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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The Beyond Within (Hinduism)

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

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

Hidden areas in the mind waiting to be explored are the unassimilated impressions.

“The aim of life,” Justice Holmes used to say, “is to get as far as possible from imperfection.” Hinduism says its purpose is to pass beyond imperfection altogether. 

In other words, the aim of life is to resolve all anomalies.

If we were to set out to compile a catalogue of the specific imperfections that hedge our lives, it would have no end. We lack strength and imagination to effect our dreams; we grow tired, fall ill, and are foolish. We fail and become discouraged; we grow old and die. Lists of this sort could be extended indefinitely, but there is no need, for all specific limitations reduce to three basic variants. We are limited in joy, knowledge, and being, the three things people really want. 

All anomalies reduce to the want of joy, knowledge, and being.

Is it possible to pass beyond the strictures that separate us from these things? Is it feasible to seek to rise to a quality of life that, because less circumscribed, would be life indeed? 

To begin with the strictures on our joy, these fall into three subgroups: physical pain, frustration that arises from the thwarting of desire, and boredom with life in general. 

The anomalies of want of joy fall into the subgroups of physical pain, frustration, and boredom with life.

Physical pain is the least troublesome of the three. As pain’s intensity is partly due to the fear that accompanies it, the conquest of fear can reduce pain concomitantly. Pain can also be accepted when it has a purpose, as a patient welcomes the return of life and feeling, even painful feeling, to a frozen arm. Again, pain can be overridden by an urgent purpose, as in a football game. In extreme cases of useless pain, it may be possible to anesthetize it through drugs or control of the senses. Ramakrishna, the greatest Hindu saint of the nineteenth century, died of cancer of the throat. A doctor who was examining him in the last stages of the disease probed his degenerating tissue and Ramakrishna flinched in pain. “Wait a minute,” he said; then, “Go ahead,” after which the doctor could probe without resistance. The patient had focused his attention to the point where nerve impulses could barely gain access. One way or another it seems possible to rise to a point where physical pain ceases to be a major problem. 

One way or another it seems possible to rise to a point where physical pain ceases to be a major problem. 

More serious is the psychological pain that arises from the thwarting of specific desires. We want to win a tournament, but we lose. We want to profit, but the deal falls through. A promotion goes to our competitor. We would like to have been invited, but are snubbed. Life is so filled with disappointments that we are likely to assume that they are built into the human condition. On examination, however, there proves to be something disappointments share in common. Each thwarts an expectation of the individual ego. If the ego were to have no expectations, there would be nothing to disappoint. 

If the ego were to have no expectations, there would be nothing to disappoint. 

If this sounds like ending an ailment by killing the patient, the same point can be stated positively. What if the interests of the self were expanded to the point of approximating a God’s-eye view of humanity? Seeing all things under the aspect of eternity would make one objective toward oneself, accepting failure as on a par with success in the stupendous human drama of yes and no, positive and negative, push and pull. Personal failure would be as small a cause for concern as playing the role of loser in a summer theater performance. How could one feel disappointed at one’s own defeat if one experienced the victor’s joy as also one’s own; how could being passed over for a promotion touch one if one’s competitor’s success were enjoyed vicariously? Instead of crying “impossible,” we should perhaps content ourselves with noting how different this would feel from life as it is usually lived, for reports of the greatest spiritual geniuses suggest that they rose to something like this perspective. “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me”—are we to suppose that Jesus was posturing when he uttered those words? We are told that Sri Ramakrishna once

howled with pain when he saw two boatmen quarrelling angrily. He came to identify himself with the sorrows of the whole world, however impure and murderous they might be, until his heart was scored with scars. But he knew that he must love God in all sorts and conditions of men, however antagonistic and hostile, and in all forms of thought controlling their existence and often setting them at variance to one another.

Seeing all things from the aspect of eternity would make one objective toward oneself, accepting failure as on a par with success.

Detachment from the finite self or attachment to the whole of things—we can state the phenomenon either positively or negatively. When it occurs, life is lifted above the possibility of frustration and above ennui—the third threat to joy—as well, for the cosmic drama is too spectacular to permit boredom in the face of such vivid identification. 

