Category Archives: Religion

Meaning in History (Judaism)

Reference: Judaism
Reference: The World’s Religions by Huston Smith

[NOTE: In color are Vinaire’s comments.]

Judaism focused on evolution in this world from a historical perspective; while, Hinduism focused on spiritual evolution from the perspective of infinity.

Let us begin with a contrast. “According to most classical philosophies and religions,” a historian writes, “ultimate reality is disclosed when man, either by rational contemplation or mystic ascent, goes beyond the flow of events which we call ‘history.’ The goal is the apprehension of an order of reality unaffected by the unpredictable fortunes of mankind. In Hinduism, for instance, the world of sense experience is regarded as maya, illusion; the religious man, therefore, seeks release from the wheel of life in order that his individuality may fade out into the World-Soul, Brahma. Or, Greek philosophers looked upon the world as a natural process which, like the rotation of the seasons, always follows the same rational scheme. The philosopher, however, could soar above the recurring cycles of history by fixing his mind upon the unchanging absolute which belongs to the eternal order. Both of these views are vastly different from the Biblical claim that God is found within the limitations of the world of change and struggle, and especially that he reveals himself in events which are unique, particular, and unrepeatable. For the Bible, history is neither maya nor a circular process of nature; it is the arena of God’s purposive activity.”

For the Bible, history is neither maya nor a circular process of nature; it is the arena of God’s purposive activity.”

What is at stake when we ask if there is meaning in history? At stake is our whole attitude toward the social order and collective life within it. If we decide that history is meaningless, it follows that the social, political, and cultural contexts of life do not warrant active concern. Life’s pivotal problems will be judged to lie elsewhere, in the extent to which we can rise above circumstances and triumph over them. To the extent that we see things this way, we shall take little interest in, and feel little responsibility for, the problems that beset societies, cultures, and civilizations. 

If we decide that history is meaningless, it follows that the social, political, and cultural contexts of life do not warrant active concern.

The Hebrew estimate of history was the exact opposite of this attitude of indifference. To the Jews history was of towering significance. It was important, first, because they were convinced that the context in which life is lived affects that life in every way, setting up its problems, delineating its opportunities, conditioning its outcomes. It is impossible to talk about Adam and Noah (the same may be said of every major biblical character) apart from the particular circumstances—in this case Eden and the Flood—that enveloped them and in response to which their lives took form. The events the Hebrew Bible relates are profoundly contextual. 

To the Jews history was of towering significance. The events the Hebrew Bible relates are profoundly contextual. 

Second, if contexts are crucial for life, so is collective action; social action as we usually call it. There are times when the only way to get things changed is by working together—planning, organizing, and then acting in concert. The destiny of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt is not depicted as depending on the extent to which they individually “rose above” their slavery by cultivating a liberty of spirit that could tolerate physical chains. They needed to stand up collectively and break for the desert. 

If contexts are crucial for life, so is collective or social action. The way to get things changed is by working together.

Third, history was important for the Jews because they saw it as a field of opportunity. As it was ruled by God—the “theater of God’s glory,” John Calvin claimed, extrapolating from this Old Testament base—nothing in history happens accidentally. Yahweh’s hand was at work in every event—in Eden, the Flood, the Exodus, the Babylonian Exile—shaping each sequence into a teaching experience for his people.

History was important for the Jews because they saw it as a field of opportunity—nothing in history happens accidentally. 

Finally, history was important because life’s opportunities are not monotonously alike. Events, all of them important, are not equally important. It is not the case that anyone, anywhere and at any time, can turn to history and find awaiting an opportunity equivalent to all others in time and place. Each opportunity is unique, but some are decisive: “There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” History must, therefore, be attended to carefully, for when opportunities pass they are gone forever. 

Judaism takes a closer and detailed view of life compared to Hinduism; which takes a universal and broad view. Both views are important.

This uniqueness of events is epitomized in the Hebrew notions (a) of God’s direct intervention in history at certain critical points, and (b) of a chosen people as recipients of God’s unique challenges. Both are vividly illustrated in the epic of Abraham. This epic is introduced by a remarkable prologue, Genesis 1–11, which describes the steady deterioration of the world from its original, pristine goodness. Disobedience (eating the forbidden fruit) is followed by murder (Cain of Abel), promiscuity (the sons of God and the daughters of men), incest (the sons of Noah), until a flood is needed to sluice out the mess. In the midst of the corruption, God is not inactive. Against its backdrop, in the last days of the Sumeric universal state, God calls Abraham. He is to go forth into a new land to establish a new people. The moment is decisive. Because Abraham answers its call, he ceases to be anonymous. He becomes the first Hebrew, the first of a “chosen people.” 

The idea that the world steadily deteriorated from its original, pristine goodness is arbitrary and unsustainable. We seem to be looking at an evolution from animal state of programmed reaction to human state of thinking with its unique set of problems.

