"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, October 27, 2011

You Are a Miracle

"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The soul that arises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar. . . ."
Billions of years ago, before the sun ignited, before the earth was formed, all the elements that have come together to manifest as your body, that have allowed your consciousness to come forth, were spread out across thousands of light years of space. From this perspective, you are a miracle.

Billions of years from now, the sun will run out of fuel and implode. Earth's atmosphere will be blown off the planet like the flame off a candle. Meanwhile, other stars are forming. Other suns are igniting. Other intelligences are no doubt birthing into consciousness. But as far as we know, we are alone.

The short-sighted and personal perspective that we bring into our lives everyday is what limits us. Moreover, it threatens us. We live in a time of man-made climate change, overpopulation, massive species extinctions, and seemingly constant war, poverty and famine. The very air we breathe is compromised and the oceans are full of plastic but stripped of fish. On multiple fronts we are destroying the ecosystem that has allowed mankind and civilization - as it is - to arise.

Millions of years from now, our survivors (if there are any) will look back at this time in Earth's history and will ask how we could have done this to ourselves and to the Earth. How could we have played Nero as the Earth itself burned?

You are a miracle. Are you the miracle that we need at this moment?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Max Planck: Quantum Theory and Consciousness

"All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter."

-- Max Planck --
(Theoretical physicist and founder of the Quantum Theory)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Carl Sagan: "Let Us Find a Worthy Goal"

"The trap door beneath our feet swings open. We find ourselves in bottomless free fall. If it takes a little myth and ritual to get us through a night that seems endless, who among us cannot sympathize and understand?"

"We long to be here for a purpose even though - despite much self-deception - none is evident. The significance of our lives and our fragile planet is determined only by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life's meaning. We long for a parent to care for us, to forgive us our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge is better than ignorance. Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring faith."

"Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Our commonsense intuitions can be mistaken, our preferences do not count. We do not live in a privileged reference frame. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find a worthy goal."

-- Carl Sagan --

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Spiritual . . . And Religious

"If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division, it were better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. For it is clear that the purpose of a remedy is to cure; but if the remedy should only aggravate the complaint it had better be left alone."

-- 'Abdu'l-Baha --
In a recent editorial blog on The Huffington Post (here), writer and educator, Laura Weingberg, makes an insightful argument for being 'spiritual and religious' rather than merely 'spiritual but not religious.' The crux of Ms. Weinberg's argument is that worship of an all inclusive God demands that we act in this world in a principled manner. Her critique of the SBNR folks (like myself), however, is that there is not necessarily an imperative for us to behave in a manner that fulfills our obligations to God.

"Spirituality can lead to a relationship with God," Ms. Weingberg notes, "but religiosity demands the fulfillment of obligations to God. Why is that desirable? Because committing to God changes who we are; we can no longer be what we are automatically, or even what we aspire to; we are obliged to push ourselves beyond that and to find our true selves, the "soul who is pleasing unto God.""

Ms. Weinberg's view can be critiqued on the grounds that what can be described as 'religious' may yet fall far short of seeking "our true selves." This transcendental search, one assumes, is the hallmark of being 'spiritual and religious' rather than merely and nominally 'religious." But is the search to find that which is transcendental and transformational in life not also the hallmark of being 'spiritual' but not necessarily 'religious'? Personally, I think it is. The quest for spiritual meaning, I believe, is the essential quest - even if it remains unrecognized and unacknowledged - of all persons.

Ms. Weinberg, a Baha'i (and thus a member of one of the world's most inclusive faiths), provides a compelling and all-encompassing vision of 'what' (not 'who') God is:
"I believe in a God who is the creator of the universe and all that it contains," she observes, "who established and operates through natural laws, and loves all that He has created. This great, unknowable Creator has not, in the Baha'i view, left humanity to struggle along without assistance or guidance. God is not watching us "from a distance" as we bumble around, laying waste to His perfect work. He is close to us, with us, actively intervening in human history, guiding us to our destined future."

"Religion offers not only a close personal relationship with God," she notes, "but a sense of common purpose with Him, the hope that somehow our efforts to promote human well-being are in line with His plan."

"There is," she points out, "a path out of the mess we are in; we need to refer to His guidance to walk it."
I can agree wholeheartedly with all of the above, except that last line. One looks out at the multitude of religious faiths, philosophies and wisdom traditions and it seems plain to me that there are a plethora of paths out of the mess we are unarguably in. Does being "spiritual and religious" imply that we can utilize the insights and directions from only one path? If it does - and I suspect that most solely 'religious' people believe that it does - then you can still count me amongst the "spiritual but not religious crowd."

Personally, I will take what guidance I can from any and all of the world's great religious and spiritual traditions. Whether that wisdom comes from the Buddha, the Baha'u'llah or Bambi's mother is irrelevant to me, so long as it leads me out of my narrow self and into a unitive relationship with the God of my understanding, a God that it is wholly consistent with that described by Ms. Weinberg.

As Ms. Weingberg quotes 'Abdu'l-Baha : "(T)he purpose of a remedy is to cure." Thank God there seem to be a variety of cures out there. For one prescription may be more effective than another for a particular sufferer. And some may, indeed, require a combination of dosages.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Viktor Frankl: On a Meaningful Life

"Time that has passed is certainly irrevocable, but what has happened within that time is unassailable and inviolable. Passing time is therefore not only a thief, but a trustee. Any philosophy which keeps in mind the transitoriness of existence need not be at all pessimistic."

"To express this figuratively we might say: The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who takes life in the sense suggested above is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors. He can then reflect back with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the full."

"What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that young person has, the future that is in store for him? "No thank you," he will think. "Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past - not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of suffering suffered. These are the things of which I am most proud - though these are things that cannot inspire envy.""

"All that is good and beautiful in the past is safely preserved in the past. On the other hand, so long as life remains, all guilt and all evil is still redeemable."

