Check out this interesting post by my cousin, Seth Segall, over at the Existential Buddhist. The topics Seth discusses include whether consciousness is emergent from or intrinsic to the physical world, the place of values (human or otherwise) in the universe, and the variety of God concepts available to those willing to philosophize about such matters. Seth also compares the ideas of the 13th century Zen Buddhist monk Dogen, the 17th century Jewish philosopher Spinoza, and the 20th century mathematician and cosmologist A.N. Whitehead.

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Seth writes:

I could never believe in a supernatural, anthropomorphic God, an omniscient autocrat standing outside of creation, judging it, and miraculously intervening in accordance with our prayers and petitions—in other worlds, the kind of God that Whitehead describes as having the attributes of “a Caesar.” “God talk” doesn’t interest me or turn me on. As I’ve mentioned in another post, when I hear “God” mentioned in a Dharma talk, my mind wanders off.  But how different — really — are Spinoza’s and Whitehead’s naturalistic, creative, immanent Gods from Dogen’s understanding of the dharmakaya? How different is Whitehead’s God who experiences the experiences of the world and nudges us towards love and beauty from Dogen’s compassionate Avalokitesvara who hears the cries of the world and awakens us to wisdom beyond wisdom? Even if one dispenses with Gods and Buddhas, if mentality, morality and aesthetics can be features of reality right down to the bone, why can’t reality also include some non-supernatural “spiritual” dimension as well? Some beneficial principle that encourages us and the world towards greater love and compassion, beauty and understanding, and our own best selves? I’m not convinced, like Whitehead and Spinoza, that God is either necessary or tenable, but I’m more open to consider it than I once was. That’s why I’m an agnostic rather than an atheist; it’s what keeps me from joining the secularist camp.

I appreciate Seth’s pragmatic (in the Jamesian sense) approach to these questions. I do not pretend to any metaphysical certainty about the existence of the Whiteheadian or any other God. From my perspective, we inhabit a cosmos that is always on the edge of chaos with nothing guaranteeing continued peace, goodness, or beauty. I do believe these ideals are realized in the ongoing genesis of this universe to a degree far greater than mere chance, but I cannot go so far as to claim they are metaphysical necessities. I think the process-relational God articulated by Whitehead allows us to recognize the realization of these ideals as somewhere in-between utterly contingent and totally necessary. They are potentials freely realized by the creatures of this cosmos because of their intrinsic desirability. Nothing is to stop any particular being in some particular circumstance from desiring otherwise. On the other hand, Whitehead makes it clear that we cannot speak of a “cosmic order” without already assuming the realization of an ideal of beauty. For Whitehead, all order is aesthetic order. In other words, no beauty, no cosmos. So the fact that there is a cosmos at all is already evidence enough that the scales are tipped toward harmony.

Below is a mandalic depiction of the shadow side of the American way of life, drawn by my friend Darrin Drda, author of The Four Global Truths: Awakening to the Peril and Promise of Our TimesIt is modeled after the Tibetan Buddhist Bhavacakra (a mandalic depiction of samsara). Darrin’s description of the various realms is below the drawing.

What follows is a description of my mandala, again from the inside out. At the hub of the wheel appear a dollar bill, a tank, and a television, representing the three poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion (these exist institutionally as materialism, militarism, and the media). Just outside the central circle is the ring of financial karma, in which people slowly climb the ladder to prosperity, only to slide back down into a hole of debt.

The main part of the mandala depicts the Six Realms of Socioeconomic Existence. At the top is theImperial Realm, in which ultra-wealthy beings live in mansions, ride in limousines, and suffer from arrogance, isolation, and the occasional bad hair day. Below and to the left of this realm is that of the Imperial Wannabes, who abide in sprawling suburban homes, drive expensive cars, and suffer from envy and existential angst. To the right of this realm is the Public Domain, populated by working class humans who live in modest homes, apartments, and trailers, and drive used cars. They speak highly of freedom while being severely constrained by desire, fixation, and fear. Many of them suffer from high blood pressure, low self-esteem, and bad credit. Lower on the ladder lies theAnimal Turf, wherein many creatures are subject to displacement, confinement, and cruelty on the part of humans. Some of them are kept as pets and often treated much better than beings in the adjacent Homeless Dimension. This realm is populated by nearly invisible “hungry ghosts” who wander endlessly in search of food and shelter. The lowest of all realms is the Hellish ‘Hood, the residents of which suffer from intense anger and psychological illness. Beings in this realm possess very little freedom, whether held captive in prisons, mental institutions, or army barracks.

The outer wheel depicts the Twelve Steps of Codependent Consumerism. The sequence begins and ends with shopping, an activity which leads directly to the accumulation of material objects. Possessing lots of stuff leads to the need for a “stuff storage facility,” commonly called a house and usually located outside of town. This necessitates having a motorized vehicle with which to transport one’s person, groceries, and additional stuff. Driving a car necessitates buying gas, which contributes to debt and the need to maintain employment. Working generates stress, which leads to an urgent desire for relaxation. This often involves consuming alcohol and/or watching television. Depressants, TV and advertising all contribute to a sense of lack or emptiness, symbolized here by a black hole. This feeling of worthlessness leads to an impulse to shop, which begins the cycle anew.

The Wheel of Suffering is held in the clutches of the aforementioned Uncle Samsara, the Lord of Illusion. This fearsome figure presides over a vast empire of desire, despair, death and taxes. Outside of this wheel lies liberty in the form of planetary consciousnesslunar consciousness, and compassion (symbolized by a green Tara). Ultimate freedom is found in the form of cosmic consciousness, wisdom and peace (symbolized by a meditating Buddha).

May all Americans, and all beings everywhere, be happy and truly free.

Check out a related essay by Darrin over on Reality Sandwich.

Levi Bryant has problematized my attempt to clarify Whitehead’s position on the function of divinity in the universe. He writes:

“You make the claim that without God there would be chaos and no order. This is a problematic claim for two reasons. First, you have repeatedly tried to claim that God isn’t supposed to explain anything, yet here you are evoking God to explain order. Second, it is unclear why, 1) God is required to explain order (the fact that order exists doesn’t entail that it must have been designed), and 2) it is not clear what God would explain about this order in such an account…”

I will admit that I am still thinking through these issues myself. Whitehead’s writing in this area is illuminating, but much remains obscure. I am struggling to “think with” Whitehead, not so much because his “arguments” are convincing, but because I come to his work already sharing many of the problems he found interesting. One of these is the problem of God, but I did not come to philosophize about God in order to rationalize my faith. God was not at first a religious belief for me. Though I went to temple and church as a child (mixed religious family), I began referring to myself as an atheist at 12 years old after learning a bit about cosmology from Steven Hawking and biology from Richard Dawkins. I remained highly skeptical of religious claims as my understanding of science and cultural relativity grew throughout my teens. Then, as a 17 year old, I learned a bit about the psychology of religion from Carl Jung. I came to to realize that our scientific narratives about the origins of the universe and life on earth are still mythically structured and shaped by cultural attitudes. Jung lead me into a deeper study of anthropology and the evolution of consciousness, allowing me to bracket the “reality” of God in order to consider God’s effect as a symbol, or archetypal complex, on the history of the human psyche. Soon after, I discovered the work of cultural philosopher Jean Gebser (a friend and associate of Jung’s), who completely transformed the way I conceive of the relationship between rational and religious consciousness. Eventually, like Whitehead, I came back to religion and theology (I feel most at home in the dialogue and practice emerging from the encounter between Buddhism and Christianity) as a result of philosophical reflection upon life. As a teenager, I thought God seemed like a belief added to experience by religious doctrine. After reading Jung and Gebser, I came to see the experience of God as constitutive of the order and harmony of our human consciousness of the world. After reading Whitehead, I saw that, for the sake of metaphysical coherence, God must also be constitutive of the order of the world itself.

One of Whitehead’s colleagues at Harvard, Ernest Hocking, reports that (Alfred North Whitehead: Essays on his Philosophy, 1963, p. 16), in regards to the concept of God, Whitehead once told him:

“I should never have included it, if it had not been strictly required for descriptive completeness. You must set all your essentials into the foundation. It is no use putting up a set of terms, and then remarking, ‘Oh, by the way, I believe there’s a God.”