We shall need to return to this “chosen people” theme, but for the present we must ask what gave the Jews their insight into history’s significance. We have noted the kind of meaning they found in history. What enabled them to see history as embodying this meaning? 

For India, human destiny lies outside history altogether. There the world that houses humanity is (as we have seen) the “middle world.” Good and evil, pleasure and pain, right and wrong are woven into it in relatively equal proportions as its warp and weft. And so things will remain. All thought of cleaning up the world and changing its character appreciably is mistaken in principle. The nature religions of Israel’s neighbors reached the same conclusion by a different route. For them, human destiny lay within history all right, but in history as currently constituted, not as it might become. We can see why change—specifically change for the better—did not suggest itself to nature religionists. If one’s eye is on nature preeminently, one does not look beyond it for fulfillment elsewhere. But neither—and this is the point—does one dream of improving nature or the social order that is its extension, for these are assumed to be ingrained in the nature of things and not subject to human alteration. The Egyptian no more asked whether the sun god Ra was shining as he should shine than the modern astronomer asks whether the sun is expending itself at a proper rate; for in nature the accent is on what is, not what should be—the is rather than the ought

For Jews history was significant; whereas, for Hindus human destiny lies outside history altogether. For nature religions, human destiny lay in history as currently constituted, not as it might become. Therefore, change for the better did not suggest itself to nature religionists.

The Israelites’ historical outlook differed from that of India and Middle Eastern polytheism because they had a different idea of God. Had the issue been raised to the level of conscious debate, they would have argued against India that God would not have created people as material beings if matter were adventitious to their destiny. Against the nature polytheists the Jews would have argued that nature is not self-sufficient. Because nature was created by God, God cannot be assimilated to it. The consequence of keeping God and nature distinct is momentous, for it means that the “ought” cannot be assimilated to the “is”—God’s will transcends (and can differ from) immanent actuality. By the double stroke of involving human life with the natural order but not confining it to that order, Judaism established history as both important and subject to critique. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. 

Change for the better was significant for Jews because the material world was intrinsic part of human destiny and nature, by itself, was not self-sufficient.

The nature polytheisms that surrounded Judaism all buttressed the status quo. Conditions might not be all the heart desired, but what impressed the polytheist was that they could be a lot worse. For if the powers of nature reside in many gods—in Mesopotamia their number reached into the thousands—there was always the danger that these gods might fall out among themselves with resulting chaos. So religion’s attention was directed toward keeping things as they were. Egyptian religion repeatedly contrasted “passionate people” to “silent people,” extolling the latter because they didn’t cause trouble. Small wonder that no nature polytheism ever spawned a principled revolution. Traditionally, Indian religion likewise had a conservative cast; for if polytheisms feared change, Hinduism considered substantive social change to be impossible. 

If polytheisms feared change, Hinduism considered substantive social change to be impossible. 

In Judaism, by contrast, history is in tension between its divine possibilities and its manifest frustrations. A sharp tension exists between the ought and the is. Consequently, Judaism laid the groundwork for social protest. When things are not as they should be, change in some form is in order. The idea bore fruit. It is in the lands that have been affected by the Jewish historical perspective, one that influenced Christianity and to some extent Islam, that the chief thrusts for social betterment have occurred. The prophets set the pattern. “Protected by religious sanctions, the prophets of Judah were a reforming political force which has never been surpassed and perhaps never equalled in subsequent world history.” On fire with the conviction that things were not as they should be, they created in the name of the God for whom they spoke an atmosphere of reform that “put Hyde Park and the best days of muckraking newspapers to shame.”

It is in the lands that have been affected by the Jewish historical perspective that the chief thrusts for social betterment have occurred.

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The Way to God through Love (Hinduism)

Reference: Hinduism
Reference: The World’s Religions by Huston Smith

[NOTE: In color are Vinaire’s comments.]

To the bhakta, for whom feelings are more real than thoughts, God appears different.

The yoga of knowledge is said to be the shortest path to divine realization. It is also the steepest. Requiring as it does a rare combination of rationality and spirituality, it is for a select few. 

The yoga of knowledge (jnana yoga) is for a select few. The yoga of love (bhakti yoga) has countless followers.

By and large, life is powered less by reason than by emotion; and of the many emotions that crowd the human heart, the strongest is love. Even hate can be interpreted as a rebound from the thwarting of this impulse. Moreover, people tend to become like that which they love, with its name written on their brows. The aim of bhakti yoga is to direct toward God the love that lies at the base of every heart. “As the waters of the Ganges flow incessantly toward the ocean,” says God in the Bhagavata Purana,, “so do the minds of the bhakta move constantly toward Me, the Supreme Person residing in every heart, immediately they hear about My qualities.” 