The anomaly of the want of joy resolves with the attaining of The Static Viewpoint

The second great limitation of human life is ignorance. The Hindus claim that this, too, is removable. The Upanishads speak of a “knowing of That the knowledge of which brings knowledge of everything.” It is not likely that “everything” here implies literal omniscience. More probably, it refers to an insight that lays bare the point of everything. Given that summarizing insight, to ask for details would be as irrelevant as asking the number of atoms in a great painting. When the point is grasped, who cares about details? 

From the static viewpoint any anomaly can be resolved swiftly and completely.

But is transcendent knowledge even in this more restricted sense possible? Clearly, mystics think that it is. Academic psychology has not followed them all the way, but it is convinced that there is far more to the mind than appears on its surface. Psychologists liken the mind to an iceberg, most of which is invisible. What does the mind’s vast, submerged ballast contain? Some think it contains every memory and experience that has come its way, nothing being forgotten by the deep mind that never sleeps. Others, like Carl Jung, think it includes racial memories that summarize the experience of the entire human species. Psychoanalysis aims a few pinpoints of light at this mental darkness. Who is to say how far the darkness can be dispelled? 

The anomaly of the want of knowledge resolves with the attaining of a fully assimilated mental matrix.

As for life’s third limitation, its restricted being, to profitably consider this we have first to ask how the boundary of the self is to be defined. Not, certainly, by the amount of physical space our bodies occupy, the amount of water we displace in the bathtub. It makes more sense to gauge our being by the size of our spirits, the range of reality with which they identify. A man who identifies with his family, finding his joys in theirs, would have that much reality; a woman who could identify with humankind would be that much greater. By this criterion people who could identify with being as a whole would be unlimited. Yet this seems hardly right, for they would still die. The object of their concerns would continue, but they themselves would be gone.

When we identify ourself with something bigger, such as, the family or the community, the range of our reality also becomes bigger.

We need, therefore, to approach this question of being not only spatially, so to speak, but also in terms of time. Our everyday experience provides a wedge for doing so. Strictly speaking, every moment of our lives is a dying; the I of that moment dies, never to be reborn. Yet despite the fact that in this sense my life consists of nothing but funerals, I do not conceive of myself as dying each moment, for I do not equate myself with my individual moments. I endure through them—experiencing them, without being identical with any of them in its singularity. Hinduism carries this notion a step further. It posits an extensive self that lives successive lives in the way a single life lives successive moments. 

The anomaly of the want of being resolves when we identify ourselves with an extensive self that lives successive lives in the way a single life lives successive moments.

A child’s heart is broken by misfortunes we consider trivial. It identifies completely with each incident, being unable to see it against the backdrop of a whole, variable lifetime. A lot of living is required before the child can withdraw its self-identification from the individual moment and approach, thereby, adulthood. Compared with children we are mature, but compared with saints we are children. No more capable of seeing our total selves in perspective than a three-year-old who has dropped its ice cream cone, our attention is fixated on our present life span. If we could mature completely we would see that lifespan in a larger setting, one that is, actually, unending. 

If we could mature completely we would see that lifespan in a larger setting, one that is, actually, unending. 

This is the basic point in the Hindu estimate of the human condition. We have seen that psychology has accustomed us to the fact that there is more to ourselves than we suspect. Like the eighteenth century European view of the earth, our minds have their own darkest Africas, their unmapped Borneos, their Amazonian basins. Their bulk continues to await exploration. Hinduism sees the mind’s hidden continents as stretching to infinity. Infinite in being, infinite in awareness, there is nothing beyond them that remains unknown. Infinite in joy, too, for there is nothing alien to them to mar their beatitude. 

Hidden areas in the mind waiting to be explored are the unassimilated impressions. Hinduism sees them as stretching to infinity. Once they all are assimilated nothing remains unknown.

