by Samuel Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order]
Octavio Paz served as Mexican ambassador to India in the 1960s, an experience he regarded as highlysignificant in both his life and his work, as witnessed by books written as a result of his stay in India, especially the collection of poems Ladera Este Eastern Slope(1969) and the prose-poem El mono gramtico. The Monkey Grammarian, (in which the monkey is the Hindu god Hanuman, 1974). He could not, therefore, be unmindful of the fact that beautiful sacred buildings are not exclusively related to monotheism, witness the marvelous temples of the polytheistic and transtheistic Hindus and Buddhists. Many of these temples were destroyed by the monotheistic fervor that views every other religion's sacred images and buildings with lack of respect or even hatred.
The subtle insistence that the Ultimate cannot be captured in any image or form cannot be sustained by a mind unprepared to live without crutches of form, color, name, beliefs, and dogmas of faith. Every religion has idols; it is only other peoples' idols that monotheists find troublesome, not their own. All scriptures, theologies, and liturgies, no less than images and idols, are particular expressions of religious understandings. Mental idols are more pernicious than idols made of wood or stone because they cannot be so easily seen or seen through. Wilfred Cantwell Smith (with whom I was privileged to teach a course called Religions of India many years ago) has observed, For Christians to think that Christianity is true, or final, or salvific, is a form of idolatry. And he concludes:
In comparative perspective, one sees that idolatry is not a notion that clarifies other religious practices or other outlooks than one's own; yet it can indeed clarify with some exactitude one's own religious stance, if one has previously been victim of the misapprehension that the divine is to be fully identified with or within one's own forms. Christians have been wrong in thinking that Hindus are formally idolaters. We would do well, on the other hand, to recognize that we Christians have substantially been idolaters, insofar as we have mistaken for God, or as universally final, the particular forms of Christian life or thought.
Christianity, for some, Christian theology, has been our idol.
It has had both the spiritual efficacy of idols in the good sense, and serious limitations of idolatry in the bad sense.
If we keep hanging on to faith frozen in some past formulations, we certainly make them into idols in the pejorative sense of the word. Then it is difficult to see how one would reconcile the Indian insistence on the oneness of all there is with the uniqueness of each manifestation, or the Biblical clarity of knowing that the Ultimate is beyond any forms whatsoever with the generosity that sees the Divine in all forms and celebrates image making as an aid to seeing the Divine.
Interpilgrim exchanges are different by nature. Much can be exchanged on the mountain slope when one meets pilgrims coming from different directions and pauses with them for refreshment and to learn of the dangers on the journey ahead. Only the actual voyagers on spiritual paths, the true sages and saints in all the traditions, simultaneously experience the oneness of all and the uniqueness of each creature. They stress the ineffability of what they have experienced on the mountain peak while being grateful for all the images, forms, icons, scriptures, prayers, and rosaries they used as helpful aids on their journeys.
One may wonder if future pilgrims nourished in the global culture will still feel constrained to label themselves as Hindus or Christians. Even if they do, they will be Hindus and Christians of very different sorts from the ones in the past. Lest we should think this is all too romantic, we have already had models of such great beings (mahatmas) with large perspectives: J. Krishnamurti, Sri Aurobindo, Thomas Merton, Father Thomas Berry, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, to name only a few.
Roaming in many landscapes, physical and cultural, one can gather much insight. As a young man I was a member of the Youth Hostels Association of India. Their motto used to be, and I imagine it still is, charan vai madhu vindati, wandering, one gathers honey. Only recently with delight I reencountered this motto in its source, the Aitareya Brahmana (7.15.5). I would have thought that Huston Smith himself, nourished by the wisdom of many great traditions, is one such model.
Looking at Ganga and Jordan from an Airplane
We can count on, or at least hope, that the holdback religions and faiths will give way to worldspirituality and world theology. My writings are occasionally criticized by reviewers who are offended by what they regard to be spilling Ganges water into the Jordan. It is certainly true that my eyes have been affected by the light reflected from the Ganga. It is also true that the world I live in now and most of the people I encounter have been more influenced by teachings either spoken loudly or whispered on the banks of the Jordan. If the ancient texts are going to have contemporary relevance, both the Ganga and the Jordan will have to be kept simultaneously in view. I could not have arrived where I am now without flying over many rivers, including the Ganga and the Jordan. A view from an airplane surely does reveal different aspects of our planet than does the view from a camel by the Jordan or from a bullock cart by the Ganga.