Is God an explanation for order in Whitehead’s system? Not exactly. God is not best described as the cause of harmony, nor the designer of the world, since Whitehead’s God is involved in the world, as much the effect of its harmony as its cause. It would still be true to say that, without God, chaos would reign; but this doesn’t necessarily mean God is the explanation for order. Rather, God is the very presence of order in the world, not an absent designer who orchestrates the world’s order from a position beyond it. God is embedded in the world as a kind of aesthetic gravity holding otherwise conflicting possibilities together so as to transform them into novel contrasts in the experiences of actual occasions. Actual occasions are the only reasons for Whitehead, which is to say that God is not an explanation for the order brought forth by their individual decisions. God is also an actual occasion, a creature of Creativity, but God’s creatureliness is everlasting. As a result, God’s primordial nature conditions all temporal experiences as an ingredient in the concrescence of those experiences. God is what mediates between the infinite possibilities of Creativity and the finite actualities of the Universe. God is the World-Soul allowing ideas passage into reality. In this sense, Whitehead’s reformed Platonism is similar to Schelling’s, who built on the description of the World-Soul and its role in the realization of Ideas given by Plato in the Timeaus (I unpack these ideas in this essay on Schelling).

It may still remain unclear to Bryant exactly why God became necessary in the course of Whitehead’s, and my own, reflection upon reality. As I said at the outset, I struggle to think with Whitehead because I share his sense of what matters, of what the problems of philosophy ought to be given the facts of experience. Given these facts, as I experience them, the most urgent philosophical task is to bring together the insights of scientific experiment and religious experience into one rational scheme of thought.

Bryant writes:

“Throughout this discussion you have repeatedly appealed to 30,000 years of human religious experience that philosophy has a duty to account for. You seem to take this experience as evidence that there must be some ontological truth to the claims of religion (i.e., that God exists). Over at Knowledge Ecology’s blog I pointed out that there are at least 30,000 years of racism and sexism and that the form of your argument about God seems to commit you and Whitehead to the position that the ontological claims of racism and sexism must contain some truth.”

Adam has offered a response that I am largely in agreement with. He distinguishes between facts of experience and truths of experience. Religion, racism, and sexism are each facts of experience, though I am not prepared to claim that the content of these experiential modes necessarily corresponds to reality. I take a broadly Jamesian/Deweyan/Peircian approach to truth, however, in that I am more concerned with the effects of our descriptions of reality than with their accurate correspondence to a supposedly pre-given world. The truth of the claims arising out of religious experience are to be judged, from the pragmaticist perspective, by a “consideration of the experimental differences in the conduct of life which would conceivably result from the affirmation or denial of the [claim] in question,” as Dewey puts it (Century Dictionary, 1909). I think certain religious ideas and meanings stand on far better footing than racism and sexism in this respect, since the later two modes of thought have only been productive of hatred, violence, and injustice. I judge the experiential possibilities of racism and sexism to be undesirable based on “the experimental differences in the conduct of life” that their practice has been productive of in the past. No doubt some religious ideas have also been productive of violence and injustice, but I think it would be disingenuous to claim that religion has offered nothing positive to humanity. My pragmaticism may go beyond traditional definitions at this point, but when dealing with the ontology of the claims arising from experience, I take a radically participatory view. The history of humanity represents the Universe’s struggle to discover its own nature: we are the Universe’s conscious testing ground of truth, beauty, and goodness. These are ideals which are still in the process of working themselves out in our (and the universe’s) history. It is not simply a given that racism is wrong; its wrongness is a fact that must be discovered in our moral feelings and defended by our ethical practices. If Nazi Germany had won WW2, and its Final Solution had succeeded, we might be living in a world where the experiential facts confirmed the truth of racism. Fortunately, because of an outpouring of ethical will, this possibility was kept at bay. It has now become an ethical fact that genocidal racism is wrong, but only because the moral feelings of one sector of global society won out over another. Goodness is always at stake, always being defined and redefined in the adventure of civilization.

I’ve written about what a participatory spirituality looks like for me. I have more work to do to flesh it out, of course…

Finally, Bryant writes:

In your post over at footnotes2plato you make the odd claim that somehow naturalism prevents us from fighting neoliberal capitalism. This ignores the rather obvious fact that 1) Marxist thought is a naturalistic position, 2) those European countries that are most socialized are also overwhelmingly secular, and 3) religion has repeatedly sided with capitalism throughout history and provided support for forces that underly these forms of capitalism.

I would make the claim that atheistic naturalism (wherein the whole point of the scientific endeavor becomes the thorough disenchantment of the universe) makes criticism of neoliberal capitalism more difficult, since I think such critiques must penetrate to the metaphysical underpinnings of capitalism in order to be effective. These underpinnings include what Donna Haraway has referred to as “productionism”:

“Productionism and its corollary, humanism, come down to the story line that ‘man makes everything, including himself, out of the world that can only be resource and potency to his project and active agency’” -“The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others,” in Cultural Studies (1992), p. 297

Marx’s humanistic orientation and productionist metaphysics suggests to me that his naturalistic assumptions leave the deeper metaphysical structure of capitalism (that which makes it so socially and ecologically disruptive) untouched. Also, even if Marx himself was less than enthusiastic about religion, there are plenty of examples of religious communists, for whom it is religious experience that compels them to adopt communist ideals. Marx’s may have been a naturalistic position, but the Marxisms emerging in his wake have not always been.

As for “secularized” Europe, polls suggest that as much as 76% of Sweden, 80% of Denmark, 79% of Norway, 61% of France, 72% of Germany, 71% of the Netherlands, and 78% of the United Kingdom either believe in God or in”some sort of spirit or life force.” Church attendance may be down across much of the Continent, but this seems to be reflective of a move toward less conventional, more individual forms of post-religious spiritual expression.

A religious revival itself will not necessarily put a dent in capitalism. Žižek is fond of pointing out how New Age spirituality only functions to support the commodification of religious practice. And in some sense, even religion as understood esoterically (in both Western and Eastern contexts) may only foster a withdrawal into the apoliticism of mystical contemplation. This is why I think Whitehead’s philosophical project is so important, since it presents us with a way to bring science, religion, and politics into a more mutually enhancing relationship.

A reflection after participating in Steven Goodman‘s “Tibetan Trickster” workshop at CIIS several weekends ago. See my follow up comments to this essay here.

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I should begin. I don’t know how much time I have… I’d like to tell you a secret, even though I’m not sure if I can repeat it exactly as I hear it whispered to me inwardly even at this very moment. It is my secret, you see, and by verbalizing it in order to share it with someone else, it will undoubtedly lose some of its existential force. However, despite its being my secret, and so difficult to communicate to others, I know intuitively that it is of ultimate concern to everyone. I must risk telling you, even if it sounds at first like something obvious, something you’ve known since you were seven years old. It is a Big Secret, but it won’t dispel The Mystery or explain Life’s Meaning; knowing it can only deepen the mystery of your life’s meaning.

Are you ready? You may never be. It takes a whole life to prepare for. Here goes: it is absolutely certain that you and everyone you love will die.

Did you hear me? Now listen for an echo of what I’ve said within you. If you hear it, know that it is not an echo, but your own soul sharing the essence of her earthly mission with you. Ask your soul: “Why have you wed yourself to this mortal body?” I imagine she will answer as mine has: “Because love means nothing without death; there is no other way for Spirit to truly matter, no other way for your soul to find its way back to heaven but to die with love in your heart.”

  Behind death hides the Immortal Soul. It is not your’s that lives forever, mind you, but the World’s Soul. The World-Soul is love itself, the center of all creation, the gravity that “moves the sun and other stars.”

The Soul is a universal embrace holding all things together in the radiant space of Wisdom. But Wisdom’s light is not always bright enough to make the meaning of matter transparent, and so the Soul is also a battlefield upon which the chaos of shadow confrontation unfolds. Human history, which provides the background and container of your own personal life, is a “tangled web of fate” spun by the sustained encounter of Soul with shadow, Spirit with matter, Self with other. Death is denied by most human cultures, becoming a great evil to be fought against at every turn. Our fear of death’s ego-dissolving depths leads to all kinds of violence against other mortals, since the only power over death we are capable of securing comes by taking the life of others.

Perhaps it is not ignorant power that truly defeats death, but clear insight into the mystery hiding in its depths. Do not forget to hear death’s secret. Turn inward and face death squarely: Wisdom can be heard, in the still, dark center of our souls, beneath the crowded places and tormented faces of earthly time, silently speaking the Truth of freedom and love. History cannot escape the gravity of the World-Soul, and so inevitably there germinates within her the seed of enantiodromia: the shadow, confronted and integrated, becomes its opposite. When the horror of the shadow is swallowed, the Soul becomes pregnant with the Savior. Light shines through matter from the far side of death, escaping its dark lie to emerge within our soul as Wisdom, becoming our spirit-guide or daemon.

What had been a fearsome phenomenon observed only second hand through the death of others becomes what it always really was: the numinous source of all meaning and spiritual substance of all love. No longer something abstractly held at a distance from life, death becomes itself the point of the emergence of the mind’s present perspective, the Seer behind all that is seen. The Soul is not living as opposed to being dead, she is the Life that conquers death, the portal through which eternity flows into and transforms history, one generation at a time.