Hindu literature is studded with metaphors and parables that are designed to awaken us to the realms of gold that are hidden in the depths of our being. We are like kings who, falling victim to amnesia, wander our kingdoms in tatters not knowing who we really are. Or like a lion cub who, having become separated from its mother, is raised by sheep and takes to grazing and bleating on the assumption that it is a sheep as well. We are like a lover who, in his dream, searches the wide world in despair for his beloved, oblivious of the fact that she is lying at his side throughout.

The solution is right there within us. We just have to wake up to this realization.

What the realization of our total being is like can no more be described than can a sunset to one born blind; it must be experienced. The biographies of those who have made the discovery provide us with clues, however. These people are wiser; they have more strength and joy. They seem freer, not in the sense that they go around breaking the laws of nature (though the power to do exceptional things is often ascribed to them) but in the sense that they seem not to find the natural order confining. They seem serene, even radiant. Natural peacemakers, their love flows outward, alike to all. Contact with them strengthens and purifies. 

It is easy to recognize such realized beings living among us.

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Meaning in Creation (Judaism)

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

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

Body and Mind must also evolve along with the spirit—in complete continuity, consistency and harmony.

In The Brothers Karamazov Dostoevsky has Ivan blurt out: “I don’t accept this world of God’s, and although I know it exists, I don’t accept it at all. It’s not that I don’t accept God, you must understand, it’s the world created by Him I don’t and cannot accept.” 

Ivan is not alone in finding God, perhaps, good, but the world not. Entire philosophies have done the same—Cynicism in Greece, Jainism in India. Judaism, by contrast, affirms the world’s goodness, arriving at that conclusion through its assumption that God created it. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) and pronounced it to be good. 

Most people find God, perhaps, good, but the world not. Judaism, by contrast, affirms the world’s goodness, arriving at that conclusion through its assumption that God created it. According to Hinduism, the world is simply there. It is neither good nor bad.

What does it mean to say that the universe, the entire realm of natural existence as we know it, is God-created? Philosophers might look to such a statement as explanation for the means by which the world came into being, but that is a purely cosmogonic question that has no bearing on how we live. Did the world have a first cause or not? Our answer to that question seems unrelated to the way life feels to us. 

There is another side to the affirmation that the universe is God-created, however. Approached from this second angle, the assertion speaks not to the way the earth originated but to the character of its agent. Unlike the first issue, this one affects us profoundly. Everyone at times finds himself or herself asking whether life is worthwhile, which amounts to asking whether, when the going gets rough, it makes sense to continue to live. Those who conclude that it does not make sense give up, if not once and for all by suicide, then piecemeal, by surrendering daily to the encroaching desolation of the years. Whatever else the word God may mean, it means a being in whom power and value converge, a being whose will cannot be thwarted and whose will is good. In this sense, to affirm that existence is God-created is to affirm its unimpeachable worth.

To affirm that existence is God-created is to affirm its unimpeachable worth.

There is a passage in T. S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party that speaks to this point. Celia, who has been not just disappointed but disillusioned in love, goes to a psychiatrist for help and begins her first session with this surprising statement:

I must tell you
That I should really like to think there’s something wrong with me—
Because, if there isn’t, then there’s something wrong
With the world itself—and that’s much more frightening!
That would be terrible. So I’d rather believe
There is something wrong with me, that could be put right.

These lines speak to the most basic decision life demands. Things repeatedly go wrong in life. When they do, what are we to conclude? Ultimately, the options come down to two. One possibility is that the fault lies in the stars, dear Brutus. Many have so concluded. They range all the way from quipsters who propose that the best educational toy we could give to children is jigsaw puzzles in which no two pieces fit together, to Thomas Hardy, who inferred that the power that spawned a universe so inherently tragic must be some sort of dumb vegetable. In Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage the principal character, Philip, was given a Persian rug by a Bohemian roué who assured him that by studying the carpet he would be able to comprehend life’s meaning. The donor died, and Philip was still in the dark. How could the involved pattern of a Persian rug solve the problem of life’s meaning? When the answer finally dawned on him, it seemed obvious: Life has no meaning. “For nothing was there a why and a wherefore.”

When things repeatedly go wrong in life, one option is to blame the world.