The aim of bhakti yoga is to direct toward God the love that lies at the base of every heart.

In contrast to the way of knowledge, bhakti yoga has countless followers, being, indeed, the most popular of the four. Though it originated in antiquity, one of its best-known proponents was a sixteenth-century mystical poet named Tulsidas. During his early married life he was inordinately fond of his wife, to the point that he could not abide her absence even for a day. One day she went to visit her parents. Before the day was half over, Tulsidas turned up at her side, whereupon his wife exclaimed, “How passionately attached to me you are! If only you could shift your attachment to God, you would reach him in no time.” “So I would,” thought Tulsidas. He tried it, and it worked. 

You ultimately reach what you ardently long for.

All the basic principles of bhakti yoga are richly exemplified in Christianity. Indeed, from the Hindu point of view, Christianity is one great brilliantly lit bhakti highway toward God, other paths being not neglected, but less clearly marked. On this path God is conceived differently than in jnana. In jnana yoga the guiding image was of an infinite sea of being underlying the waves of our finite selves. This sea typified the all-pervading Self, which is as much within us as without, and with which we should seek to identify. Thus envisioned, God is impersonal, or rather transpersonal, for personality, being something definite, seems to be finite whereas the jnanic Godhead is infinite. To the bhakti, for whom feelings are more real than thoughts, God appears different on each of these counts. 

In jnana yoga the guiding image is of an infinite sea of being underlying the waves of our finite selves. To the bhakta, for whom feelings are more real than thoughts, God appears different.

First, as healthy love is out-going, the bhakta will reject all suggestions that the God one loves is oneself, even one’s deepest Self, and insist on God’s otherness. As a Hindu devotional classic puts the point, “I want to taste sugar; I don’t want to be sugar.” 

Can water quaff itself?
Can trees taste of the fruit they bear?
He who worships God must stand distinct from Him,
So only shall he know the joyful love of God;
For if he say that God and he are one,
That joy, that love, shall vanish instantly away.
Pray no more for utter oneness with God:
Where were the beauty if jewel and setting were one?
The heat and the shade are two,
If not, where were the comfort of shade?
Mother and child are two,
If not, where were the love?
When after being sundered, they meet,
What joy do they feel, the mother and child!
Where were joy, if the two were one?
Pray, then, no more for utter oneness with God.

In bhakti, God must stand distinct from the worshipper.

Second, being persuaded of God’s otherness, the bhakta’s goal, too, will differ from the jnani’s. The bhakta will strive not to identify with God, but to adore God with every element of his or her being. The words of Bede Frost, though written in another tradition, are directly applicable to this side of Hinduism: “The union is no Pantheist absorption of the man in the one, but is essentially personal in character. More, since it is preeminently a union of love, the kind of knowledge which is required is that of friendship in the very highest sense of the word.” Finally, in such a context God’s personality, far from being a limitation, is indispensable. Philosophers may be able to love pure being, infinite beyond all attributes, but they are exceptions. The normal object of human love is a person who possesses attributes. 

The bhakta will strive not to identify with God, but to adore God with every element of his or her being. The normal object of human love is a person who possesses attributes.

All we have to do in this yoga is to love God dearly—not just claim such love, but love God in fact; love God only (other things being loved in relation to God); and love God for no ulterior reason (not even from the desire for liberation, or to be loved in return) but for love’s sake alone. Insofar as we succeed in this we know joy, for no experience can compare with that of being fully and authentically in love. Moreover, every strengthening of our affections toward God will weaken the world’s grip. Saints may, indeed will, love the world more than do the profane; but they will love it in a very different way, seeing in it the reflected glory of the God they adore. 

In bhakti yoga, one loves God dearly for love’s sake alone. He has no selfish motive of getting something in return.

How is such love to be engendered? Obviously, the task will not be easy. The things of this world clamor for our affection so incessantly that it may be marveled that a Being who can neither be seen nor heard can ever become their rival. 

Enter Hinduism’s myths, her magnificent symbols, her several hundred images of God, her rituals that keep turning night and day like never-ending prayer wheels. Valued as ends in themselves these could, of course, usurp God’s place, but this is not their intent. They are matchmakers whose vocation is to introduce the human heart to what they represent but themselves are not. It is obtuse to confuse Hinduism’s images with idolatry, and their multiplicity with polytheism. They are runways from which the sense-laden human spirit can rise for its “flight of the alone to the Alone.” Even village priests will frequently open their temple ceremonies with the following beloved invocation: 

O Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations:
Thou art everywhere, but I worship you here;
Thou art without form, but I worship you in these forms;
Thou needest no praise, yet I offer you these prayers and salutations.
Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.

It is difficult to love a Being who can neither be seen nor heard. Hinduism, therefore, provides hundreds of myths and images of God. But this is neither idolatry nor polytheism because the bhakta is aware of his limitation in visualizing a God who is omnipresent, without form, and needs no praise.