-- Viktor Frankl --
("The Doctor and the Soul, pp. 33-34.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Eckhart Tolle: On Excessive Thinking

"When you don't cover up the world with words and labels," notes Eckhart Tolle, "a sense of the miraculous returns to your life that was lost a long time ago when humanity, instead of using thought, became possessed by thought. A depth returns to your life. Things regain their newness, their freshness. And the greatest miracle is the experiencing of your essential self as prior to any words, thoughts, mental labels and images. For this to happen, you need to disentangle your sense of I, of Beingness, from all the things it has become mixed up with, that is to say identified with."

". . . (T)hinking is only a tiny aspect of the consciousness that we are," Tolle observes, and "thinking without awareness is the main dilemma of human existence."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Thich Nhat Hanh: Nirvana as the Cessation of Wrong Views, Wrong Perceptions and Suffering

Nirvana, says Thich Nhat Hanh, is "the cessation of all suffering." It comes about, he notes, by the extinction of our wrong perceptions, wrong views, and wrong understanding.

"Meditation, the practice of looking deeply," he points out, "has the purpose of removing wrong perceptions from us. If we are able to remove our wrong perceptions," he notes, "we will be able to be free from the afflictions and the sufferings that always arise from wrong perceptions."

"You have wrong perceptions of yourself and of the other," he explains, "and the other has wrong perceptions of themselves and of you, and that is the cause of fear, violence and hatred. That is why trying to remove wrong perceptions," he points out, "is the only way to peace. And that is why nirvana is, first of all, the removal of wrong perceptions."

When you remove the wrong perceptions you remove the suffering," says Hanh. "To meditate deeply, you (will) find out that even ideas like being and non-being, birth and death, coming and going, are wrong ideas."

"If you can touch reality in depth," Hanh points out, "you realize that 'suchness' means that ultimate reality is free from birth, from dying, from coming, from going, from being, and from non-being. That is why," he concludes, "nirvana is first of all the removal of all notions and ideas that serve as the base of misunderstanding and suffering."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Ever Passing Present Moment

"When you recognize that the present moment is always already the case and therefore inevitable, you can bring an uncompromising inner "yes" to it and so not only create no further unhappiness, but with inner resistance gone, find yourself empowered by Life itself."

-- Eckhart Tolle --
("A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose") 

The empowering nature of the present moment - the "Power of Now" as Tolle calls it - is by no means a "New Age" revelation. Philosophers and spiritual teachers in all ages and traditions have recognized the unique and sacred nature of the present. The Roman Emperor and Stoic philospher, Marcus Aurelius. declared that the present moment is all that a man has "to live and lose." In the Christian tradition, Jesus always addressed the power of our divine nature in the present moment. For him, Heaven was not something far off; rather, he stressed that the "Kingdom of God is within you," (Luke 17:21).

Indeed, in his "Sermon on the Mount" (below) he directly questioned why we always seem to be living for and worrying about some future moment rather than living the fullness of the present moment.
"Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on," he urged. "Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?"   
"Which of you by taking thought," he asked, "can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."

"Wherefore," he continued to query, "if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
(Matthew 6:25-329
The present moment is, as Tolle observes, "already the case," and just to the extent that we spend it worrying about some future time do we miss it. Most of Jesus audience were probably oblivious to the flowers growing in the fields around him, or the birds circling overhead. Rather, intent on hearing his words they missed the message until it these marvels were pointed out to them.

With so many distractions, diversions and deadlines today, how many of us miss the present moment? Or worse, how many of us are so resistant to what is happening around us that we have a wholly fallacious notion of what is already transpiring in our lives? Indeed, as Aurelius noted, all we have to live and lose is this ever passing present moment. And it is always in danger of slipping by unnoticed, unheralded, and therefore, unreverenced. But sadly, we will only ever find true awe in this moment.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Huston Smith: On Sufism

"The Sufis claim that a certain kind of mental and other activity can produce, under special conditions and with particular efforts, what is termed a higher working of the mind, leading to special perceptions whose apparatus is latent in the ordinary man. Sufism is therefore the transcending of ordinary limitations."

-- Idries Shah --
("The Way of the Sufi")

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lama Surya Das: Craving, Desire and Lust in a Consumer Society

Lama Surya Das
"Craving, or lust, as it is sometimes called, is one of the primary five hindrances, or challenges, that Buddha warned seekers they would meet on the path to awakening," observes Lama Surya Das. "When Buddha Dharma speaks about craving, it implies psychological hunger and thirst, unhealthy desire, longing, attachment, and psychological fixation."

"Who among us," he asks, "is so completely filled that he or she is above "wanting" of any kind? Is there nothing wanting in your life right now? As we try to purify and refine our actions, we need to be aware of the myriad ways by which our desires create pitfalls on the spiritual path."

"Purifying oneself of craving and desire," Das notes, " is a complex and subtle process. The analogy of a misguided moth being consumed by the candle flame to which it is fatally attracted is a good one. Sometime," he observes, "we want something so badly that we think we can't possibly let go of our goal."

"Judge the moth by the quality of its candle," Rumi advises. For even our spiritual thirsts can prove a fatal distraction from true attainment. Wisdom traditions in all ages are rife with stories of great achievers who have been distracted by the sensual, the occult or other powers they have achieved, only to allow their final liberation to slip by the wayside.

"Every object, every being, is a jar full of delight," Rumi points out. "Be a connoisseur and taste with delight. Any wine will get you high," he cautions. "Judge like a king and choose the purest."

"On the spiritual path," warns Surya Das, "be prepared to confront compulsive desires again and again. Watch what you desire," he advises, "observe what attracts or repels you most. Notice what buttons are pushed in you by external stimuli, and how you respond to each of them. We have all invested emotional intensity and energy in wanting, achieving, accumulating and grasping," he points out.

"How does it happen? What is it for?" he asks. "Just round up the usual suspects and look them over - love, ego gratification, sex, sensual pleasures, money possessions, fame, security, power."