Death is a trickster. At once the most sacred and the most desecrated of rites, it shapes your life long before it ends it. If Socrates was right and the Soul is immortal, then death does not end our need of her love.

“…The soul demands our care not only for that part of time we call life, but for all time… If death were a release from everything, it would be a gift-of-Hermes (hermaion) for the wicked, because by dying they would be released not only from the body but also from their own wickedness together with the soul” (Phaedo).

But death, despite the Soul’s everlastingness, may still be Hermes’ gift to saint and sinner alike, since it carries with it a secret message to each individual human being from the gods. The secret is one I have tried to tell, but in the end it can only be heard in one’s own heart, there whispered by the Soul. In truth, it is a secret that cannot be shared between mortals, since its meaning cannot be limited by any language, nor pointed at by any finger. It is an open secret whose signature is nowhere in particular precisely because it can be found everywhere in the universe: in the passing clouds of the daytime sky, in the folds of our aging palm, in the names of those we love. There is no great significance in anything but for its being a sign of transience and death. All earthly things point away from their origin and toward their own demise, and it is precisely by indicating that which is before and beyond them that they are illuminated and made alluring to the Soul. A beautiful thing is never just what it is. It also is not, and in the space of this not, the whole of eternity is opened to our loving contemplation.

Humans are unique in our ability to sense what is not there, in our capacity to think and to feel not just actuality, but possibility. This power to recognize what is not is as much our gift as our curse, since it all but erases the instinctual “species knowledge” that so perfectly situates other creatures in the world according to their natures (Trickster Makes this World, by Lewis Hyde, p. 42). For this reason, despite the apparent harmony of the cosmos in which we live, we are generally riddled by anxiety and shame, imitating others since we are never sure how to behave ourselves. We lack our own way, and sense also in the life of the world that a certain arbitrariness is responsible for its beauty. There seems to be no universal principle to determine what is aesthetically pleasing from what is not. Beauty is unruly; its concreteness cannot be made to conform to formal notions of symmetry or measure. Tragedy is as touching as comedy, the absurd as provocative as the ordered. Beauty is seen or felt in a thing not because of what it is, but because of what it makes possible within the Soul who sees or feels it.

Perhaps our anxiety is due not only to our sense of the possible, and to the lack of a natural way that results, but also to our aborted knowledge of death. We know only that we will die, that a threshold will be met that surely will transform the ego and the arbitrarily ordered world it has come to think of as real. We do not know, however, what this transformation will produce in us, nor how we ought to conceive of the eternal nowhere and nowhen that it takes us. Knowing that, while not knowing what–this is the recipe for a lifetime’s worth of anxiety.

Typically, human cultures construct “cosmetologies” to cover up their ontological insecurity. These stories provide us with masks to hide our deep wounds and to avoid our having to face the forms of cosmic order and chaos at work outside our feeble comfort zones. What is needed is a more compassionate and developmentally open ontology, a cardiontology or mettaphysics, that provides a way of encountering the demons associated with death as our teachers. Demons can be invited into the Soul in order to help us heal, since it is they who carry to us an awareness of that which we are least aware and least compassionate. Only when demons are rejected do they seem to be motivated by evil intentions; faced with loving kindness, they lose agency altogether and are revealed to consist only of our own unclaimed traumatic material.

Has the secret been adequately told? Perhaps not. Though its meaning can only be postponed by being summarized (since its essence is either heard at once or forgotten), the limits of my medium require that I do so.

In Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illich, Ivan says, “At the moment of death I hope to be surprised,” and doubtless death will be quite a surprise for most of us. Why so? Because, according to our common sense, death is the end, something we have never experienced before and can never experience until we die.  Sure, plenty of us give ourselves various religious labels, belong to such and such a church, temple, mosque, or monastery, believing in this or that kind of afterlife… but how much of it is genuine? How much of our own spiritual opinions do we take seriously? It has become hard in today’s skeptically-minded times to truly believe anything but the standard company line that our entire existence on Earth consists of nothing but this one fleeting breath of life between birth and death. It is commonly thought that to demand more is to regress into fantasy, to ignore the hard fact of life that is death. But surely even the skeptical rationalists, beneath their veneer of intellectual pride, still feel the chilling air of uncertainty bubbling up from the darkness of their own impending death.

Death unites us all in a common mystery, though most of us mistake it for misery. If death is really the end of our personality, and by all biological accounts it seems to be, then what is it all for? Why live? What more could life be, in this case, but a hesitation, a rejection of the inevitable, a denial of our fate? To consider ourselves alive, we must deny ourselves death. But our denial cannot prevent its inevitable arrival. It’s coming to swallow us up into a timeless void for all eternity and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. In such a situation, there is only one reasonable option for those seeking freedom. In the teachings of the Buddha, we find a path toward the realization of this freedom. But the path, rather than leading away from death, leads directly into it. The Buddha suggests, in other words, that we learn to “die” while still alive, so that the eventual death of our bodies won’t be such a shock to us. This death while still alive is enlightenment, realization of the Dharma, and it consists in seeing deeply enough into the Soul in order to discover that which is neither dead nor alive but eternal.

If the struggle against death gives rise to the ego—in a sense, is the ego—then the dissolution of the ego should be one and the same as the acceptance of death. The Buddha’s doctrine of anatman here becomes relevant in that it reveals the selfless nature of reality, thereby giving one the sense that death need not be feared because there never was anyone to die to begin with. Similarly, the Buddha’s doctrine of sunyata, or emptiness, shows us that life has meaning only within the context of death, and vice versa. Life itself has no self-nature. Its appearance in the relative realm of maya depends on its contextual relationship with death. In such a realm, life means whatever death does not, just as death means whatever life does not. The Buddha saw the trap inherent to all discursive methods of thought that attempt to understand the life-death polarity intellectually. The coincidence of these opposites can be known only experientially, and even then, their reconciliation inevitably slips away and is forgotten.

Contemporary humanity finds itself in just such a strange epistemological paradox. We are convinced out of sheer habit of thought that the meaning of life is knowable and rational—that it obeys a reliable and symbolically describable order, and that it has some demonstrable purpose; but all the while, whenever we happen to stop and look into the mystery of our own being, we become aware of the terrifying fact that all of our supposed knowledge rests on blind assumptions about the completely unknowable experience of death that will one day befall us.

We, as civilized humans, are raised to act and think as though we are isolated individuals, as if our skin was an ultimate boundary completely cutting us off from the world around us. We are brought up in a way that distorts our initial childhood perception of reality, which is the simple truth of our growth out of this world, and therefore of our inseparable connection to it. This intuition is denied and repressed in favor of the more intellectually useful idea of having been thrown into this world.  From this outside, third-person perspective, scientific map-making becomes possible. Such maps are directly responsible for the great technological successes of our society. But the rewards of this perspective come at a cost. By pretending to be an outsider on our own planet, we have alienated ourselves from nature. This “outsider’s view” of the universe is a major source of our anxiety about death, as any human who was in touch with his nature would be as accepting of his death as he was of any other naturally occurring event. Were we to remain in touch with our childhood intuitions about reality, we would not fear death but instead spend our lives preparing for it with great excitement and expectation.

“To fear death, my friends, is only to think ourselves wise, without being wise,” says Socrates,

“for it is to think that we know what we do not know. For anything that men can tell, death may be the greatest good that can happen to them: but they fear it as if they knew quite well that it was the greatest of evils. And what is this but that shameful ignorance of thinking that we know what we do not know?”

Why Religious Dialogue?

Interreligious dialogue is not a distant possibility but a present necessity. This essay is a response to this need, but it is written also as an intrareligious dialogue. This is because the conditioned nature of my own personality, having been historically shaped into what it is by my unique imaginal participation in certain texts and practices, at first allows me to speak and be understood only within the personal and communal bounds of these traditions.

By seeking out the essence of my own spiritual path, I hope to become more capable of generating wise and compassionate relationships with those who walk adjacent paths. There’s a way in which the intra- and interpersonal boundaries generated by each of the world’s religions also opens them to extra- and transpersonal bonds. These bonds tie the traditions to each other within an ecology of Spirit, each of them creating and receiving love from the other within the space opened up by Spirit’s eternal passage into history.

And so while it may at first appear so on the surface, the condition “we”—the English speaking post-secular intelligentsia, or whoever—currently find ourselves in is not one of lacking an effective method or means of contacting those of “other”—let us say, non-Christian, non-secular, or indigenous—traditions. If “we” have identified ourselves as “the same,” we have already set ourselves in differential relation to “others.” No tradition has known itself as religious or salvific in the absence of a relation to other traditions claiming the same. In other words, the self-consciousness of each of the world’s religious traditions never could have emerged but as a consciousness of otherness. Moving from the historical to the metaphysical register, we can say that differentiation begets identity even as identification begets difference. This seems to be a logical contradiction, when it fact it is the principle of life (or incarnation) itself. The concepts—self/identity and other/difference—are conditioned by one another and so exist relatively. Only the relation is absolute. “Religion” is that which relates, or binds together, this with that, me with you, time with eternity, secular with religious, human with divinity. Religion may appear to us through the expressions and experiences of many religions, but underlying all of them is a universal love for and convergence upon the unspeakable oneness of Spirit (unspeakable because always arising anew, eternally born within and between us).