A symbol such as a multi-armed image, graphically portraying God’s astounding versatility and superhuman might, can epitomize an entire theology. Myths plumb depths that the intellect can see only obliquely. Parables and legends present ideals in ways that make hearers long to embody them—vivid support for Irwin Edman’s contention that “it is a myth, not a mandate, a fable, not a logic by which people are moved.” The value of these things lies in their power to recall our minds from the world’s distractions to the thought of God and God’s love. In singing God’s praises, in praying to God with wholehearted devotion, in meditating on God’s majesty and glory, in reading about God in the scriptures, in regarding the entire universe as God’s handiwork, we move our affections steadily in God’s direction. “Those who meditate on Me and worship Me without any attachment to anything else,” says Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita, “those I soon lift from the ocean of death.” 

Myths plumb depths that the intellect can see only obliquely.

Three features of the bhakta’s approach deserve mention: japam, ringing the changes on love, and the worship of one’s chosen ideal. 

Japam is the practice of repeating God’s name. It finds a Christian parallel in one of the classics of Russian spirituality, The Way of a Pilgrim. This is the story of an unnamed peasant whose first concern is to fulfill the biblical injunction to “pray without ceasing.” Seeking for someone who can explain how it is possible to do this, he wanders through Russia and Siberia with a knapsack of dried bread for food and the charity of locals for shelter, consulting many authorities, only to be disappointed until at last he meets an old man who teaches him “a constant, uninterrupted calling upon the divine Name of Jesus with the lips, in the spirit, in the heart, during every occupation, at all times, in all places, even during sleep.” The pilgrim’s teacher trains him until he can repeat the name of Jesus more than 12,000 times a day without strain. This frequent service of the lips imperceptibly becomes a genuine appeal of the heart. The prayer becomes a constant, warming presence within him that brings a bubbling joy. “Keep the name of the Lord spinning in the midst of all your activities” is a Hindu statement of the same point. Washing or weaving, planting or shopping, imperceptibly but indelibly these verbal droplets of aspiration soak down into the subconscious, loading it with the divine. 

A feature of bhakti yoga is Japam, which is the practice of repeating God’s name. 

Ringing the changes on love puts to religious use the fact that love assumes different nuances according to the relationship involved. The love of the parent for the child carries overtones of protectiveness, whereas a child’s love includes dependence. The love of friends is different from the conjugal love of woman and man. Different still is the love of a devoted servant for its master. Hinduism holds that all of these modes have their place in strengthening the love of God and encourages bhaktas to make use of them all. In practice Christianity does the same. Most frequently it envisions God as benevolent protector, symbolized as lord or parent, but other modes are not absent. “What a Friend we have in Jesus” is a familiar Christian hymn, and “my Master and my Friend” figures prominently in another Christian favorite. God figures as spouse in the Song of Songs and in Christian mystical writings where the marriage of the soul to Christ is a standing metaphor. The attitude of regarding God as one’s child sounds somewhat foreign to Western ears, yet much of the magic of Christmas derives from this being the one time in the year when God enters the heart as a child, eliciting thereby the tenderness of the parental instinct. 

Another feature is love assuming different nuances according to the relationship involved. 

We come finally to the worship of God in the form of one’s chosen ideal. The Hindus have represented God in innumerable forms. This, they say, is appropriate. Each is but a symbol that points to something beyond; and as none exhausts God’s actual nature, the entire array is needed to complete the picture of God’s aspects and manifestations. But though the representations point equally to God, it is advisable for each devotee to form a lifelong attachment to one of them. Only so can its meaning deepen and its full power become accessible. The representation selected will be one’s ishta, or adopted form of the divine. The bhakta need not shun other forms, but this one will never be displaced and will always enjoy a special place in its disciple’s heart. The ideal form for most people will be one of God’s incarnations, for God can be loved most readily in human form because our hearts are already attuned to loving people. Many Hindus acknowledge Christ as a God-man, while believing that there have been others, such as Rama, Krishna, and the Buddha. Whenever the stability of the world is seriously threatened, God descends to redress the imbalance.

The third feature os forming a lifelong attachment to one of the representations of god.

When goodness grows weak,
When evil increases,
I make myself a body.
In every age I come back
To deliver the holy,
To destroy the sin of the sinner,
To establish the righteous. (Bhagavad-Gita, IV:7–8)

God is the idea in Hinduism that, ultimately, good will prevail.

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The Way to God through Knowledge (Hinduism)

Reference: Hinduism
Reference: The World’s Religions by Huston Smith

[NOTE: In color are Vinaire’s comments.]

The Omniscient Self is aware of all motion; because it itself is truly motionless.