Looking at the proliferation of all these desire objects in our modern consumer society, Surya Das rightly asks: "Are we making Faustian deals with the devil?"

"It is said," Das points out, "that a thief's vision is so distorted that even when he meets a saint, all he can see is the saint's pocketbook. Ask yourself: Is there anything or anyone you crave so much that it clouds your judgment and vision? What do you hunger for? Is there anything that engenders feelings so intense that your pursuit of it becomes a substitute for furthering your inner development?"

"It has often been said," Das notes, "that everyone has a price. What is yours? Don't sell yourself short," he advises, "or you'll pay for it."

[Lama Surya Das, "Awakening the Buddha Within," pp. 219-220.]

Friday, September 23, 2011

Eckhart Tolle: On Ownership and Consumption

"The physical needs for food, water, shelter, clothing, and basic comforts could be easily met for all humans on the planet, were it not for the imbalance of resources created by the insane and rapacious need for more, the greed of the ego. It finds collective expression in the economic structures of this world, such as the huge corporations, which are egoic entities that compete with each other for more. Their only blind aim is profit. They pursue that aim with absolute ruthlessness. Nature, animals, people, even their own employees, are no more than digits on a balance sheet, life objects to be used, then discarded."

-- Eckhart Tolle --
("A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose")

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Unfathomable Depth

"Words, no matter whether they are vocalized and made into sounds or remain unspoken as thoughts, can cast an almost hypnotic spell upon you. You easily lose yourself in them, become hypnotized into implicitly believing that when you have attached a word to something, you know what it is. You have only covered up the mystery with a label. Everything, a bird, a tree, even a simple stone, and certainly a human being, is ultimately unknowable. This is because it has unfathomable depth. All we can perceive, experience, think about, is the surface layer of reality, less than the tip of an iceberg."
-- Eckhart Tolle --
("A New Earth," page 25.)
 The depth of everything is a mystery, as Tolle notes, a mystery that is only obscured - or worse ignored - by our labeling it. The ultimate mysteries, the mystery of man and of God, are hidden deep within our own depths, and it is only the person who is willing to probe such inner depths who will ever come close to the source of these mysteries.

The great theologian, Paul Tillich puts it this way:
"The wisdom of all ages and of all continents speaks about the road to our depth. It has been described in innumerably different ways. But all those who have been concerned - mystics and priests, poets and philosophers, simple people and educated - with that road through confession, lonely self-scrutiny, internal or external catastrophes, prayer, contemplation, have witnessed to the same experience. They have found they are not what what they  believed themselves to be, even after a deeper level had appeared to them below the vanishing surface. That deeper level itself became surface, when a still deeper level was discovered, this happening again and again, as long as their lives, as long as they kept on the road to their depth. . . .

The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is
God. That depth is what the word God means. . . . For if you know that God means depth, you know much about him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or an unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not. He who knows about depth knows about God."
[Paul Tillich, "The Shaking of the Foundations," Scribners, 1948, pp. 56-57.]

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Case For A Cosmocentric Religion

“A religion that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by traditional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.”

-- Carl Sagan --
In an insightful interview in EnlightenNext magazine, husband-and-wife research team, Joel Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams (coauthors of The View From the Center of the Universe) make a strong case for the need for a new cosmocentric religion that takes into account all that we now know of the universe, from the smallest quark to the dark energy that appears to fuel the cosmos. Such a religion is an imperative, they note, if humanity as a species is to take advantage of the unique circumstances in which we find ourselves at this singular point in the history of the cosmos. 
"The experiment of intelligent life is (now) giving the universe its own way of looking at itself," Abrams notes. "All of us together—we and any intelligent aliens that might be out there—we are the consciousness of the universe. We are the way the universe reflects on itself, and without us, the universe is utterly meaningless and will forever be meaningless. A beautiful planet could be here with animals and plants, but the whole thing would be meaningless. Those environmentalists who imagine this planet from their point of view as a pristine beautiful Eden are giving the planet meaning. Without us, no one’s going to be imagining that."  
"(W)e’re in an extraordinary position from the point of view of human meaning," says Abrams, "because we’re now at a place where we can satisfy this deep need to understand ourselves as central to the universe. We can make it scientifically rigorous and accurate at the same time. That’s what has never been possible before. That’s what we really need to develop now."
"Throughout all of history," she notes, "people have needed to experience their place in the universe because it gave them grounding, made them feel that their lives were real and that they mattered. It was the basis of their various religions. We still are the same kind of people. We really do need meaning. And we need meaning that is grounded in the best picture of reality available to us in our time. Now, for the first time, we have a new picture of reality, and our meaning has to be grounded in that." 
"We can experience the entire universe spiritually if we realize that . . . what spiritual means is experiencing our connection to the cosmos," Abrams points out. "That is all it means; it has nothing to do with anything supernatural. The universe itself is so much grander than anyone imagined. If we even attempt to feel that we’re part of it, that is a spiritual action."
"Basically," says Primack, "the bottom line is that you never find meaning without looking at the big picture. You can’t understand what a little piece of a picture means until you see the big picture; you see how the little piece fits in. Cosmology is the biggest picture we have. It can help us find meaning by letting us see ourselves as part of a grand story."
"The amazing thing," Abrams points out, "is we have this opportunity right when the world is falling apart. There are a lot of people who are scared of these ideas. They’re scared partly because they feel they can’t understand the science. We have to understand how the universe works and make our spirituality as real as possible. The whole idea of trying to spend your life understanding your spiritual connection to the universe but not having any interest in how the universe actually works seems to me absolutely bizarre. We need to be coherent beings. That’s how it’s going to matter."

