The Spiritual Path
The main theme of this website is that we may rediscover the importance of the spiritual in seeking knowledge (science), but here I want to look at a more personal path. Our species seems to be wired with a need for meaning, and undoubtedly everyone at some point in their lives, especially at times of personal loss, will search the wider canvas for a source of comfort and meaning. It was inevitable that, in the despair of the Haitian earthquake disaster or the Japanese tsunami, the predominant question was ‘Where was God?’, because most people, following the Church’s lead, seem to believe in an anthropomorphic, personal God.
We have a crisis of confidence in western society. Institutionalised religion fails to tell us in a meaningful way where we came from or what is the purpose of life; and the current scientific model is stuck in a materialist cul-de-sac, unwilling to accept experiential challenges about individual meaning and consciousness. Both these extremes might benefit from considering that the great cataclysms that punctuate Earth’s history in the last billion years may be seen as the experience of Gaia raising her consciousness in a process of evolution. (see article “The Evolution of Life and Earth”)
While this concept of consciousness emerging from chaos has no place for a personal, caring father figure sitting on a throne in heaven, it does allow for the existence of universal laws at the very heart of creation, which have been recognised by a substantial part of humanity for thousands of years and which holistic science is beginning to acknowledge.
In this secular age, it is fashionable to be an atheist. The mainstream media don’t treat spiritual concerns with any respect. There is an irrational confusion between religion and spirituality (or even between spiritualism and spirituality), which is encouraged by trendy neo-Darwinist doctrines (e.g. Richard Dawkins). I think it is helpful to think of religion as being concerned with codified and institutionalised beliefs. There are many today, very often from a scientific background, who regard the spiritual aspect of life to be important, but who are not religious in the conventional sense, and may well regard the single-minded pursuit of religious fundamentalism as one of the most destructive forces in history. Agnosticism, on the other hand, is able to value spiritual experiences.
What of our own journey? The anonymity of church membership, with its familiar religious doctrines and rituals and the support of a spiritual community can be very comforting. Others see their spiritual journey as something more personal. There are many paths, and in our individual seeking there are countless pitfalls and traps. Perhaps the greatest of these is spiritual pride and egotism.
I love this classic teaching tale from Buddhism: The pupil who has, through years of struggle and self-doubt at last achieved enlightenment, asks his teacher for help in living his new calling. The teacher replied: “Before enlightenment you chopped wood and carried water. After enlightenment you chop wood and carry water”.
Research in modern times into Jesus’ ministry was stimulated by the discovery of the Nag Hammadi scrolls, buried for 1500 years, which showed the influence on Jesus of the Essene community; and by evidence that he may have survived the crucifixion and embarked on a journey to teach the people of North-west India. His disciple Thomas subsequently started a mission in India and wrote his gospel (the earliest) which gives much insight into the inner teachings of Jesus, but which was banned because it was deemed to be heretical.
It is clear that the Bible that we have now has been much edited by Church politicians to whom mysticism and belief in reincarnation were anathema. Passages which empowered people to have their own beliefs or their own relationship with the Divine were changed or removed, and much of Jesus’ inner teaching was lost. These declarations of dogma were confirmed by the councils of Nicaea (325), of Orange (529) and by the Fifth General Counsel of the Church (553) which codified Augustinian doctrine. Predictably the established Church does not encourage research into alternative interpretations of Christ’s teachings, because it challenges their authority and that of the authorised Bible.
I share Bishop Richard Holloway’s insistence that Christianity is a great work of the human imagination. Undoubtedly the anthropomorphic God is the creation of man. You might say that the Bible, as we know it, is a political construction. The Church has insisted on treating it as holy writ to be taken literally, ignoring Jesus’ teaching through myth and parable as the main vehicle for truth , his subversiveness in preferring compassion to rules and doctrine, and his rejection of human authority. You have to be persistent to discover the real meaning of Jesus’ parables and inner teaching, because orthodoxy is not going to help you.
If this life is the only one we can have, what happens to those whose lives are cut short by cancer, war or starvation? And if Jesus can simply wipe away all our past mistakes, is there any point in what we do on earth? I believe that his teaching and his example were much more profound than we are told today. Popular polls have shown that belief in the immortality of the soul is widely accepted as is is guidance and support from those who have ‘passed over’.
The idea that the human soul is eternal and returns time after time in a different body is found in many Eastern religions. Today, in the West, the Christian establishment regards this as heretical and fanciful, except for a few more liberal clerics and philosophers. However, many people who suffer from irrational fears and unexplained maladies have been able to find relief through recalling a trauma possibly experienced in a previous lifetime. Past life therapy is a new approach in psychiatry (see Many Lifetimes, below) which can be very beneficial in resolving ‘unfinished business’.
The principle of reincarnation was supported by Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle whose beliefs complemented those of the Early Christian Fathers. Origen, (AD 185–254) an early leader of the Christian Church, taught the doctrines of reincarnation and karma (the responsibility to account for one’s actions in a past life). St.Gregory (257-332) and St.Jerome (340-400) also espoused them. Even our present Bible does not contradict this teaching.
I believe that all paths lead to the Source. There are countless beliefs for innumerable preferences or needs, each of which may represent one facet of the many sided jewel of the ultimate truth of Being.
Hugh McGregor Ross: Jesus Untouched by the Church, His Teachings in the Gospel of Thomas (highly recommended)
Maurice Nicol: The Mark (a psychological interpretation of Jesus’ teaching)
Prof. Fida Hassnain: A Search for the Historical Jesus (evidence of Jesus surviving the crucifixion and journeying to India)
Elizabeth Clare Prophet: Reincarnation: The missing link in Christianity (412pp) 1997 – authoritative
Joan Grant & Denys Kelsey: Many Lifetimes (276pp) 1968 (reincarnation & mental illness)
www.Alick Bartholomew.co.uk 2.xii.13