Jnana yoga, intended for spiritual aspirants who have a strong reflective bent, is the path to oneness with the Godhead through knowledge. Such knowledge—the Greeks’ gnosis and sophia—has nothing to do with factual information; it is not encyclopedic. It is, rather, an intuitive discernment that transforms, turning the knower eventually into that which she knows. (“She” is appropriate here because in the principal Western source-languages—Hebrew, Latin, and Greek—the words for knowledge in this mode are usually feminine in gender.) Thinking is important for such people. They live in their heads a lot because ideas have for them an almost palpable vitality; they dance and sing for them. And if such thinkers are parodied as philosophers who walk around with their heads in the clouds, it is because they sense Plato’s Sun shining above those clouds. Thoughts have consequences for such people; their minds animate their lives. Not many people are convinced by Socrates’ claim that “to know the good is to do it,” but in his own case he may have been reporting a straightforward fact. 

Jnana yoga, intended for spiritual aspirants who have a strong reflective bent, is the path to oneness with the Godhead through knowledge. 

For people thus given to knowing, Hinduism proposes a series of demonstrations that are designed to convince the thinker that she possesses more than her finite self. The rationale is straightforward. Once the jnana yogi grasps this point, her sense of self will shift to a deeper level. 

The key to the project is discrimination, the power to distinguish between the surface self that crowds the foreground of attention and the larger self that is out of sight. Cultivating this power proceeds through three stages, the first of which is learning. Through listening to sages and scriptures and treatises on the order of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, the aspirant is introduced to the prospect that her essential being is Being itself.

There is a “potential” and a “manifested” aspect to knowing. The potential, unmanifested is the infinite self, and the manifested is the finite self. In other words, the potential aspect is the “thinker” and the manifested aspect is the “thought.” 

The second step is thinking. By prolonged, intensive reflection, that which the first step introduced as a hypothesis must assume life. The Atman (God within) must change from concept to realization. A number of lines of reflection are proposed for this project. For example, the disciple may be advised to examine our everyday language and ponder its implications. The word “my” always implies a distinction between the possessor and what is possessed; when I speak of my book or my jacket, I do not suppose that I am those things. But I also speak of my body, my mind, or my personality, giving evidence thereby that in some sense I consider myself as distinct from them as well. What is this “I” that possesses my body and mind, but is not their equivalent? 

Anything that is manifested can be possessed. Anything manifested cannot be the “I”.

Again, science tells me that there is nothing in my body that was there seven years ago, and my mind and my personality have undergone comparable changes. Yet, throughout their manifold revisions, I have remained in some way the same person, the person who believed now this, now that; who once was young and is now old. What is this something in my makeup, more constant than body or mind, that has endured the changes? Seriously pondered, this question can disentangle one’s Self from one’s lesser identifications. 

The true “I” is something that has always remains constant but is unidentifiable.

Our word “personality” comes from the Latin persona, which originally referred to the mask an actor donned as he stepped onto the stage to play his role, the mask through (per) which he sounded (sonare) his part. The mask registered the role, while behind it the actor remained hidden and anonymous, aloof from the emotions he enacted. This, say the Hindus, is perfect; for roles are precisely what our personalities are, the ones into which we have been cast for the moment in this greatest of all tragi-comedies, the drama of life itself in which we are simultaneously coauthors and actors. As a good actress gives her best to her part, we too should play ours to the hilt. Where we go wrong is in mistaking our presently assigned part for what we truly are. We fall under the spell of our lines, unable to remember previous roles we have played and blind to the prospect of future ones. The task of the yogi is to correct this false identification. Turning her awareness inward, she must pierce the innumerable layers of her personality until, having cut through them all, she reaches the anonymous, joyfully unconcerned actress who stands beneath. 

The identity that is manifested is very similar to a mask that one wears.

The distinction between self and Self can be assisted by another image. A man is playing chess. The board represents his world. There are pieces to be moved, bishops to be won and lost, an objective to be gained. The game can be won or lost, but not the player himself. If he has worked hard, he has improved his game and indeed his faculties; this happens in defeat fully as much as in victory. As the contestant is related to his total person, so is the finite self of any particular lifetime related to its underlying Atman

Atman is the unmanifested, infinite self that underlies the manifested finite self.

Metaphors continue. One of the most beautiful is found in the Upanishads, as also (by interesting coincidence) in Plato. There is a rider who sits serene and motionless in his chariot. Having delegated responsibility for the journey to his charioteer, he is free to sit back and give full attention to the passing landscape. In this image resides a metaphor for life. The body is the chariot. The road over which it travels are the sense objects. The horses that pull the chariot over the road are the senses themselves. The mind that controls the senses when they are disciplined is represented by the reins. The decisional faculty of the mind is the driver, and the master of the chariot, who is in full authority but need never lift a finger, is the Omniscient Self. 