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Krishnamurti and Tolle: "Don't Mind What Happens"

In his best-selling book, "A New Earth," Eckhart Tolle recounts a singular moment in a lecture given by the great enlightened thinker, Jiddu Krishnamurti. Stopping his lecture momentarily, Krishnamurti asked his audience if they wanted to know his "secret" The lecture hall reportedly went silent as the audience waited to hear the pith of Krishnamurti's teaching, the kernel at the heart of the often obscure wisdom that Krishnamurti sought to convey. "This is my secret," he is purported to have said, "I do not mind what happens."

Tolle utilizes this story to emphasize the importance of being "in alignment with what happens." "To be in alignment with what is," he points out, "means to be in a relationship of inner nonresistance with what happens. It means not to label it mentally as good or bad, but to let it be."

This is undoubtedly part of Krishnamurti's "secret," after all sources as diverse as Shakespeare and the Ashtavakra Gita point out the truth that "nothing is either good or bad, but our thinking makes it so." And, on that level, Krishnamurti is surely pointing out that he does not make a judgment on whether what is happening at any moment is good or bad, positive or negative. However, contemplating on this singular event in Krishnamurti's teaching, I find additional (although related) meanings in this "secret."

Krushnamurti must, as set out above, have meant at one level that he does not "mind what happens" by judging its aspects as being positive or negative, good or bad. What happens, happens. It is what it is. And, Krishnamurti apparently took a position of neutrality and non-resistance to whatever happened as Tolle discusses.

At a second level, I suspect that Krishnamruti meant he does not "mind what happens" in the sense that at a deep level he does not take responsibility for what happens externally. Take, for example, the shopkeeper who leaves his store in the care of a clerk while he steps out to do the banking. "Mind the store while I'm gone," he might say. In this sense, I suspect that Krishnamurti knew that there is no one individual who can "mind what happens" collectively, although he undoubtedly recognized that most of us cannot resist trying vainly to shape and manage life's circumstances. The vast majority of us are heavily invested in things turning out the way that we think that they should. We seize responsibility to assure these outcomes, and thus "mind what happens."

"To pursue the unattainable is insanity," Marcus Aurelius observed, "yet the thoughtless can never refrain from doing so." How many of us seek to attain control of, and manage what happens all around us? The vast, vast majority I would guess. Thus, arises the insanity of "minding" what happens.

At a third level - and this may be the most basic level - I suspect that Krishnamurti meant he did not "mind what happens" in an active sense, with "mind" being the active verb. Krishnamurti, undoubtedly did not "mind what happens" by mechanically turning it over and over in his mind, by chewing on it figuratively, or by letting thoughts of what happens preoccupy his psyche. He did not mentally "mind what happens," or mentate upon it.

To not "mind what happens" in these three senses implies that one has acquired a radical acceptance of what is - neither judging, manipulating, or ruminating on what occurs in one's life. It is, as Krishnamurti notes, a "secret" that we do not have to come to grasps with reality in such manners, but need only accept what happens as it is on its face, as an isolated moment in our lives.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Thomas Merton: On Crisis

"Our highly activistic and one-sided culture is faced with a crisis that may end in self-destruction," Thomas Merton observed, "because it lacks the inner depth of an authentic metaphysical consciousness. Without such depth," he wrote, "our moral and political protestations are just so much verbiage. If, in the West, God can no longer be experienced as other than "dead," it is," he pointed out, "because of an inner split and self-alienation which have characterized the Western mind in its single-minded dedication to only half of life: that which is exterior, objective and quantitative."

[Thomas Merton, "Thoughts On The East," (New York: New Directions), p. 48.]

"We live in crisis, and perhaps we find it interesting to do so," he observed. "Yet we also feel guilty about it, as if we ought not to be in crisis. As if we were so wise, so able, so kind, so reasonable, that crisis ought at all times to be unthinkable. It is doubtless this “ought,” this “should” that makes our era so interesting that it cannot possibly be a time of wisdom, or even of reason. We think we know what we ought to be doing, and we see ourselves move, with the inexorable deliberation of a machine that has gone wrong, to do the opposite."

"If we really sought truth," he points out, "we would begin slowly and laboriously to divest ourselves one by one of all our coverings of fiction and delusion: or at least we would desire to do so, for mere willing cannot enable us to effect it. "

[Thomas Merton, "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander," (New York: Image) pp. 66-68.]

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Rabindranath Tagore: On Science and Spirituality

"All the great utterances of man have to be judged not by the letter but by the spirit - the spirit that unfolds itself with the growth of life in history."

-- Rabindranath Tagore --
Rabindranath Tagore
In the opening chapters of "Sadhana," the Nobel prize-winning Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, seeks to reconcile the differences of the externally and scientifically driven West, and the internally and intuitively driven East. The schism between the two, he notes, cannot go on forever.

"Man," Tagore points out, "must realize the wholeness of his existence, his place in the infinite; he must know that hard as he may strive, he can never create his honey within the cells of his hive, for the perennial supply of his life food is outside their walls, He must know that when man shuts himself out from the vitalizing and purifying touch of the infinite and falls back upon himself for his sustenance and his healing, then he goads himself into madness, tears himself into shreds, and eats his own substance."

The difference between the self-referential man and the man focused on his inner being is that between a cannibal and a lotus-eater; one seeks power, domination and survival, while the other seeks meaning in life. The one is bound to be perpetually frustrated as his goals are by their nature impermanent, while the other is bound to be fulfilled as his goals are eternal.

"The man of science knows, in one aspect," Tagore notes, "that the world is not merely what it appears to be to our senses; he knows that earth and water are really the play of forces that manifest themselves to us as earth and water - how, we can but partially apprehend. Likewise the man who has his spiritual eyes open knows that the ultimate truth about earth and water lies in our apprehension of the eternal will which works in time and takes shape in the forces we realize under those aspects. This is not mere knowledge, as science is, but is a perception of the soul by the soul. This does not lead us to power as knowledge does, but it gives us joy, which is the product of the union of kindred things."