The need for dialogue on dialogue is now more urgent than ever, since our species’ ability to communicate compassionately across borders is already determining the sorts of worlds being brought forth by an increasingly planetary civilization. Unfortunately, the most powerful form of transnational communication taking place today is governed by the purely economic norms of corporations. The earth and its human and non-human populations are being exploited by these amoral entities. They operate under norms with no system of evaluation but that selected by “the invisible hand” according to the laws of supply and demand. “The strongest will survive, and the species will progress”: so goes the market mantra. Transitioning into a just, peaceful, and ecologically resilient planetary civilization will require that our governing ethos shift away from that of monetarily-motivated corporate entities toward institutions not concerned solely with their own profit. Power must be transferred to institutions concerned for the welfare of all sentient beings.

For the last three or four centuries, the political influence of the world’s religions has waned, but the secular nation-states that have risen to replace them in the hopes of mediating their discord have proven unable to prevent violence. In fact, nations continue to wage war upon one another, always under the pretext of self-defense. It seems that the capitalist logic to which the nation-state is subject inevitably generates economic pressure that leads them to militarily secure and/or expand their industrial markets. One of the underlying assumptions of interreligious dialogue generally seems to be that, in the wake of this failure of the modern secular state, the religious traditions of the world must be among the institutions called upon to reclaim a more enlightened version of their former power and responsibility for directing the course of world history. What is needed is not a return to feudalism and monarchy, nor a re-absorption in “dogmatism, fanaticism, and sectarianism” (MMR, p. 16), but a more integral way of politically mobilizing the world’s great wisdom traditions as a counterweight to the market religion that has come to dominate the planet.

Traditional religion, as it had been known by civilizations yet to planetize, is being re-invented within the crucible of the global encounter of the religions (including secularism). As Haridas Chaudhuri put it, religion is “the undying substance of the spirit of man” that, if it is “destined to play a vital role in the advancement of civilization,” must today “be reborn out of its own ashes” (MMR, p.  15). In the hopes of furthering this rebirth in some small way, the remainder of my intrareligious “confession” will circle around just two traditions, those most responsible for the ongoing formation of my soul: Mahayana Buddhism and Esoteric Christianity. The wisdom of these traditions will be approached in light of the poetic insights of William Blake and John Keats, both of whom sought a new experiential revelation of Spirit at the personal level.

It is not only the various religious institutions that must renew themselves; each person’s consciousness of the religious must also be transformed before Spirit can adequately guide human civilization into the next century. The planetary is personal, since the planet can only be redeemed through the love of person for person. We must each continue to speak compassionately from within in search of the One who binds us all together:

When the two will be made one, both the inside and the outside, the outside and the inside, the superior and the inferior…then you will enter [into ‘The Kingdom’], (Gospel of Thomas, quoted in IRD, p. xix).

Soul-making with Christ and Buddha

Rather than attempt to sum up what are in and of themselves vast and diverse traditions with their own inner tensions and controversies, or deal with the intractable question of who should speak for either, I will take is as a matter of course that Buddha and Christ exist as spiritual beings who are potentially in communication with human consciousness independently of any specific institutions or canonized texts. Though I will still draw from the scripture and practice built up around them, I do so with the assumption that each being is eternally present on the imaginal plane of consciousness and so irreducible to (though not separable from) culture and history. This is a religious realism that stands in contrast to both relativism and exclusivism, since it takes seriously the reality of multiple more-than-human Teachers whose supersensible love and wisdom enters into the world through the power of Imagination. The respective teachings of Buddha and Christ will be brought into dialogue within my own consciousness to exemplify the activity of “intrareligious soul-making,” an activity growing increasingly relevant to the current generation of planetary citizens. A person is not a “conscious atom,” but “a knot in a net of relationships,” and so though what I have to say is peculiar to my own process, I say it in expectation of the resonance and dissonance that it will provoke in others. This internal dialogue is but an opening gesture humbly offered in service to the ongoing struggle for a more humane planetary mythos.

“Soul-making” is a “system of salvation” and “spirit creation” first articulated by Keats in a letter to his brother and sister-in-law in May of 1819. Keats was after a form of spiritual wisdom that did not “affront our reason and humanity,” and that would reframe many of the problems besetting traditional Christianity. “Intrareligious dialogue” has been defined by Raimon Panikkar as a “quest for salvific truth” that “takes place in the core of our being” as “an authentic prayer open in all directions” that is “no longer concerned with mere formulations of our own tradition or of other people” (IRD, p. xvii). This essay is my experiment in soul-making, which Keats defined as a search for the “proper action of Mind and Heart on each other for the purpose of forming the Soul.” It could also be called an inward opening, or intrareligious prayer, to Buddha and Christ. I beckon these beings, asking them to reveal, if they will, “the whole human world and also the entire reality” as it is reflected within the microcosm of my soul (ibid., xviii).

Though Keats had but little conscious knowledge of the Buddha, the development of his system of soul-making was motivated by realizations nearly identical to the First and Second Noble Truths, that life is suffering caused by attachment to a transient world.

“Circumstances are like clouds continually gathering and bursting,” writes Keats,

…while we are laughing the seed of some trouble is put into the wide arable land of events—while we are laughing it sprouts [and] grows and suddenly bears a poison fruit which we must pluck…This is the world—thus we cannot expect to give way many hours to pleasure.

The world, or perhaps the soul’s relation to the world, has gone astray. It is this condition and circumstance from which all salvific religion emerges. It was only once I had awakened to the truths of suffering and impermanence—to the waywardness of the human world—that my spiritual path began. As Christ has said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Only upon recognizing and accepting my own fallen state can I hope to hear the saving Word within a receptive heart. Otherwise, without the inner silence brought by such recognition, my mind wanders endlessly, grasping at one temporary pleasure after the next, never finding in them the Love I so desperately seek. No matter the worldly progress I may make by achieving money and fame, it inevitably leaves me unhappy and wanting more, since, as Keats writes, I am “mortal and there is still a heaven with its stars above [my] head.” Unless I find Love, upon death I “would leave this world as Eve left Paradise”: sinful and with regret. Such a world remains fallen, what Keats called “a vale of tears.”

The Buddha’s Third Noble Truth suggests that there is a cure for the suffering of this world, and that it may be attained, if not in this life, then in one of the many lives to come. Rather than temporally relieving pain with pleasure, Buddha uproots it entirely, offering a way out of the cycle of samsara through the gradual elimination of karma. Christianity’s way of salvation is often contrasted with Buddha’s, since the former’s focuses on the overwhelming importance of this life as our one chance to prepare for death, after which we may be “redeemed,” writes Keats, “by a certain arbitrary interposition of God and taken to Heaven.” Keats finds this a doctrine too “little” and “circumscribed” to be believable. But the larger possibilities of reincarnation are not entirely foreign to Christian theology. One of the first Christian theologians, Origen, articulated a doctrine of metempsychosis in the 2nd century based on the fallen soul’s need of passing through successive stages before returning to God. Rudolf Steiner, a 20th century seer, suggested that, without accommodating itself to the truths of reincarnation and evolution, Christianity would remain too narrowly focused on the salvation of the ego or private personality, rather than the whole cosmic community to which the individual is karmically tied (CMF).

“If we observe the various phases of karmic chain-reaction [or evolutionary reincarnation],” writes Tibetan Lama Anagarika Govinda,

…we become conscious of a supra-individual karmic interrelatedness, comprising nations, races, civilizations, humanity, planets, solar systems and finally the whole universe” (FTM, p. 219).

If I contemplate the life and teaching of Christ, it becomes apparent to me that the meaning of the resurrection is already suggestive of reincarnation, or our ability to be “born again.” If I die to myself, to the reactivity of my physical body and pleasure-seeking soul, I am born again free of sin, like Christ, “not of the water, but of the spirit” (Luke 3:16). This rebirth is my reincarnation, my second chance at life, through participation in the eternally resurrecting Body of Christ. The earth and the cosmos are within this Body, and only dying for the sake of its Life awakens consciousness to his invisible Soul. The meaning of the historical arc of Christian redemption becomes all the more clear when each particular soul is understood to participate in a multi-generational work of uniting itself with the World-Soul and the visible universe it animates. God cannot force change upon the world from outside time and space, since God’s omnipotence is not other than God’s Love, which works only from within the world through the power of animation and the magic of soul (i.e., Imagination). As the particular soul seeks identity with the universal anew in every age, Spirit incarnates more fully into history. Gradually, karma is undone and sin forgiven, since life after life the Love of God for the world becomes more present between persons.