The Omniscient Self is aware of all motion; because it itself is truly motionless. See The Static Viewpoint

If the yogi is able and diligent, such reflections will eventually induce a lively sense of the infinite Self that underlies one’s transient, finite self. The two will become increasingly distinct in one’s mind, separating like water and oil where formerly they mixed like water and milk. One is then ready for the third step on the path of knowledge, which consists in shifting her self-identification to her abiding part. The direct way for her to do this is to think of herself as Spirit, not only during periods of meditation that are reserved for this purpose, but also as much as possible while performing her daily tasks. This latter exercise, though, is not easy. She needs to drive a wedge between her skin-encapsulated ego and her Atman, and an aid in doing so is to think of the former in the third person. Instead of “I am walking down the street,” she thinks, “There goes Sybil walking down Fifth Avenue,” and tries to reinforce the assertion by visualizing herself from a distance. Neither agent nor patient, her approach to what happens is, “I am the Witness.” She watches her unsubstantial history with as much detachment as she lets her hair blow in the wind. Just as a lamp that lights a room is unconcerned with what goes on within it, even so the yogi watches what transpires in his house of protoplasm, the texts tell us. “Even the sun, with all its warmth, is marvelously detached” was found scribbled somewhere on a prison wall. Life’s events are simply allowed to proceed. Seated in the dentist’s chair, Sybil notes, “Poor Sybil. It will soon be over.” But she must play fair and adopt the same posture when fortune visits her and she would like nothing better than bask in the praise she is receiving.

As a “witness” one simply looks at oneself in the third person.

Thinking of oneself in the third person does two things simultaneously. It drives a wedge between one’s self-identification and one’s surface self, and at the same time forces this self-identification to a deeper level until at last, through a knowledge identical with being, one becomes in full what one always was at heart. “That thou art, other than Whom there is no other seer, hearer, thinker, or agent.”

One then becomes simply detached from one’s fixed personality and becomes a creative self.

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Four Paths to the Goal (Hinduism)

Reference: Hinduism
Reference: The World’s Religions by Huston Smith

[NOTE: In color are Vinaire’s comments.]

What is distinctive in Hinduism is the amount of attention it has devoted to identifying basic spiritual personality types.

All of us dwell on the brink of the infinite ocean of life’s creative power. We carry it within us: supreme strength, the fullness of wisdom, unquenchable joy. It is never thwarted and cannot be destroyed. But it is hidden deep, which is what makes life a problem. The infinite is down in the darkest, profoundest vault of our being, in the forgotten well-house, the deep cistern. What if we could bring it to light and draw from it unceasingly?

We have tremendous creativity, wisdom and joy in a fully assimilated mental matrix. What if we could achieve that assimilation? 

This question became India’s obsession. Her people sought religious truth not simply to increase their store of general information; they sought it as a chart to guide them to higher states of being. Religious people were ones who were seeking to transform their natures, reshape them to a superhuman pattern through which the infinite could shine with fewer obstructions. One feels the urgency of the quest in a metaphor the Hindu texts present in many guises. Just as a man carrying on his head a load of wood that has caught fire would go rushing to a pond to quench the flames, even so will the seeker of truth, scorched by the fires of life—birth, death, self-deluding futility—go rushing to a teacher wise to the ways of the things that matter most. 

This question became India’s obsession. The answer amounted to transforming the very nature of man. 

Hinduism’s specific directions for actualizing the human potential come under the heading of yoga. The word once conjured images of shaggy men in loincloths, twisting their bodies into human pretzels while brandishing occult powers. Now that the West has appropriated the term, however, we are more likely to think of lithe women exercising to retain their trim suppleness. Neither image is totally divorced from the real article, but they relate only to its bodily aspects. The word yoga derives from the same root as does the English word yoke, and yoke carries a double connotation: to unite (yoke together), and to place under disciplined training (to bring under the yoke, or “take my yoke upon you”). Both connotations are present in the Sanskrit word. Defined generally, then, yoga is a method of training designed to lead to integration or union. But integration of what? 

The techniques that Hindus developed for the assimilation of mental matrix is called yoga.

Some people are chiefly interested in their bodies. Needless to say, they have their Indian counterparts—people who make their bodies the prime objects of their concern and endeavor. For such people India, through centuries of experimentation, has devised the most fantastic school of physical culture the world has ever seen. Not that she has been more interested in the body than the West; her interest has simply taken a different turn. Whereas the West has sought strength and beauty, India has been interested in precision and control, ideally complete control over the body’s every function. How many of her incredible claims in this area can be scientifically corroborated remains to be seen. It is enough here to note that her extensive instructions on the subject comprise an authentic yoga, hatha yoga. Originally it was practiced as preliminary to spiritual yoga, but it has largely lost this connection so it need not concern us here. The judgment of the Hindu sages on this matter can be ours as well. Incredible things can be done with the body if you are willing to give your life to the project, but these things have little to do with enlightenment. If their cultivation stems from a desire to show off, they can actually impede spiritual growth. 