"The man whose acquaintance with the world does not lead him deeper than science leads him will never understand what it is that the man with the spiritual vision finds in these natural phenomena. The water does not merely cleanse his limbs; it purifies his heart, for it touches his soul. The earth does not merely hold his body; it gladdens his mind, for its contact is more than a physical contact - it is a living presence. When a man does not realize his kinship with the world, he lives in a prisonhouse whose walls are alien to him. When he meets the eternal spirit in all objects, then he is emancipated, for then he discovers the fullest significance of the world into which he is born, then he finds himself in perfect truth, and his harmony with the all is established."
[Rabindranath Tagore, "Sadhana," pp. 5-7.]

 As the great physicist, Albert Einstein, famously put it: "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." (Einstein, "Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium," 1941.)
In the Tao Te Ching we read:
"There is a thing confusedly formed,
Born before heaven and earth.
Silent and void
It stands alone and does not change,
Goes round and does not weary.
It is capable of being the mother of the world.
I know not its name
So I style it 'the way'.
I give it the makeshift name of 'the great'.
Being great, it is further described as receding.
Receding, it is described as far away.
Being far away, it is described as turning back.
Hence the way is great; heaven is great; earth is
great; and the king is also great. Within the realm
there are four things that are great, and the king
counts as one.
Man models himself on earth,
Earth on heaven,
Heaven on the way,
And the way on that which is naturally so.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Eckhart Tolle: On Attachment and Our Real Needs

It is hard to even begin to gauge how much a complication of possessions, the notions of "my and mine," stand between a true, clear, liberated way of seeing the world. To live lightly on the earth, to be aware and alive, to be free of egotism, to be in contact with plants and animals, starts with simple concrete acts.

The inner principle is the insight that we are interdependent energy-fields of great potential wisdom and compassion - expressed in each person as a superb mind, a handsome and complex body, and the almost magical capacity of language. To these potentials and capacities, "owning things" can add nothing of authenticity. "Clad in the sky, with the earth for a pillow."

-- Gary Snyder --
(Excerpt from "Essential Zen," page 32.)
Humanity's "physical needs" are relatively few - clean air and water, heat, food, clothing and shelter - but our "psychological needs" are nearly infinite - we all, or so it seems, want more and more to gain some sense of fulfillment or completeness. Tragically, in seeking to fill this vacuous need for more "things" to meet our "psychological needs," we preclude millions of others from attaining the most basic physical necessities of life.

The whole structure of the world's interrelated economy is thus premised on an unachievable aspiration. We all want "more" than we possibly need, both for seeming "comfort" and to give a twisted sense of "meaning" to the mad rush for material "well-being" rather than true psychological and spiritual fulfillment.

This unending drive to fulfill faux psychological "necessities" becomes, as spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle points out in his best-selling book, "A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose" (below), a self-perpetuating cycle of dysfunction.
"The physical needs for food, water, shelter, clothing, and basic comforts could be easily met for all humans on the planet, were it not for the imbalance of resources created by the insane and rapacious need for more, the greed of the ego. It finds collective expression in the economic structures of this world, such as the huge corporations, which are egoic entities that compete with each other for more. Their only blind aim is profit. They pursue that aim with absolute ruthlessness. Nature, animals, people, even their own employees, are no more than digits on a balance sheet, lifeless objects to be used and then discarded."
Nevertheless, Tolle places the blame exactly where it originates - within the smaller "self" or "ego" by which the overwhelming majority of us blindly run our lives.
"The thought forms of "me" and "mine," of "more than" of "I want," "I need," "I must have," and of "not enough," pertain not to content but to the structure of the ego. The content is interchangeable," Tolle notes.

"As long as you don't recognize those thought forms within yourself," he points out, "as long as they remain unconscious, you will believe in what they say; you will be condemned to acting out those unconscious thoughts, condemned to seeking and not finding - because when those thought forms operate, no possession, place, person or condition will ever satisfy you."
It is time that we recognize this, individually and collectively, in order to live softly upon the face of the earth.  "Clad in the sky, with the earth for a pillow," as Gary Snider so poetically put it.
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Sunday, September 11, 2011

A New, Kosmocentric Paradigm

In a New-Age Emersonian rant, the narrator of "Cosmopolitical Thoughts on Leaving for Black Rock City, Nevada" (attached) raises recurrent questions about the survivability of humankind as a species (along with the survival of all other species) under our current socio-political paradigms. An advocate of a new "kosmocentric" understanding of life, the narrator of this great video clip offers a glimpse of an alternative to the industrial-productive, money-centered way we live now.

Of course, Black Rock City is the home of the Burning Man Festival, an annual art event and temporary community based on radical self-expression and self-reliance, and leaving for such a destination is bound to focus one's mind on what can be done to advance through change our increasingly sclerotic and seemingly moribund post-modern society. This is accomplished in spades in the attached clip.

"Isn't apocalypse," our narrator asks, "the best-selling plot in today's mass media market?  Everybody knows the old world is coming to an end," he notes, "but because the horror of this reality is too much to take responsibility for the majority of us sit on the couch and pretend it is all just another form of entertainment. Fantasy has replaced forthrightness," he observes, "and imagination has withered to make way for shallow ideological affiliation with merely symbolic causes."

"Of course, symbolism is no mere trifle, and our sense of meaning is precisely what is at stake," he notes. And, thus, he asks:
"How are we to conceive of the human presence on the planet? Are we a cancerous growth or the incarnation of God on Earth? Are we to become once again a spiritual instead of a consumptive and pleasure-driven species? Are we to replace industrial with initiatory cosmology? Is our goal to worship, celebrate, and create, or to use, abuse, and destroy?"
"These are questions of the ultimate meaning of the universe," according to this New-Age Emerson, "and their answers," he points out, "determine how we inhabit the Earth."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

On Karma: The Law of Cause and Effect

Karma, or the law of cause and effect, in common terms is what occurs (or will occur later) as the result of our actions now. We cut off a driver on the road, and our passenger may point out, "That's bad karma." Or, we ease up on the gas and let another driver struggling to make a lane change go in front of us. Our passenger may say, "That's good karma." On a more subtle level, however, karma has little or nothing to to do with our actions, and everything to do with the thoughts and emotional states that give rise to our actions.