Gautama and Jesus were enlightened human beings whose bodies nonetheless bled upon the cross of time and space, there dying to finitude in order to more fully realize the infinite. “Do you not see,” asks Keats, “how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school a [divine] Intelligence and make it a Soul?” Without living and dying upon the earth, these beings could not fully grasp the nature of the eternal realm from which they came. Even divinity has something to learn from the condition of suffering. But rather than dissolving into the bliss of nirvana or remaining with the Father in heaven after their earthly deaths, they returned as bodhisattvas, vowing to remain in connection with the earth until the sin and suffering of all sentient beings is alleviated.

What form have they taken in their return? It does not seem to be physical or sensible, as then surely more would recognize their presence among us. Rather, these beings have taken up residence within the human soul, there acting as friends and advocates along our path through the school of the world toward spiritual happiness. The supersensible, rather than plainly visible presence of Buddha and Christ accounts for why the current state of human discussion concerning their reality tends to circle endlessly around the relative merits of belief or disbelief. While the secularization thesis (that modernization would inevitably lead to reduced religiosity) has failed, leaving the world more religious today than ever before, in general, the return to religion has tended to construe spiritual claims as merely notional, available for conceptual assent or not depending on one’s psychological disposition or moral inclination. Therefore, while religion can offer justifiable ethical standards, the ontology of Spirit has been bracketed, since no empirical proof has yet been made available that might scientifically verify its reality. For religion to meet both the practical and theoretical needs of a planetary civilization, it must respect the validity of the scientific picture while at the same time pointing out the limited scope of its empirical method. Religion cannot only be critical of science, however; it must also develop its own techniques of transformation to bring the soul into relation to supersensible spiritual realities. Soul-making is an example of such a technique, and can be the catalyst of a new consciousness of religion.

Empiricism has honed only one of the soul’s powers, namely, sensory perception, and due to its great practical successes in technologically extending the reach of sensation, science has tended to ignore the soul’s other capacities. The soul is dynamic, always in motion between its active (poeisis) and passive (paschein) poles. In its sensory mode, the soul passively suffers the world; in its thinking mode, the soul actively creates the world. The reality of Spirit must be considered in the context of this polarization in the life of the soul. A soul whose productive half remained dormant could not experience Christ or Buddha, since these beings are not simply waiting in the outer world for us to perceive. Nor could a soul released from its passionate attunement to the outer world experience their being, since then they would be but figments of inner fantasy evaporating as soon as the fervency of our belief grew tired. The reality of Spirit cannot be known through sensation or conception alone, but must be participated, or enacted, by the organ of Imagination. Imagination unites passivity and activity, perceiving and thinking, and is cultivated by the mutual work of heart and mind one upon the other.

“I am certain of nothing,” writes Keats,

but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of the Imagination—What the Imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth—whether it existed before or not… The Imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream—he awoke and found it truth (from a letter to Benjamin Bailey on November 22, 1817).

Science, of course, also draws from both ends of the soul’s polarization, being as much a logical as an empirical method. It is primarily a tool of the mind used to read the book of nature, but its emphasis on empirical data alone prevents it from hearing the divine Word spoken in the heart. The role of religion is to remind humanity that the eye of the mind is in need of the heart’s ear, lest we forget our real desire and true identity.

Who is the soul, what does it desire, and why? These are the questions besetting each individual person, and it is through our unique participation in the imaginative process of soul-making that they are answered. Regarding the issue of identity, Buddha taught some of his students the doctrine of anātman (no-self), while to others he granted the reality of the ātman (whose true identity is Bráhman) (GH, p. 81). This is no contradiction, but rather the result of Buddha’s upāya, or skillful means. His teachings are never final, but offered provisionally as helpful aids tailored to the students that he happens to be speaking with in any given moment. Perhaps in the Buddhist context, the soul is best conceived of as a principle, rather than an entity. According to D. T. Suzuki, the soul is tṛṣṇā, the principle of thirst, or desire. In this sense, the soul does not have desires, but in fact is desire (the polarity of the soul discussed above is here preserved, since as desire it is both an active seeking and a passive suffering). Suzuki also suggests that tṛṣṇā is the creator, not just of the individual soul, but also of the material universe itself. We are the microcosmic reflections of its macrocosmic extent.

“As its highest and richest expression,” he writes,

[the human being] can have an insight into the nature of tṛṣṇā and its working. When we really see into ourselves, tṛṣṇā will bare itself before itself in us…Tṛṣṇā lies in us not as one of the factors constituting our consciousness, but it is our being itself. It is I; it is you; it is the cat; it is the tree; it is the rock; it is the snow; it is the atom” (MCB, p. 107-108).

As was held by Christian scholastics, Suzuki is describing how, from a Buddhist perspective, “the soul is, in a way, all things” (Anima quodammodo omnia). In our literalistic age, the soul is looked for in the body, as if in the heart, the lungs, or the pineal gland. For a pre-modern seer like Aquinas, it is rather the body that is in the soul. As tṛṣṇā, the soul creates and gives form to the physical organism, which is “the coagulated, crystallized, or materialized consciousness of the past” (FTM, p. 68). The organism is the product of billions of years of accumulated desire, the materialized memory of past mental activity. In other words, even the body does not escape the process of soul-making. “Man can never be large enough to possess his psychic organs,” writes psychologist James Hillman, “He can but reflect their activities” (RP, p. 173).

Soul-making is an attempt to become more conscious of how our desires shape us, in body and in mind. Both Buddha and Christ teach that the desire that made the universe can, in the awakened, anointed human soul, become a Love that glorifies and redeems all things.

Trinity and Trikaya

When the teachings of Christ first encountered Greek culture, the Biblical account of the creation of the universe through the power of divine speech was understood to be akin to the role of the philosophical concept of Logos, or cosmic intelligence. The incarnation of Christ meant a radical change had occurred in the nature of the world and the human being. For the Greek convert to Christianity, the meaning of the incarnation is that, as John’s Gospel puts it, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14). No longer simply a philosophical concept, Logos became a living human person made of flesh and blood. Logos, understood macrocosmically, entered fully into the microcosm.

A deeper understanding of the 2nd person, and of the Trinity generally, may be garnered from considering them in relation to the Buddhist Trikaya. My reading of the similarities between the Trinity and Trikaya is predominantly an imaginative exercise or experiment, not a textual exegesis of Buddhist or Christian sources (though these will be consulted). I do not mean to equate the two concepts, but to consider them as unique attempts to articulate the differentiated unity of ultimate reality. I’ll begin this exercise by describing the Trinity and Trikaya each in turn, before moving on to draw out their similarities.

For the Christian, ultimate reality is conceived of as a loving communion between Father, Son, and Spirit. God, though of one substance, is nonetheless three persons, since otherwise, there would be no differentiation in the Godhead, and therefore no possibility of love or relationship. The Father is traditionally described as unknowable and infinitely transcendent (GH, p. 152). The First Letter to Timothy says of the Father that “…no one has ever seen or ever can see him” (6:16). The Son is the image of the Father, the transcendent made immanent by being given concrete form. The Son issues forth eternally from the Father, which is why Jesus says “I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself commanded me what to say and how to speak” (John 12:49). The Son could be described as a doorway, or gate, leading to the Father (GH, p. 105). The Spirit is the advocate who proceeds from the Father and the Son, and who remains on earth after Christ’s resurrection to council humanity concerning the power of Love. The Spirit has also been identified with the personal spirit or breath of Jesus that inhabited his disciples (GH, p. 154).

For the Buddhist (of the Tibetan lineage), ultimate reality is conceived of as infinite spaciousness, though not a spaciousness that is opposed to form. As the Heart Sutra says:

…emptiness [or spaciousness] is form; form is emptiness. Apart from form, emptiness is not; apart from emptiness, form is not. Emptiness is that which is form, form is that which is emptiness.

This spaciousness that is not other than form is called the body of truth, or the Dharmakaya. It is the primordial law and cause of all things (FTM, p. 213). The Dharmakaya, when envisioned and expressed in its mode of creative formation, is called the Sambhogakaya. This is the body of enjoyment and bliss. “From it,” according to Lama Govinda, “flows all deep wisdom and profound truth” (FTM, p. 214). The Sambhogakaya might be conceived of as akin to the Imagination discussed above, the organ of soul-making that unites the spiritual and the sensible through the wisdom and compassion of the heart-mind. When the inspired bliss of the Sambhogakaya is transformed into visible activity by incarnating into human form, it is called the Nirmanakaya, or emanation body (FTM, p. 213). In Tibetan, Nirmanakaya is translated as “tulku,” which refers to a reincarnate lama (GH, p. 190) who has re-entered the physical plane not on accident, but consciously. The Nirmanakaya, then, is a consciously created body (FTM, p. 221). Lama Govinda suggests that only through the Nirmanakaya, as seen from within the world of physical embodiment, can the other two bodies be experienced and realized (FTM, p. 222):

Only in the Nirmanakaya can we realize the Dharmakaya effectively, by converting it into an ever-present conscious force, into an incandescent, all consuming focus of experience, in which all elements of our personality are purified and integrated. This is the transfiguration of body and mind…achieved only by the greatest of saints (ibid.).