It surprises me that so many people who are convinced of the universal and objective nature ofscientific knowledge work so diligently to find in the latest discoveries of the sciences an exclusive vindication of statements in the Vedas or in the Quran or of dogmas accepted by the Church Councils at some stage in history. That we are Hindus or Muslims or Christians largely depends on where we happened to have been born. It is extremely difficult to believe that truth suddenly changes across a border defined by a river or a mountain range corresponding to political boundaries of past or present empires.
I do not have any rigorous data about this, but I imagine that easily 98 percent or even more peoplein the world sooner or later, especially at the time of marriages or funerals, revert to the ceremonies and the rituals of the religion that they inherited from their forefathers, with minor variations on the theme. This is quite understandable, for, just like ordinary language, much of our emotional-religious language is acquired in early childhood and we make sense of deeper religious aspirations with the aid of these acquired categories of feeling and thought. It is very likely that people who vehemently adhere to one creed or dogma would equally vehemently adhere to another if they had been born in another religious context. The recognition that others exist as thinking, feeling, and autonomous beings who are sometimes engaged with ultimate concerns is a step toward freedom from self-occupation and self-importance, a step of crucial import in spiritual awakening.
Attunement to the spiritual dimension is surely an attunement to a quality of vibration, notexclusively to a particular form of the instrument producing the vibration. It has not been easyfor some to accept that one can have a transfusion of blood from those whose skin color is different from their own. It is much harder to allow the possibility of spiritual nourishment coming from different religious and racial skins. In my own case, I was born a Hindu. There is much that is good and wise in the Hindu tradition. I am certain I could have been dealt a worse heritage. But the Hindus do not have and cannot have a monopoly on Truth or Wisdom or Insight.
One wishes and strives to grow up, part of which is developing a connection with a level ofunitive consciousness indicated quite simply by Maharishi Ramana's statement, There are no others. This does not mean eliminating others in self-occupation, but seeing through the otherness in an integrative perception. It will sadden me if I am merely a Hindu at my death, restricted to my own selfhood defined by contingencies of history or geography. The past is always with us and in us, but future vision needs to be based on some ability to fly with freedom from the past. The more one belongs to God, the less likely one is to belong exclusively to one religion and to claim its monopoly for access to the Ultimate.
"Sir," answered the woman, "I can see you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you people claim that Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship God." Jesus told her, "Believe me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. . . . Yet an hour is coming, and is already here, when those who are real worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth. Indeed, it is just such worshippers the Father seeks. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth." (John 4.19 -24).
In spiritual matters, what is most relevant is how the quality of a person is affected by whatevertheology or philosophy or ritual the person finds helpful. The person, whether oneself or others, cannot be left out of these concerns. Interfaith dialogues are good and possibly helpful, interpilgrim dialogues are likely to be much more fruitful. We need to be careful not to freeze faiths and the faithful by engaging in dialogues that are really simultaneous monologues. Surely the important thing is to see and relate to the person behind the faith. It is not that they are Jews and we are Jains, it is more that some of us have a Jewish background and others of us have a Jain background. At our best, we would wish to be related to the Ultimate or to God, who all our sages say is neither Jewish nor Jain. If we are permanently restricted to relate to each other only as a Jew to a Jain or a Hindu to a Christian, and not as a person to a person, can we ever relate as a person to the Person?
When religions do their job by insisting on the primacy of the person over any system, theological, metaphysical, economic, or political, they are naturally occupied with the cultivation of wise and compassionate people. When such people engage in science, or any other activity, they are naturally concerned for the welfare of all beings, including the earth, not only as generalizations, but also in concrete relationships. As we draw inspiration and instruction from the wise sages and prophets of the past, we will be occupied not only with our personal salvation, but also with the enlightenment of those who will welcome the dawn with song when we are no longer here.
The development of a comprehensive person, one who is closer and closer to the First PersonUniversal, less as I am this or I am that and more as I AM, is a calling of all religions. The purpose of that development is that we can awaken from the dead, as St. Paul beautifully said (Ephesians 4.13), to â€œmature manhood, measured by nothing less than the full stature of Christ.