In "As a Man Thinketh," a small but essential guide to spiritual awakening, James Allen writes:
"The soul attracts that which it harbours, that which it loves, and also that which it fears; it falls to the level of its unchastened desires - and circumstances are the means by which the soul receives its own."

"Every thought seed sown or allowed to fall into the mind, and to take root there, produces its own blossoming sooner or later into act, and bearing its own fruitage of opportunity and circumstance. Good thoughts bear good fruit; bad thoughts bad fruit."

"The outer world of circumstance shapes itself to the inner world of thought, and both pleasant and unpleasant external conditions are factors which make for the ultimate good of the individual. As the reaper of his own harvest, man learns both by suffering and bliss."
And at the most subtle level, that of our very essence, it is karma that obscures or reveals the nature of our divine being. Says Allen:
"The 'divinity that shapes our end' is in ourselves; it is our very self. Only himself manacles man: thought and action are the gaolers of Fate - they imprison, being base; they are also the angels of Freedom - they liberate, being noble. His wishes and prayers are only gratified and answered when they harmonize with his thoughts and actions."
"In the light of this truth," Allen asks, "what then is the meaning of "fighting against circumstance?""

In the Tao Te Ching we read, in part:
"Understanding others is knowledge.
Understanding oneself is enlightenment:
Conquering others is power,
Conquering oneself is strength;
Contentment is wealth,
Forceful conduct is willfulness;
Not losing one's rightful place is to endure,
To die but not be forgotten is to endure."

Thus, at the most subtle level, we shape our own being, revealing or concealing what we are. The cloth that we either draw off or throw over our essence is the karma of our thoughts and actions, and it is this that the world sees and judges us by.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A new study released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ("CDC") shows that approximately 25 per cent of Americans suffered from some form of mental illness last year, at a cost in terms of treatment and lost productivity in excess of $300 billion. Moreover, the CDC predicts that fully half of all Americans will suffer from some form of mental illness - ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to depression to suicide - at some point in their lifetimes. Indeed, 8.4 million Americans reported having suicidal thoughts in 2010, 2.2 million made plans to kill themselves, and 1 million attempted suicide.

Why, one asks, in a country devoted to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are Americans so evidently and profoundly unhappy?

The answer may be that the United States, more than nearly any other developed country, suffers from a common post-modern malaise, from a crisis of meaninglessness that only accentuates deeply flawed human thought structures. Alienated from their inner life and faced with the unraveling of a fictitious "American" dream, one wonders if Americans in the early 21st century are not suffering from the same sense of anomie that Emile Durckheim, the father of modern sociology, associated with increased suicide rates amongst nineteenth century Europeans citizens disaffected from their societies following epidemics and dislocations resulting from war.

"The achievements of humanity are impressive and undeniable," notes Eckhart Tolle in his best-seller, "A New Earth," observing that the human mind has proven itself to be "highly intelligent" particularly in the arts, technology, and science. "Yet," he notes, "its very intelligence is tainted by madness."

Moreover, he notes, "(s)cience and technology have magnified the destructive impact that the dysfunction of the human mind has upon the planet, other lifeforms, and upon humans themselves. That is why the history of the twentieth century is where that dysfunction, that collective insanity, can be most clearly recognized. A further factor," he points out, "is that this dysfunction is actually intensifying and accelerating."

"The collective manifestation of the insanity that lies at the heart of the human condition," writes Tolle, "constitute the greater part of human history. It is to a large extent a history of madness."

"If the history of humanity were the clinical case history of a single human being," Tolle points out, "the diagnosis would have to be: chronic paranoid delusions, a pathological propensity to commit murder and acts of extreme violence and cruelty against his perceived "enemies" - his own unconsciousness projected outward. Criminally insane, with a few brief lucid intervals."

Such a collective diagnosis is far from exaggerated. If you do not recognize it, Tolle suggests that you watch the evening news, with its daily tales of war, terrorism, violence and mayhem, our collective madness is all too apparent.

With societies the world over hitting new lows in terms of their compassion for the individual, each other and the planet as a whole, is it any wonder that Americans mired in two apparently unresolvable wars, massive dislocations caused by financial hardship and unemployment, and with no end apparently in sight, are feeling blue? And yet, little or nothing is being done about it. If one in four Americans were suffering from an incurable and life threatening virus, one can assume that all the stops would be pulled out to find a cure. But is it possible, one wonders, to solve the problems of societal disintegration and looming crises portended by these skyrocketing rates of mental illness within the currently existing societal paradigms? Is time running out?

It was Einstein who famously said one cannot solve one's problems with the same level of thinking that created them. Tolle, too, clearly acknowledge that our current thinking is the problem, and that we cannot get to the solution utilizing that same mode of thinking that got us here.

(For more on Tolle's views on our "collective insanity" and the problems created by a strictly "consumer society", please listen to the audiobook readings from "A New Earth," below.)

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Monday, September 5, 2011

The Greatest Battle

In the attached video, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf describes how in returning from a fierce battle the Prophet Mohammed tells his followers that they are returning to a greater battle. "But we are battle-wearied," was their complaint. To which the Prophet declared that the "greater battle" is that of the battle with the lower self, the battle of the ego.

Fadiman and Frager, in their book, "Essential Sufism," note that it is the lower self or ego (in Arabic, the nafs) that "tends to lead us astray."
"The lower self is not so much a thing as a process created by the interaction of the soul and the body," they point out. "Body and soul are pure and blameless in themselves. However, when our soul becomes embodied, we tend to forget our soul nature; we become attached to this world and develop such qualities as greed, lust, and pride."