Where body is concerned, yoga is interested in precision and control; but it is only preliminary to spiritual yoga.

The yogas that do concern us are those designed to unite the human spirit with the God who lies concealed in its deepest recesses. “Since all the Indian spiritual [as distinct from bodily] exercises are devoted seriously to this practical aim—not to a merely fanciful contemplation or discussion of lofty and profound ideas—they may well be regarded as representing one of the most realistic, matter-of-fact, practical-minded systems of thought and training ever set up by the human mind. How to come to Brahman [God in Sanskrit] and remain in touch with Brahman; how to become identified with Brahman, living out of it; how to become divine while still on earth—transformed, reborn adamantine while on the earthly plane; that is the quest that has inspired and deified the human spirit in India throughout the ages.”

The purpose of spiritual yoga is to unite the human spirit with Brahman (the fundamental spirit to evolve). This may be described as the union of the individual matrix with the universal matrix.

The spiritual trails that Hindus have blazed toward this goal are four. At first this may seem surprising. If there is one goal, should there not be one path to it? This might be the case if we were all starting from the same point, though even then different modes of transport—walking, driving, flying—might counsel alternate routes. As it is, people approach the goal from different directions, so there must be multiple trails to the common destination. 

The spiritual trails that Hindus have blazed toward this goal are four. 

Where one starts from depends on the kind of person one is. The point has not been lost on Western spiritual directors. One of the most noted of these, Father Surin, for example, criticized “directors who get a plan into their heads which they apply to all the souls who come to them, trying to bring them into line with it like one who should wish all to wear the same clothes.” St. John of the Cross called attention to the same danger when he wrote in The Living Flame that the aim of spiritual directors should “not be to guide souls by a way suitable to themselves, but to ascertain the way by which God Himself is pointing them.” What is distinctive in Hinduism is the amount of attention it has devoted to identifying basic spiritual personality types and the disciplines that are most likely to work for each. The result is a recognition, pervading the entire religion, that there are multiple paths to God, each calling for its distinctive mode of travel. 

What is distinctive in Hinduism is the amount of attention it has devoted to identifying basic spiritual personality types and the disciplines that are most likely to work for each. 

The number of the basic spiritual personality types, by Hindu count, is four. (Carl Jung built his typology on the Indian model, while modifying it in certain respects.) Some people are primarily reflective. Others are basically emotional. Still others are essentially active. Finally, some are experimentally inclined. For each of these personality types Hinduism prescribes a distinct yoga that is designed to capitalize on the type’s distinctive strength. The types are not sealed in watertight compartments, for every human being possesses all four talents to some degree, just as most hands of cards contain all four suits. But it makes sense to lead with the suit that is strongest. 

Some people are primarily reflective. Others are basically emotional. Still others are essentially active. Finally, some are experimentally inclined. 

All four paths begin with moral preliminaries. As the aim of the yogas is to render the surface self transparent to its underlying divinity, it must first be cleansed of its gross impurities. Religion is always more than morality, but if it lacks a moral base it will not stand. Selfish acts coagulate the finite self instead of dissolving it; ill-will perturbs the flow of consciousness. The first step of every yoga, therefore, involves the cultivation of such habits as non-injury, truthfulness, non-stealing, self-control, cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, and a compelling desire to reach the goal. 

The first step of every yoga involves the cultivation of such habits as non-injury, truthfulness, non-stealing, self-control, cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, and a compelling desire to reach the goal. 

Keeping these common preliminaries in mind, we are ready for the yogas’ distinctive instructions.

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Meaning in Human Existence (Judaism)

Reference: Judaism
Reference: The World’s Religions by Huston Smith

[NOTE: In color are Vinaire’s comments.]

The ingredients of human frailty, grandeur, sin, freedom and divine parentage make up the human existence.

The most crucial element in human thinking is self-directed. What does it mean to be a human self, to live a human life? 

Here, too, the Jews looked for meaning. They were intensely interested in human nature, but not for the brute facts of the case. They wanted truth-for-life. They wanted to understand the human condition so as to avail themselves of its highest reaches. 

Whereas, Hinduism focuses on the goal of life, Judaism focuses on the self-directed nature of human thinking.

The Jews were acutely aware of human limitations. Compared with the majesty of the heavens, people are “dust” (Psalm 103:14); facing the forces of nature they can be “crushed like a moth” (Job 4:19). Their time upon the earth is swiftly spent, like grass that in the morning flourishes, but “in the evening fades and withers” (Psalm 90:6). Even this brief span is laced with pain that causes our years to end “as a sigh” (Psalm 90:9). Not once but repeatedly the Jews were forced to the rhetorical question: “What are human beings” that God should give them a second thought? (Psalm 8:4). 