The parallels between the Trinity and the Trikaya may already have become apparent, but I will attempt to make them more explicit. It must be acknowledged that there is no perfect one-to-one correspondance between the three bodies and the three persons, but rather a rich ambiguity testifying to the deeply evocative meaning inherent in each doctrine.

Thupten Jinpa links the Dharmakaya with the Father, the Sambhogakaya with the Spirit, and the Nirmanakaya with the Son (GH, p. 189). In this scheme, the Dharmakaya and the Father are both recognized as the inexpressible mystery from which all things freely arise. They are the Truth and the Law underlying the manifest cosmos. The Sambhogakaya and the Spirit are recognized as the love, wisdom, and enjoyment of being that pervade the world at a level subtler than the physical dimension. The Dalai Lama describes how, after Gautama Buddha’s parinirvana, though his physical body decayed and disappeared, his Sambhogakaya, or “state of perfect resourcefulness,” continued and remains ever-present (GH, p. 119). Those still devoted to the Buddha’s teaching benefit by relating to this subtler form of his being. This is very close to the message of John’s Gospel, where Christ says that, after his ascension, the Spirit will be sent to remind the faithful of his message and to aid them in its practice (14:25). Finally, the Nirmanakaya and the Son are recognzied in Jinpa’s scheme as emanations or physical embodiments of subtler forces that have been “stepped down” so as to benefit the temperament of ordinary mortals like ourselves. Were it not for the historical emanation of Gautama Buddha, or the incarnation of Jesus Christ, normal human beings could never have accessed their divine teachings.

Another reading is possible. Relating the Dharmakaya to the Father is unproblematic, but Son and Spirit may also be fruitfully understood as parallels to Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya, respectively. The relation between the Sambhogakaya, understood to be the organ of Imagination (as discussed above), and the Son becomes clearer in light of William Blake’s oft repeated insight, that “Jesus is the Imagination.”

Jesus is the Imagination, the creative power at the core of man’s being. All things are comprehended in their Eternal Forms in the divine body of the Savior, the true vine of eternity, the Human Imagination” (BD, p. 159).

If, as Lama Govinda suggests, the Sambhogakaya is the body that provides an exalted vision of higer forms and ideas (FTM, p. 214), perhaps Christ is not (only) a historical emanation, but an eternally born, universal potency lying dormant in the human soul. Through the processes of interplay between heart, mind, and world at work in soul-making, Christ may be resurrected within each of us as an organ of Imagination, thereby granting us participation in eternal Love and bliss. On this reading, Christ is not (or at least not only) an individual who lived and died in Jerusalem during the first century CE (as in Jinpa’s scheme, where He is equated with the Nirmanakaya), but an ever-flowing creative presence available to those whose heart-mind’s are adequately prepared to witness Him.

The Nirmanakaya, then, can be related to the Spirit, or that which is awakened in the individual human being to the imaginal presence of the Son. As Blake put it, the Spirit is “the intellectual fountain proceeding from Jesus to man” (BD, p. 158). It would be impossible to remain a Christian while denying that Jesus Christ was both fully human and fully divine, and that he indeed walked the earth as a man in 1st century Jerusalem. That Christ is currently present to  consciousness on the imaginal, rather than the physical plane, does not mean he wasn’t once physically incarnate. His birth, death, and resurrection as a physical being prepared the human vessel for Spirit to enter into and be realized by our consciousness. The ambiguity between the Son and the Spirit, or the Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya, is a reflection of the permeability of the physical plane to the supersensible influence of the Imagination. According to Steiner, this permeability is a result of the spiritual transformation of the very substance of the earth brought about by the Christ event (CMF).

Conclusion: Soul and Spirit

“As various as the Lives of Men are,” writes Keats, “so various become their Souls, and thus does God make individual beings, Souls, identical Souls of the Sparks of his own essence.” If religion is to return to play a fruitful role in our post-secular context, it must re-envision itself so that it might speak to the needs of modern people. Nearly a hundred years of depth psychology have made it increasingly difficult to deny the inherently polytheistic tendencies of the soul. According to Hillman, for whom psychology was akin to soul-making, “The soul’s inherent multiplicity demands a theological fantasy of equal differentiation” (RP, p. 167). Each of us is uniquely shaped by our respective traditions, which is not to deny that all of us are also universally drawn toward Spirit. Spirit is such that, as soon as it is named, it becomes multiple. Christ and Buddha are the voices most easily heard by my soul, but it is through a devotion to their teachings of love and kindness that I become capable of hearing the voices of other traditions. There is no more important challenge, and perhaps none more difficult, than this openness to the wisdom of others.

The “New Age” approach taken in this essay could be criticized as leading to a “religion of the supermarket” (DRB, p. 44), wherein an uprooted individual borrows various elements from the world’s wisdom traditions in order to construct a spiritual orientation most comfortable to their personal inclinations. There is indeed a danger of superficiality in such practices, but the growing interpenetration of traditions in our new planetary context has also created new possibilities for soul-making.

As Chaudhuri has written,

…modern man is uniquely privileged to draw upon the manifold richness of world culture. He can select according to the needs and requirements of his growing soul. The selected material, however diverse in form, can be transformed into the harmony of balanced self-development by the creative spark within him, by his authentic self, which shines most in free communication with the boundless universe (MMR, p. 74).

The world becomes a vale of soul-making when earth is no longer radically separated, due to our sin (or clouded perception), from heaven, nor soul (or desire) separated from Love (or Spirit). Instead, an economy can be opened between the Above and the Below, such that creative divinity participates directly in the life of the soul, and, eventually, in the shaping of the body igniting it.

Works Cited

 MMR = Chaudhuri, Haridas. Modern Man’s Religion. 1966. J. F. Rowny Press: Santa Barbara, CA.

DRB = Cornille, Catherine. “Double Religious Belonging: Aspects and Questions.” Buddhist-Christian Studies, vol. 23. 2003. University of Hawaii Press.

BD = Damon, Samuel Foster. Eaves, Morris. A Blake Dictionary: The ideas and symbols of William Blake. 1988. University Press of New England: Hanover, NH.

FTM = Govinda, Lama Anagarika. Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism. 1959. Rider & Company: London, UK.

RP = Hillman, James. Revisioning Psychology. 1977. Harper: New York, NY.

GH = Kiely, Robert. The Good Heart: A Buddhist perspective on the teachings of Jesus. 1998. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA.

IRD = Panikkar, Raimon. The Intrareligious Dialogue. 1998. Paulist Press: New York, NY.

CMF = Steiner, Rudolf. Christianity as Mystical Fact. 1997. Anthroposophic Press: Hudson, NY.

MCB = Suzuki, D. T. Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist. 2002. Routledge: New York, NY.

Excerpts of John Keats are from the letter dated Feb 19th, 1819 to George and Georgiana Keats (unless otherwise noted by in text citation).

Introduction

Despite my resolute sense of the sacred nature of earthly existence, religious belief has yet to strike me as a particularly appropriate form of response to the presence of the holy. Belief is to be distinguished from Faith, in that believing implies conceiving of the existence of spiritual beings without the perceptual experience to give such conceptions their content. Faith, in contrast, involves opening one’s innermost heart to the Wisdom of the divine and is the first step toward accessing supersensible experience.

Beliefs are empty wishes, which according to Rudolph Steiner, are “deeply bound up with personal egoism…rising out of the body like subjective smoke” (IMS, p. 233). I may believe a friend’s testimony concerning any number of worldly issues, but I cannot settle for a secondhand understanding of the true source of my deeply felt spiritual intuitions. I am forced, then, in this essay, to go beyond belief by way of Faith, that mode of loving perception whose content is Wisdom. In this way, I hope to contact the true source of my desire for the divine.

But leaving behind religious teachings and symbols entirely would be an arrogant mistake, stranding me in uncharted astral waters without any direction home. The human soul is a stormy sea between the lonely island I call “me” and the shores of a shared earthly destiny. Crossing these treacherous waters requires more than my ego can take. Psyche (my soul) is a spiritual being who cannot be an experience had by my ego, because my ego is always already adrift within Her, already swallowed whole. To calm the seas of my soul, I can only die willingly for Her in Faith that She redeems me. She is the Church, not of Rome, but of the earth entire. In Her, I find my destiny.