"On the spiritual path and in life in general," they note, "we all struggle to do those things we clearly know are best for ourselves and others. We often struggle even harder to avoid those actions we know are wrong or harmful."
 This struggle with the egoic, lower self is indubitably the source of the famous remonstrance of the Apostle Paul, when he observes:"For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do." (Rom. 7:19)

"The sources of (all) human problems," Imam Rauf points out, "have to do with egotism, with "I".

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Zen . . . No-Zen . . . Zen

"Zen is consciousness unstructured by particular form or particular system," writes Thomas Merton, "a trans-cultural, trans-religious, transformed consciousness. It is therefore in a sense "void." But it can shine through this or that system, religious or irreligious, just as light can shine through glass that is blue, or green, or red, or yellow. If Zen has any preference it is for glass that is plain, has no color, and is "just glass.""

[Thomas Merton, "Thoughts On The East," p. 34.]

Only Breath

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu,
Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion

or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,

am not an entity in this world or in the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any

origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.

-- Jallaludin Rumi --

[Coleman Banks, "The Essential Rumi," p. 32]

"Zen insight," Merton points out, "is at once a liberation from the limitations of the individual's ego, and a discovery of one's "original nature" and "true face" in "mind" which is no longer restricted to the empirical self but is in all and above all."

"Zen insight" he notes, "is not our awareness, but Being's awareness of itself in us."

[Thomas Merton, "Thoughts On The East," p. 32.]

Monday, August 29, 2011

Interdependence: An Eastern Perspective

"For a table to exist," writes renowned Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, "we need wood, a carpenter, time, skillfulness and many other causes. And each of these causes needs other causes in order to be. The wood needs the forest, the sunshine, the rain and so on. The carpenter needs his parents, breakfast fresh air, and so on. And each of these things, in turn, has to be brought about by other conditions. If we continue to look in this way, we will see that nothing has been left out; everything in the cosmos has come together to bring us this table."

In explaining the Buddhist concept of dependent origination, Thich Nhat Hanh points out that there is no separation in reality, despite what our egos would tell us, and that in fact everything is in a state of perpetual interbeing.

"Looking deeply at the sunshine, the leaves of the tree and the clouds, we can see the table," he points out. "The one can be seen in the all, and the all can be seen in the one."

In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu writes:

As soon as one begins to divide things up,
      there are names;
Once there are names,
      one should also know when to stop;
Knowing when to stop,
      one thereby avoids peril.

In metaphorical terms,
      The relationship of all under heaven
         to the Way
            is like that of valley streams
               to the river and the sea.

"One cause is never enough to bring about an effect," Thich Nhat Hanh observes. "A cause must, at the same time, be an effect, and every effect must also be the cause of something else."

"Cause and effect interare," he notes. "They give rise to each other."

"Our difficulties," he points out, "arise when we forget this teaching and become attached to ideas and things, believing that they are independent and permanent. When we embrace the interdependent nature of all things, forsaking all extremes, we will be on the path of a more peaceful and joy-filled existence."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

On the Threshold of a Great Transformation

"(C)onsciousness is not a late emergent product of a material evolution, but the exact opposite: the source of all material evolution," observes biologist Dr. Elisabet Sahtouris. "Spirituality and science were separated only for historic reasons. It is time now to reunite them in a single worldview that can encompass the best of our spiritual traditions and the best of our scientific traditions."

"When you do that," she points out, "you come to a view of a living universe, rather than this strange concept amongst human cultures that Western science came to, that we are in a non-living universe . . . that is running down by entropy, and in which by some miracle life emerged from non-life, consciousness from non-consciousness, intelligence from non-intelligence. Those have been the stickiest problems for Western science."

"The really exciting thing about being alive today," Dr. Sahtouris notes, " is that we are all here for a great transformation. It is clear that we are unsustainable, we have to change things, and we are figuring out how. In a sense the old system is getting more entrenched, more violent, more powerful. It's trying to deep itself alive. While we know that we need a new system."

Utilizing the metaphor of a caterpillar dissolving into a chrysallis within its cocoon before it metamorphizes as a butterfly, Dr. Sahtouris points out that we can not save today's societal paradigms as they are unsustainable, but that rather we must evolve new ways of living. This, she notes, is of course no mean feat, and its inevitability is by no means assured.

"If we put our energy into building all the alternative ways of doing things, we can learn from nature how to go about this process of evolution that is called for today. We can build alternatives to the old models of education, of law, of health care. All this we are doing. And we know we can function as a global family because we have communication systems that are global."

"Above all," Dr. Sahtoris points out, we need a very powerful vision. (We need) to know where we want to go, because the old system is very clear about what it wants. And we really do create our realities out of our beliefs. If we don't believe in a positive world in which all humans are liberated to express their creativity, we cannot build it. We must hold the vision very clearly and then go about doing whatever each of us loves doing most, knowing that others will do the other parts. None of us has to do the whole thing, (and) together we can make it happen."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Need for Spiritual Awakening

Rather than calling it the Self, the Atman, or any other descriptive noun, physicist-turned-philosopher Peter Russell talks of "the aware-ing" that allows one to observe the process of the ego from the perspective of an omnipresent higher state of consciousness and being that is always available, although it is most often obscured by the thoughts of the smaller self.

Steeped in Transcendental Meditation, Advaita Vedanta, Buddhist meditation and various other wisdom teachings (including "A Course in Miracles"), Russell is the author of a number of books that explore the interrelationship of science and spirituality, an interface he (like many others) sees as increasingly important given the collective crises humanity faces and the widespread spiritual awakening that seems to be arising in response to such crises.
"I see this as a huge, unprecedented moment in human history," Russell observes. "We have scientific developments like never before, but we also live in a state of real vulnerability on the planet. Environmentally, we could really screw things up. And, at the same time, there is this search for spirituality. "

"It is becoming widespread across the planet," he notes, "that the old way, the material way that is actually leading to so many problems, leading to environmental issues, isn't actually working. It doesn't work for the planet - we are destroying the planet - but it is (also) not working for us as individuals."