Dogmatic churches and institutions have, however, a strong hold and much vested interest in preventing a free flow of ideas. My book The Yoga of the Christ was published initially in 1990. It was a loving look at the Gospel according to St. John, and somewhat to my surprise it was translated into several languages. In the process of publishing it in Greek, I had such a pitiful request from the Greek publisher in Athens to allow him to change the title, for as he said, â€œThe Orthodox Church will have our publishing house burned down if we published a book with a title containing both Yoga and Christ.
There are signs everywhere of pilgrims on the spiritual paths, and even whole cultures, findingsomething of value in the other, not only because the other is much like us in many ways, butprecisely because the other is different from us, a unique manifestation of the Spirit, and cantherefore teach us perspectives that have been excluded by our specific cultural conditioning. At a cultural level, the turning of the East to the West has been going on for some time and hardly needs to be documented. But there is also a serious turning of the West to the East, felicitously expressed in the title of a book by Harvey Cox, Turning East: The promise and Peril or the New Orientalism.
I can give an example from a personal experience. In 1963, while a graduate student in physics at the University of Toronto, I was involved with a few friends in organizing a symposium on various aspects of religion. We had many well-known scholars, some of whom, such as Marshall McLuhan, Northrop Fry, and Emile Fackenheim, later became great luminaries in their fields. Given our limited budget, we could not invite speakers from outside the Toronto-Boston-Montreal zone. However, that is not a negligible region from the point of view of intellectual competence. But we could not find anyone willing and able to speak about mysticism.
At that time, it was very difficult to find in bookstores anything about or by any of the many verygreat mystics in Christianity, not to speak of other religions. A minister of one of the large Protestant sects in Toronto even went so far as to say, â€œMysticism has nothing to do with Christianity.â€ When I had the temerity to mention the names of St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avilla, Meister Eckhart, and several others, he blurted out something which he immediately wished to retract, If mysticism exists in Christianity, it is just a Catholic heresy. Nowadays, one cannot go to any religion-oriented bookstore in Toronto or any other city in the Western world, including even the small bookstore in the basement of the church whose minister had offered the above insight, that is not chock-full of books on mystics and mysticism. There has been a marked shift in interest towards inner spiritual experiences. In the process, no doubt aided by the exposure of some Western pilgrims to the Eastern traditions, there has been a joyous discovery or rediscovery of the inner dimensions of Christianity.
The purpose of all spiritual discipline, which are not the same as religions, is to relateus to the spiritual (which is to say supramaterial and supramental) dimensions. This tuning into thesubtler dimensions is possible only by cleansing our ordinary perceptions and by quieting the mind. The requirement of meditation, as well as of any serious prayer, is to be present with stillness and a silence of the body, mind, and the emotions, so that one might hear a rose petal fall, the sound of the thoughts arising, and the silence between thoughts. The arising of thoughts and emotions is a part of the play of Nature, and watching this play with complete equanimity, without being disturbed, belongs to the Spirit. Alert without agitation, a centered self without being self-centered, a sage does nothing, nothing of his own or for himself, but everything is accomplished. As Christ said, â€œI am not myself the source of the words I speak: it is the Father who dwells in me doing His own work (John 14.10).
The core of all spiritual practice is freedom from the selfish, isolated, and isolating ego so thatone can see more and more clearly and be related with all more and more lovingly and selflessly. Therecan be no significance to insight, wisdom, or truth unless it expresses itself in love and compassion.The sages in all the great traditions have said, in myriad ways, that Love is a fundamental quality ofthe cosmos. Not only a quality but a basic constituent of Ultimate Reality. The Rig Veda (10.129.4) says, In the beginning arose Love. And the New Testament affirms, God is love, and he who abides in loveabides in God, and God in him (1 John 4.16). The search for this great Love at the very heart of the cosmos is both the beginning and the end of the spiritual paths, expressed as service, mercy, and compassionâ€”and ultimately as oneness with all other beings. In the very last canto of the Paradisio in the Divine Comedy, Dante expresses his vision of the highest heaven:
There my will and desire
Were one with Love;
The love that moves
The sun and the other stars.
The great traditions, in wondrously different ways, have maintained that the Highest Reality, variously labeled God, First principle, Original Mind, Brahman (literally, The Vastness), or simply That is Truth and is Love. In our own days, Mahatma Gandhi maintained, almost like a practical spiritual equation, less to be preached and more to be lived, that God = Truth = Love. The Theologia Germanica (chapter 31) says, As God is simple goodness, inner knowledge, and light, he is at the same time also our will, love, righteousness, and truth, the innermost of all virtues.