Not once but repeatedly the Jews were forced to the rhetorical question: “What are human beings” that God should give them a second thought?

Considering the freedom of Israel’s thought and her refusal to repress doubts when she felt them, it is not surprising to find that there were moments when they suspected that “human beings…are only animals. For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other” (Ecclesiastes 3:18–19). Here is a biological interpretation of the human species as uncompromising as any the nineteenth century ever produced. The significant point, however, is that this passing thought did not prevail. The striking feature of the Jewish view of human nature is that without blinking its frailty, it went on to affirm its unspeakable grandeur. We are a blend of dust and divinity. 

Whereas, Hinduism focuses mainly on the divinity aspect; Judaism looks at human nature as a blend of dust and divinity.

The word unspeakable two sentence above is not hyperbole. The King James Version translates the central Jewish claim concerning the human station as follows: “Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5). That last word is a straight mistranslation, for the original Hebrew plainly reads “a little lower than the gods [or God]”—the number of the Hebrew word ’elohim is indeterminate. Why did the translators reduce deity to angels? The answer seems obvious: It was not erudition that they lacked, but rather the boldness—one is tempted to say nerve—of the Hebrews. We can respect their reserve. It is one thing to write a Hollywood script in which everyone seems wonderful; it is another thing to make such characters seem real. The one charge that has never been leveled against the Bible is that its characters are not real people. Even its greatest heroes, like David, are presented so unvarnished, so “warts and all,” that the Book of Samuel has been called the most honest historical writing of the ancient world. Yet no amount of realism could dampen the aspiration of the Jews. Human beings who on occasion so justly deserve the epithets “maggot and worm” (Job 25:6) are equally the beings whom God has “crowned with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:6). There is a rabbinic saying to the effect that whenever a man or woman walks down the street he or she is preceded by an invisible choir of angels crying, “Make way, make way! Make way for the image of God.”

The Jews have been bold enough to look at God as the ideal scene, or goal, of human evolution.

In speaking of the realism of the Jewish view of human nature we have thus far emphasized its recognition of physical limitations: weakness, susceptibility to pain, life’s brevity. We shall not have plumbed the full scope of its realism, however, until we add that they saw the basic human limitation as moral rather than physical. Human beings are not only frail; they are sinners: “I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). It is totally false to claim this verse for the defense of either the doctrine of total human depravity or the notion that sex is evil. These are both imported notions that have nothing to do with Judaism. The verse does, however, contribute something of great importance to Jewish anthropology. The word sin comes from a root meaning “to miss the mark,” and this people (despite their high origin) manage continually to do. Meant to be noble, they are usually something less; meant to be generous, they withhold from others. Created more than animal, they often sink to being nothing else. 

Judaism saw the basic human limitation as moral rather than physical. The word sin comes from a root meaning “to miss the mark.”

Yet never in these “missings” is the misstep required. Jews have never questioned human freedom. The first recorded human act involved free choice. In eating Eden’s forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve were, it is true, seduced by the snake, but they could have resisted. The snake merely tempted them; it is clearly a story of a human lapse. Inanimate objects cannot be other than they are; they do what nature and circumstance decree. Human beings, once created, make or break themselves, forging their own destinies through their decisions. “Cease to do evil, learn to do good” (Isaiah 1:16–17)—only for human beings does this injunction hold. “I have set before you life and death…therefore choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Finally, it followed from the Jewish concept of their God as a loving God that people are God’s beloved children. In one of the tenderest metaphors of the entire Bible, Hosea pictures God yearning over people as though they were toddling infants:

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
My heart recoils within me,
my compassion grows warm and tender. (Hosea 11:3–4,8)

Even in this world, immense as it is and woven of the mighty powers of nature, men and women can walk with the confidence of children in a home in which they are fully accepted. 

Even though subject to the mighty powers of nature, humans enjoy the power of choice, and they forge their own destinies through their decisions. However, they also suffer from their missteps. 

What are the ingredients of the most creatively meaningful image of human existence that the mind can conceive? Remove human frailty—as grass, as a sigh, as dust, as moth-crushed—and the estimate becomes romantic. Remove grandeur—a little lower than God—and aspiration recedes. Remove sin—the tendency to miss the mark—and sentimentality threatens. Remove freedom—choose ye this day!—and responsibility goes by the board. Remove, finally, divine parentage and life becomes estranged, cut loose and adrift on a cold, indifferent sea. With all that has been discovered about human life in the intervening 2,500 years, it is difficult to find a flaw in this assessment.

Judaism conceives the most creatively meaningful image of human existence through the ingredients of human frailty, grandeur, sin, freedom and divine parentage.

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