"We just keep on going on down the same road and never ever getting anywhere much," he points out. "So," he notes, "I see that there is a widespread search for spiritual awakening that is happening across society."
"This is the time in history where we need that spiritual awakening," Russell notes. "Because it is the fact that we haven't got it - that we are coming out of this materialist, self-centered consciousness - that is leading us to destruction."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Liberation from the Self

The average person, though he or she likely does not know or believe it, is driven by the small "self" of the human ego. The sense of a separate "I" which is nothing more than an undisciplined but continuous stream of thought is, in effect, his or her identity, and he or she acts based upon such thoughts. Yet on all continents and in all ages non-dualistic wisdom traditions have pointed out the fallacy of this belief. We are much, much more than we think; albeit, what we think, we are.

"What man," asked Jesus, "ever added one cubit to his stature by taking thought?" "Know thyself," Socrates urged. "Nothing is either good or bad, but our thinking makes it so," observed Shakespeare.
"There is no ego apart from the thoughts," explains Eckhart Tolle in the attached video. "The thoughts, (and) the identification with thoughts, is ego. But the thoughts that go through your mind, of course, are linked to the collective mind of the culture you live in (and) humanity as a whole. So they are not your thoughts as such, but you pick them up from the collective - most of them. And, so, you identify with thinking, and the identification with thinking becomes ego. Which means, simply, that you believe in every thought that arises, and you derive your sense of who you are from what your mind is telling you who you are."
Yet the wisdom of all the worlds great religious and/or spiritual traditions (along with that of transpersonal and many other Western psychoanalytic schools) tells us that there is a far greater depth to our being than the merely egoic self.

The great twentieth century Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich put it this way:
"The wisdom of all ages and of all continents speaks about the road to our depth. It has been described in innumerably different ways. But all those who have been concerned - mystics and priests, poets and philosophers, simple people and educated - with that road through confession, lonely self-scrutiny, internal or external catastrophes, prayer, contemplation, have witnessed to the same experience. They have found they are not what what they  believed themselves to be, even after a deeper level had appeared to them below the vanishing surface. That deeper level itself became surface, when a still deeper level was discovered, this happening again and again, as long as their lives, as long as they kept on the road to their depth. . . .

The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is
God. That depth is what the word God means. . . . For if you know that God means depth, you know much about him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or an unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not. He who knows about depth knows about God."
[Paul Tillich, "The Shaking of the Foundations," Scribners, 1948, pp. 56-57.]
To mistake the small "self" or ego with who we are, thereby obscuring the depths of our being (and thereby the Ground of Being, itself) is, however all too common. Albert Einstein, called it "an optical delusion of consciousness," observing: "A human being is part of the whole called by us the universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness."

"The true value of a human being," the great scientist noted, "is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive," he warned.

The first step in obtaining "liberation from the self," is thus, (as Tolle notes) becoming aware of our own egoic thinking in order to disidentify with it, to become the observer of the thought rather than the enactor of the ego's thinking.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Science, Religion and the Perennial Philosophy

"We need religion, yes assuredly, but we need it free from superstition."
-- Paul Brunton --
("The Notebooks of Paul Brunton," Vol. 1, p. 209.)
While the target of all science is the discernment of truth, observes integral philosopher, Ken Wilber, the goal of all religions is meaning. In a post-modern world, Wilber notes, what is needed is a synthesis of religion and science so that we can ascribe meaning to the vast truths that science has uncovered. Yet, he notes, now, perhaps more than ever, religion is seen to be the antithesis of science, and vice versa.
"The reconciliation of science and religion is not merely a passing academic curiosity," Wilber points out. "These two enormous forces - truth and meaning - are at war in today's world. Modern science and pre-modern religion aggressively inhabit the same globe, each vying, in its own way, for world domination. And something, sooner or later, has to give."
"Science," Wilber notes, "tells us what a thing is, not whether it is good or bad, or what is should be or could be or ought to be. Thus this enormous global scientific infrastructure is, in itself, a valueless skeleton, however functionally efficient it might be." "Within the scientific skeleton of truth," he observes, "religious meaning attempts to flourish often by denying the scientific framework itself - rather like sawing off the branch on which you cheerily perch." "The disgust is mutual," he points out, "because modern science gleefully denies virtually all the basic tenets of religion in general."
[Ken Wilber, "The Marriage of Sense and Soul," pp. 3-4)

In the early 1940's, Einstein famously made the observation that "(s)cience without religion is lame, (while) religion without science is blind." What then is necessary for a reconciliation of these two eternal strains of humanity's intellectual and spiritual quest? Wilber suggests that the key to the problem lies in the contradictory claims of the world's great religious traditions. "(I)f we cannot find a common core of the world's great religions, then we will never find an integration of science and religion."

Fortunately, however, there have been innumerable attempts - some more successful than others - to reconcile the core teachings of all the great wisdom teachings, the most successful of which may be the following four-part description of the "perennial philosophy" put forward by the philosopher, Aldous Huxley:
"First: the phenomenal world of matter and individualized consciousness - the world of things and animals and men and even gods - is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their beginning, and apart from which they would be non-existent.

Second: human beings are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known.

Third: man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.

Fourth: man's life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal Self and so come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground." 
[Prabhavananda and Isherwood, "The Song of God," Intro., p. 13.]
Taking consciousness itself as being the key to religious experience, a position vigorously advocated by William James over a hundred years ago, and examining those contemplatives and mystics who have achieved  higher states of consciousness  through "direct intuition" could, many advocate, be the key to a reconciliation of science and religion. A failure to do so, it is well argued, will result in a continuing "retinal blindspot" in the Western scientific vision, and will thus preclude any true synthesis of science's truths with religion's meaning.