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

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What Is God? Eastern and Western Perspectives

"And being asked by the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God cometh, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within you"
-- Luke 17:20-21 --
In an interview with Michael Toms, the late Joseph Campbell, professor emeritus of mythology and comparative religions, had the following to say about the influx of Eastern religious traditions into Western culture, a synergy that continues to lift the discourse on humankind's need for the mysterious and sacred to unprecedented levels:
"You must remember," Campbell points out, "that when we have teachers from the East, we're getting the best. There are also crude traditions in the East; and we have the crude folk-traditions in the West; and our best teachers are not that ones that are most listened to."

"Now, the best teaching from the East is the one given by the Dalai Lama," says Campbell, "We also had it from Sri Ramakrishna, the great Indian Hindu teacher of the (nineteenth) century, namely that there is a common consciousness which is our own ground and so in consciousness we are one; insofar as you identify yourself with the consciousness that moves and lives in your body, you've identified with that which you share with me. And on the other hand, if you fix yourself, and your tradition, and believe you've got it, then you've removed yourself from the rest of humankind."

"What the Eastern teachers are telling us," Campbell notes, "is that the important thing is not what happened thousands of years ago when the Buddha was born or Jesus was crucified: what's important is what is happening in you now. And what's important is not your membership in a religious community: it's what that membership is doing to your psyche."

"The divine lives within you," he notes. "Our Western religions tend to put the divine outside of the earthly world and in God, in heaven. But the whole sense of the Oriental is that the kingdom of God is within you. Who's in heaven? God is? Where's God? God's within you. And what is God? God is a personification of that world-creative energy which is beyond thinking and beyond naming."

"We think," says Campbell, "not only that our God has been named and known, but that he's given us a whole system of rules. But this system of rules is not from God, it's from man, and the rules are man's clues as to how to get to the realization of God."

"(W)e're all from a mysterious trans-rational ground," Campbell concludes, "subatomic particles tell us that. We don't know what they are, and that's what we are. And of course our mind is in this world of time-space relationship; and the mind must open to the impulse and statements of this primary precedent of the general consciousness."

"A numerous and elaborate society must have a consciously defined and clearly analysed technique, based on an evident empirical psychology" observed philosopher Gerald Heard, one of Campbell's notable contemporaries. "The psychology of any epoch must be at the same stage of advance as its economics and physics, if a serious regression is to be avoided. Our perennial challenge has been that our working psychology is always a whole epoch behind our physico-economic state."

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