This is one possibility. The other possibility is that when things go wrong the fault lies not in the stars but in ourselves. Neither answer can be objectively validated, but there is no doubt as to which elicits the more creative response. In the one case human beings are helpless, for their troubles stem from the botched character of existence itself, which is beyond their power to remedy. The other possibility challenges people to look closer to home—to search for causes of their problems in places where they can effect changes. Seen in this light, the Jewish affirmation that the world is God-created equipped them with a constructive premise. However desperate their lot, however deep the valley of the shadow of death they found themselves in, they never despaired of life itself. Meaning was always waiting to be won; the opportunity to respond creatively was never absent. For the world had been fashioned by the God who not only meted out the heavens with a span, but whose goodness endured forever.

The other option is never to despair of life itself but to search for causes of problems in places where changes can be effected. 

Thus far we have been speaking of the Jewish estimate of creation as a whole, but one element in the biblical account deserves special attention: its regard for nature—the physical, material component of existence. 

Much of Greek thought takes a dim view of matter. Likewise Indian philosophy, which considers matter a barbarian, spoiling everything it touches. Salvation in such contexts involves freeing the soul from its material container. 

In Judaism, we see regard for nature—the physical, material component of existence. Whereas, Hinduism takes a dim view of matter—something barbarian that spoils everything it touches. Hinduism can improve in this regard.

How different the first chapter of Genesis, which (as we have seen) opens with the words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” emphasis now added, and climaxes with God reviewing “everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” We ought to let our minds dwell on that adjective “very,” for it gives a lilt to the entire Jewish, and subsequently Western, view of nature. Pressing for meaning in every direction, the Jews refused to abandon the physical aspects of existence as illusory, defective, or unimportant. Fresh as the morning of Creation, nature was to be relished. The abundance of food made the Promised Land “a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity” (Deuteronomy 8:7–8). Sex, too, was good. An occasional minority movement like the Essenes might have concluded the opposite, but Jews as a whole hold marriage in high regard. The entire assumption behind the prophets’ denunciation of the inequalities of wealth that confronted them was the reverse of the opinion that possessions are bad. They are so good that more people should have more of them. 

The Jews refused to abandon the physical aspects of existence as illusory, defective, or unimportant. Fresh as the morning of Creation, nature was to be relished. Sex, too, was good, and Jews as a whole hold marriage in high regard.

Such an affirmative and buoyant attitude toward nature does seem to set Judaism off from India’s basic outlook. It does not, however, distinguish it from East Asia, where the appreciation of nature is profound. What divides the Hebraic from the Chinese view of nature does not come out until we note a third verse in this crucial first chapter of Genesis. In verse 26 God says of the people he intends to create: “Let them have dominion…over all the earth.” How much this differs from the Chinese attitude toward nature can be seen by recalling its opposite sentiment in the Tao Te Ching:

Those who would take over the earth
And shape it to their will
Never, I notice, succeed.

Material nature is part of the whole system. It should evolve just as the spirit is evolving—in complete continuity, consistency and harmony.

If we propositionalize the three key assertions about nature in the opening chapter of Genesis—

God created the earth;
let [human beings] have dominion over the earth;
behold, it was very good…

—we find an appreciation of nature, blended with confidence in human powers to work with it for the good, that in its time was exceptional. It was, as we well know, an attitude that was destined to bear fruit, for it is no accident that modern science first emerged in the Western world. Archbishop William Temple used to say that Judaism and its offspring, Christianity, are the most materialistic religions in the world. When Islam is added to the list, the Semitically originated religions emerge as exceptional in insisting that human beings are ineradicably body as well as spirit and that this coupling is not a liability. From this basic premise three corollaries follow: (1) that the material aspects of life are important (hence the strong emphasis in the West on humanitarianism and social service); (2) that matter can participate in the condition of salvation itself (affirmed by the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body); and (3) that nature can host the Divine (the Kingdom of God is to come “on Earth,” to which Christianity adds its doctrine of the Incarnation).

Humans are extension of nature. Human powers should work for the evolution of spirit, mind and body, and not just of the spirit as emphasized in Hinduism. Spirit does not exist alone. The existence of spirit is intimately tied with the existence of mind and body.

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