The maps toward Her hidden treasure have been written for us by countless spiritual seers, each urging us to brave the depths of Her psychic sea so that we may see with them what our earthly senses conceal. Her treasure is buddhi, the gift of intuitive knowing that bridges heaven and earth and turns death into eternal life.

The sacred scriptures pointing signs for us in the direction of the divine are many, but in this essay, I will discuss those mentioning three beings in particular: Krishna, Buddha, and Christ. In what follows, I will attempt, aided by Faith, Wisdom, and Love to know with these beings the purpose of their presence on earth, and to see with them how they are guiding the evolution of humanity toward a rebirth as the children of Gaia.

Krishna

The human, at present, is a being precariously caught between the ignorant instincts of its animal past and the angelic gnosis of its spiritual future. Said differently, the human is a heavenly being still in the process of becoming fully conscious of its mission on earth.

The human soul, wounded by the split of the ego from the unconscious, is torn between a desire to live and a fear of death. In such a wounded state, humanity has little choice but to make of life a war in defense from death. Out of this confusion (confusion, because war for life only assures that death prevails) grows the soul’s conscience, its sense of good and evil. These moral opposites arise because the ego knows of no other scheme with which to make sense of its precarious mortal existence.

Humanity’s inability to see the meaning of the playful war of these friendly enemies (good and evil, life and death, desire and fear) is responsible for shattering its collective Psyche into an untold number of ego identities, for whom collectivity has become unconscious. The current age of spiritual darkness due to egoic isolation is one of war for forgotten wisdom buried beneath the blood of ages, for as Krishna says, only he or she “who in all things is without affection though visited by this good or that evil and neither hates nor rejoices, [only] his [or her] intelligence sits firmly founded in wisdom,” (BG, 2:57).

Krishna is the being that helps open the human heart to the karma of the generations who have come before, in whose deaths the lives of the present steal their time. Krishna is consciousness of the past, and all its implications for humanity’s future path. In Krishna, one becomes conscious of the weight of the whole human mass, or what Teilhard de Chardin might call the “great Monad” (HM, p. 188).

In the opening scenes of the Bhagavad-Gita, after being urged by his as yet unrecognized charioteer to ride forth into battle against his own family, the warrior Arjuna is caught in an epic struggle with the great moral forces in his soul. The war of Kurukshetra is set to begin, but Arjuna throws down his bow and arrow because he cannot bear the thought of slaying his own people, of embracing the cosmic significance and ultimate sacrifice of the task before him.

Arjuna looks to his charioteer for help, saying:

It is poorness of spirit that has smitten away from me my true heroic nature, my whole consciousness is bewildered in its view of right and wrong. I ask thee which may be better [to fight, or not]—that tell me decisively. I take refuge as a disciple with thee; enlighten me, (BG, 2:7).

His charioteer responds:

Finite bodies have an end, but that which possesses and uses the body, is infinite, illimitable, eternal, indestructible. Therefore fight, O Bharata. He who regards the soul as a slayer, and he who thinks it is slain, both of them fail to perceive the truth. It does not slay, nor is it slain, (BG, 2:18-19).

In the chapters that follow, the charioteer eventually reveals himself to be Krishna, the Lord of all existences. He shares with Arjuna many lessons concerning the inevitability of action in the constantly flowing realm of Prakriti (Nature). Among these lessons are the yogas leading the divinely inspired worker to act without attachment to the fruits of his or her labor while knowing Purusha (Soul) through devotion to the supreme Brahman. Bhakti brings one closer to the divine essence within, the atman, which when identified with heals the egoic rift in Psyche by reminding us of our eternal origin and destiny. The necessity of uniting the three yogas of action, knowledge, and love is a message running throughout the Gita, but the most important impartation occurs in chapter 11.

Arjuna, now free of self-pity and the delusion that his egoic indecision might forestall the inevitable cosmic unrolling of the Supreme Godhead’s secret labor on earth, asks Lord Krishna to reveal his divine form and body.

The Gita describes Krishna’s supreme form:

It is that of the infinite Godhead whose faces are everywhere…a world-wide divinity seeing with innumerable eyes, speaking from innumerable mouths, armed for battle with numberless divine uplifted weapons…the whole world multitudinously divided and yet unified is visible in the body of the God of Gods, (BG, 11:9-14).

Arjuna struggles to see such a tremendous vision, which he says is “hard to discern because Thou art a luminous mass of energy on all sides of me, an encompassing blaze, a sun-bright fire-bright Immeasureable,” (p. 176).

A warrior of another time, Teilhard de Chardin, seems to have encountered a similar many-eyed, many-mouthed divine being while embroiled in war against his own European family, calling it variously “an immense human Presence” (HM, p. 174), and “a Soul greater than my own” (HM, p. 175). He echoes the difficulty expressed by Arjuna, saying that the “gift or faculty of perceiving, without actually seeing…is still comparatively rare,” (HM, p. 31). Krishna relates the same when he says, “What thou hast to see, this thy human eye cannot grasp; but there is a divine eye (an inmost seeing), and that eye I now give to thee,” (BG, 11:8). This eye belongs to the atman, whose spiritual sight sees beneath the surfaces that separate to the face shared by All.

The intense human energy that is brought forth in war seems to have served as the provocation for the emergence of such a spiritual sight in both Arjuna and Teilhard. As Teilhard says, “The effect of the war was to break through the crust of the commonplace and conventional [so as to open a window] onto the hidden mechanisms and deep strata of what humanity is becoming,” (HM, p. 178). In this way, the confusion of good and evil are transcended through a vision of the future, as the full breadth of time and the path of world history are made present. Evil becomes, given such a view, the provocateur of further evolution—the light that violently wakes the Self (atman) from its slumber deep within the clouded human soul.

As Teilhard says, the outward chaos of the front lines, like a crashing wave, curls upon itself and develops within one:

“…an underlying stream of clarity, energy, and freedom that is to be found hardly anywhere else in ordinary life—and the new form that the soul then takes on is that of the individual living the quasi-collective life of all men, fulfilling a function far higher than that of the individual, and becoming fully conscious of this new state,” (HM, p. 168).

Krishna-consciousness calls upon one to go beyond the isolated egoic state and its culturally relative sense of good and evil by offering insight into the mission of humanity as a whole. Krishna is the first awakening of the human Self (atman) and its demand of personal sacrifice for love of All (Brahman). The ego must transform, like Arjuna and Teilhard, by remembering the momentum of karmic current carrying it out of the fragmentation of old, and seeing, with them, the future unification that redeems its present sacrifices. With the knowledge gained through such sight, one is called to fight not for hatred of one’s enemies or the spoils of war, but for love of an earthly destiny decreed by heaven.

In the closing pages of the Gita, Krishna offers his final teaching to Arjuna, saying:

Devoting all thyself to Me, giving up in the conscious mind [ego] all actions into Me, resorting to Yoga of the will and intelligence be always one in heart and consciousness with Me, (BG, 18:57).

To which Arjuna responds:

Destroyed is my delusion, I have regained memory through Thy grace, O Infallible One, I am firm, dispelled are my doubts. I will act according to Thy word, (BG, 18:73).

“We are,” as Teilhard says, “the countless centers of one and the same sphere” (HM, p. 192) rushing toward an inevitable return to psychic and spiritual wholeness. Only by yolking individual knowledge, action, and love for the sake of collective human destiny can one participate in bringing to fruition the divine mission on earth.

Buddha

Krishna grants the human being a glimpse of the glory of his or her dharma by reminding him or her of their terrifying karma and the sacrifices its purification requires. Fully acknowledging one’s dharmic duty involves purifying the soul of its desires and fears. The teachings of the Buddha provide an appropriate practice kindling in the soul the fires of such purification.

The Buddhist Pāramitās provide the ego with a vessel to carry it from the island of isolated suffering across turbulent seas to the shores of enlightened compassion. One such path toward moral perfection and wise understanding can be found in the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths.

The first Truth concerns dukkha, or the fact that egoic life is suffering. Before Prince Gotama realized his inner Buddha-nature, his encounter with the three sorrows of age, sickness, and death nearly overwhelmed him. During the course of spiritual development, every individual is forced to confront these same sorrows in one way or another. Most initially ignore and repress them, turning their eyes elsewhere toward the many distractions afforded by countless bodily desires. But beneath the surface of such superficial pleasures, there begins to boil a sense of the emptiness of all egoic longings. The ego is possessed by a thirst that knows no satisfaction, and so eventually, dissatisfaction begins to overflow it, carrying the sorrows back into consciousness where they drown one in despair.