The realization of this truth, vouchsafed to the most insightful sages in all lands and cultures, isnot something that can be abstracted, bracketed, or packaged. This insight needs to be continuallyregained, lived, and celebrated. Only when and wherever this realization is made concrete, is therean abundant life of the Spirit. Spiritual disciplines are all concerned with integration andwholenessâ€”above all with the integration of Truth and Love. Love is required to know Truth,and knowledge of Truth is expressed by Love. The knower of truth loves me ardently, says Krishna inthe Bhagavad Gita (7.17), but also, Only through constant love can I be known and seen as I really am, and entered into (11.54). I believe it was Meister Eckhart who said, What we receive in contemplation, we give out in love. A more contemporary remark is by Archimandrite Vasileios of Mount Athos (26): For if our truth is not revealed in love, then it is false. And if our love does not flow from the truth, then it is not lasting.
Of course, the search for Love can become merely a personal wish for comfort and security, just as the search for Truth can become largely a technological manipulation of nature in the service of the military or of industry, of fear and greed. Whenever Truth and Love are separated from each other, the result is sentimentality or dry intellectualism in which knowledge is divorced from compassion. Partiality always carries seeds of violence and fear in it. Thus in the name of our loving God many people have been killed, just as many destructive weapons have been developed by a commitment to pure knowledge. But such is not the best of humanity, in science or in religion. Integrated human beings in every culture and in every age have searched for both Truth and Love, insight and responsibility, wisdom and compassion. Above the mind, the soul seeks the whole and is thus able to connect with wisdom and compassion.
Let Us Not Conclude
Truth in Vastness is beyond all formulations and forms. In being alive to the search, we are alive.Openness to the Sacred always calls for sacrifice, primarily of one's smallness, which is buttressed byan exclusive identification with a particular religion or nation or creed. A person who occupies neither this place nor that, physically or intellectually, may be uneasy, but that is the price of being free and in movement.
The only needed realization is that there is a subtle world and that I am seen from that world. My existence now, here, is in the light of the subtler world. To realize the presence of the subtle world and to live in the light of that vision requires a continual impartial revisiting of oneself, which in its turn requires a sacrificing of self-occupation. What is needed is the bringing of the religious mind (which is by definition quiet, compassionate, comprehensive, and innocent) to bear not only on science, but also on technology, arts, government, education, and all other affairs.
The religious mind, which is the mind that is suffused with a sense of the Sacred, is cultivated in an individual soul. It is not a matter of bringing together knowledge systems or abstractions, such as science and religion. What is needed is the cultivation of a religious mind. Without a transformation in the quality of the academic mind, the same old parochial and fragmented mind will write histories and commentaries in the science-religion arena rather than on other subjects. A transformation of the inquirers is needed. Unless the researchers are transformed, not much will be gained by a change in the field of their inquiries.
The new paradigm is always the perennial one. It is possible to have a level of consciousness-conscience that sees the uniqueness of each being as well as each being's oneness with the All. This is largely a matter of metaphysical and spiritual transformation, which requires an on-going sacrificing of one's smallness, even more in the heart than in the mind. The new forms will naturally be different. Truth has no history; expressions of Truth do. The new dawn, when we will no longer be there to look at it with the usual eyes, will bring a new song and a new word. But the Essential Word shall abide, often heard in the silence between words.
|Gallagher.Turning East: The Promise and Peril of the New Orientalism. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977.
|Samuel P. In a Global Viewpoint, interview by Nathan Gardels,
|Ravi. The Yoga of the Christ. Shaftesbury, Dorset: ElementBooks, 1990. Reissued as Christ the Yogi: A Hindu Reflection on the Gospel of John. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1998.
|Wilfred Cantwell. â€œIdolatry in Comparative Perspective.â€ In The Myth of Christian Uniqueness, ed. John Hick and Paul F. Knitter, 553 -68. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1987.
|of Stavronikita, Archimandrite. Hymn of Entry: Liturgy and Life in the Orthodox Church. Trans. Elizabeth Briere. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984.
Ravi Ravindra, Professor Emeritus at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, is the authorof numerous books, including The Yoga of the Christ, which has been translated into many languages and reprinted under the misleading title of Christ the Yogi: A Hindu Reflection on the Gospel of John,. He is a much sought-after speaker at international conferences.