The Buddha invites one to sit with this psychic crisis rather than run, such that in its painful message is seen the source of the cure for all earthly sorrows. Recognizing that life lived egoically is a disease is the first step along the path toward calming the unsettled waters of the soul.

The second Noble Truth concerns samudaya, or the origin of suffering. Only once the impermanence of all manifest form is accepted and the sorrows of age, sickness, and death have been faced can the cause of such afflictions become apparent. It is craving for and attachment to the flux of phenomena that disquiets the soul and gives rise to its suffering. An ego still immersed in the uneven seas of desire is afflicted with a dis-ease occluding the clarity of its dharmic destination. Unless the ego-identified soul is cured of its suffering, one’s Buddha-nature remains but a seed awaiting the lush soil affording it an opportunity to grow.

The third Noble Truth, nirodha, concerns the cure allowing for the cessation of suffering. In this Truth is found the promise of the Buddhist path, that desire and its samsaric effects can be overcome and transformed into the bliss of nirvana. Nirvana is the extinction of desire through the realization of an emptiness (Suññatā) so luminously alluring that one cannot help but fill it with infinite compassion (Karuṇā). With this, the seed, or Tathāgatagarbha (GH, p. 105), of one’s inherent Buddha-nature absorbs the now purified water of the soul and begins to grow.

The fourth Noble Truth concerns mārga, or the Eightfold Path. It lays out a systematic way of engaging life as a spiritual practice in order to cultivate the seeds of wisdom (prajñā), morality (sīla), and concentration (samādhi) in oneself. Of course, an initial glimmer of insight was required before one could find the path at all. Without having the capacity to deeply recognize the inadequacy of egoic existence, one cannot even begin to take seriously the wisdom and moral precepts contained in the Eightfold Path.

As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, in each person hides “the pure nature, the potential…to overcome imperfections and attain liberation,” (GH, p. 105). A natural awareness of the ever-present seed of wisdom within allows one to begin the process of cultivation. Once one has mastered right speech, action, and livelihood, he or she can begin to cultivate right effort, mindfulness, and concentration. With continued practice, the path culminates in a full flowering of the divine wisdom of buddhi, the intuitive intelligence lying dormant in the heart of each of us.

Buddhi opens in us a gateway between the heavenly realm of eternity and the earthly passage of time, giving us insight into the essence of our existence. The purpose of Mahayanist Buddhist practice, however, is not merely the attainment of Nirvana for oneself, but the transformation of one’s whole being into a bodhisattva of compassion. A bodhisattva is compelled to remain on the earthly plane to “suffer with” all sentient beings, sympathetically sharing with them through skillful means the path toward liberation.

Buddha’s mission is to provide the human being with a method for realizing the wisdom and compassion of its inherent Tathāgatagarbha. Without a way of cultivating this seed within, one remains stranded on an island of ego lost amidst the sea of saṃsāra. Buddhist practice offers a light in the darkness, a means of contacting the buddhi hidden in the depths of our soul and making conscious its task of transfiguring the world.

Christ

While it has also been said of Buddha that he “walks on the water” (EPO, p. 90), Christ heralds the very Spirit of the water itself. Rudolf Steiner has said, “Buddha’s life ends with the transfiguration, whereas the most significant part of Jesus’ life begins after the Transfiguration,” (CMF, p. 97). By this, Steiner means that Christ not only became one with the light of the world (as Buddha did after his parinirvana), Christ is the being who radiates this light into the world of flesh and blood, into the very heart of the cosmos itself.

Just before his death, the historical Buddha, according to the Dalai Lama, “stated that the body of a fully enlightened being…is…impermanent and subject to [transience, impermanence, and non-endurance]” (GH, p. 120), just like every other phenomenal form. According to Steiner, Buddha’s transfiguration merged him with the “all-pervading blissful life of the spirit” (CMF, p. 97), thereby demonstrating humanity’s origin in the divine Word (Logos).

In contrast, as is written in the Gospel according to John, in Christ, “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (1:14). In this way, the spiritual essence of the cosmos incarnated on earth, suffered crucifixion, and was resurrected. As a Sun being, Christ expresses the hidden meaning of light and warmth, radiating wisdom and love upon all humanity. Christ’s transfiguration makes transparent, according to Jean Gebser, “the genuine irruption of the other side into this side, the presence of the beyond in the here and now, of death in life, of the transcendent in the immanent, of the divine in the human” (EPO, p. 529).

While Buddha provides the method that purifies the soul, returning Psyche to a virgin state free of the conflicting desires and fears of a merely earthly existence, only Christ can provide the spiritual power that births in us the divine Wisdom capable of loving the world entire.

As is spoken by Christ to His Father:

…the glory which You gave Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are One: I in them, and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have Loved them, as You have Loved Me (John 17:22-23).

The Love made possible by Christ’s incarnation on earth is what unifies not only the entire human race, but the cosmos itself into a single Body whose life is eternal. This, the Body of Christ, is the true Church open to anyone with the Faith to heal the separation from the spiritual realm caused by original sin. This sin was the knowledge of good and evil that turned the soul into a battleground and made death its principle enemy. As is written by Paul in Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

Faith was distinguished from belief at the outset of this essay in order to make it clear that the wishful desiring of the latter only clouds our ability to listen for divine inspiration. Although it is written, “…blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29), we may read the use of the term “believed” in this context as more akin to the openheartedness of Faith than the egoic desire for wish fulfillment. But the open ears afforded by Faith are not enough to fully and intuitively participate in the meaning of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

As Steiner has said,

Faith allows a person to participate unconsciously in the Mystery of Golgotha, [but] initiation leads to a fully conscious connection with the power that streams invisibly from events depicted in the New Testament (CMF, p. 100).

In other words, while Faith brings us to the water, it cannot make us drink of its immortalizing Wisdom. However, the Resurrection of Christ is significant precisely because it transforms what had been revealed only to a few in secret into an event upon the world stage of history. What had been a mythological image becomes, after Christ, an actual event (CMF, p. 98). Given Faith, though one may currently lack the spiritual sight to consciously commune with the Wisdom of Christ, realization is nonetheless assured and made inevitable by the deed that was done on the Cross for all humanity.

But as was made clear at the outset, I cannot settle for the hearsay of stories, but must myself die and rise by the Love of Christ. I must know, with Paul, “that Christ, being raised from the dead, dies no more,” (Romans 6:9), and “that our old man [was] crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed” (Romans 6:6). With this, the Christ in me becomes alive unto God, I am reborn, and my Psyche remembers her true name: Sophia, Bride of God.

My soul is but a reflection of Sophia, the divine Wisdom who’s Love was so great it overflowed the Pleroma and created the world. As Eve, She tempted me when I was Adam with the serpent’s secret fruit. I ate and gained knowledge that this world was not my origin and that death must not be my destiny. Christ was Her rescue mission, the Savior sent to Redeem Her creation from the sin of separation from God. Christ is “the Light of the world” (John 9:5) who shines upon the shattered mirror of many souls making each One with Him in Love.

Conclusion

Only when I begin to open my heart in Faith can I hear the whispers of spiritual beings softly singing me the Song of the Spheres. Faith brings me—through Krishna, Buddha, and Christ—to Wisdom, the source of the Light of the world.

With Krishna, I come to know and love my karma, to act without personal attachment to the fruits of my labor. For the labor of life on earth concerns a destiny shared by all, a mission mandated by the insatiable ramification of the human race and the closed shape of its planet’s surface. Our dharma is to unite as a single Omega, a Cosmic Person.

I come to know, with Buddha, the skills required to pacify my soul, to cure it of its sickness. So long as the ego remains unconscious of its shadow and Psyche forgets her name, my soul cannot express its one true desire: to love all beings that suffer in the world of earthly turning. Buddha provides the soil out of which the seed of compassion and Wisdom may grow.

In Christ, I come to know that His was also my ego’s crucifixion, the death of all my sin. Christ comes to replace the external Law of old by awakening the Word of God within my heart, “for the Law was given by Moses, but Grace and Truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). His resurrection redeems the creation of the cosmos and opens the gates of heaven to all who dwell on earth, because as Teilhard says, “Heaven cannot dispense with Earth” (HM, p. 203).

Works Cited
ISM – Bamford, Christopher, ed. Isis Mary Sophia: Her Mission and Ours. Steiner Books, 2003.
BG – Bhagavad gita and its message with text, translation and Sri Aurobindo’s commentary. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Light Publications, 1995.
HM – Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de. The Heart of Matter. New York: Harvest Books, 2002.
EPO – Gebser, Jean. Ever-present origin. Athens, Ohio: Ohio UP, 1986.
GH – His Holiness The Dalai Lama. The Good Heart A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus. Minneapolis: Wisdom Publications, 1998.
CMF – Rudolf, Steiner,. Christianity as mystical fact. Hudson, N.Y: Anthroposophic P, 1997.