On 15 March 2011, I began a series of blog pieces. I knew it was ambitious but didn't think it was overwhelming. I was going to explain my personal philosophy based on what I taught at the university, including my views on religion. Put incredibly pompously, a sort of personal unified field theory.
Nothing like placing oneself next to Einstein, is there? And yet, he whispered into my shell-like ear just now, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."
That’s where crunch point came, because I do hold to the view strongly that there's an interconnectness amongst all things. Not to understand the significance of this is to get locked into illusion, which is what the highest forms of Hindu philosophy try to get across when they speak of maya. I won't return to that here.
This series was not intended as a guru piece to enlighten the world. Gurus or their equivalents in other cultures have been doing that for at least three thousand years with not a lot of success, in my opinion. In religion, we've ended up with an appalling mess of conflict that would make most of their founders, where there were individual founders, weep with despair at the travesty their noble ideals have ended up. They would have kept their mouths shut if they could have seen into the future the misery has been inflicted in their name. The newspapers and history books are littered with the bloodstains.
In philosophy, while there's little actual blood on the floor, it's nearly all got lost in a mishmash of jargon that only the specialists dare use, and they often end up playing with words that confound the tale they are supposed to be telling.
My idea was to use the series to crystallise my own thoughts and end up with a coherent statement that might even have some meaning for anyone interested enough to plough through it right to the end.
Well, the road to hell... and all that. I got to a certain point by 8 November 2011, and then stopped.
It wasn't that I couldn’t go on or didn't know what I wanted to express, but that it became an exercise in the very thing I hoped to avoid – preaching. Even my recent posting was preachy.
People don't usually like to be preached at, unless they're in awe of the preacher or looking for a saviour. Some are. Count me out. At least, don't count on me because I'm sure to let you down. Preaching assumes superior knowledge and wisdom by the preacher, and in my case there's no guarantee of that.
I got hung up on the notion that I was reinventing the wheel, and maybe not one that fits the cart it should be on. They're wonky old wheels of different shapes and sizes, but there they are. As I said, I'm no saviour. But what I can say is that I can tell you why my views on God, the Universe and Everything leave me feeling as comfortable as I can be, given what's been happening to me over the past 34 months.
Well then, let me put an end to it.
Jesus and the Buddha weren't preachers, although the term is often applied to them by later commentators, critics and devotees. They taught using parables, as did Lao Tzu. Parables have the advantage of myth; they can teach the lesson without getting caught up in unimportant details. They can be adapted to new circumstances without someone screaming that not a word can be changed or the message will be lost. The truth is that the message is stifled when it's placed in a straitjacket.
The only problem arises when the writings with a mythic quality are taken as literal truth. We all know where grim clinging to dogma ends up.
Let me dispense with the religion side of it. Better still, let me call on an old battler to help; a man who died forty years ago. His name is Alan Watts. He had what I regard as a special gift for explaining eastern philosophies to westerners.
It might seem, then, that our need is for some genius to invent a new religion, a philosophy of life and a view of the world that is plausible and generally acceptable for the late twentieth century, and through which every individual can feel that the world as a whole and his own life in particular have meaning.
This, as history has shown repeatedly, is not enough. Religions are divisive and quarrelsome. They are a form of one-upmanship because they depend upon separating the "saved" from the "damned," the true believers from the heretics, the in-group from the out-group. Even religious liberals play the game of "we're-more- tolerant-than-you."And he goes on to write one sentence that I find too sweeping, and doesn't take into account thinking people of faith:
Furthermore, as systems of doctrine, symbolism, and behavior, religions harden into institutions that must command loyalty, be defended and kept "pure," and—because all belief is fervent hope, and thus a cover-up for doubt and uncertainty—religions must make converts. The more people who agree with us, the less nagging insecurity about our position.
In the end one is committed to being a Christian or a Buddhist come what may in the form of new knowledge. New and indigestible ideas have to be wangled into the religious tradition, however inconsistent with its original doctrines, so that the believer can still take his stand and assert, "I am first and foremost a follower of Christ/Muhammad/Buddha, or whomever."
Irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world. Faith is, above all, open-ness—an act of trust in the unknown.The last sentence I can only agree with wholeheartedly.
Unfortunately, because this has been separated from its context, I'll probably lose anyone used to thinking only of the God of the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but I have no choice.
...[W]e think of God as the King of the Universe, the Absolute Technocrat who personally and consciously controls every details of his cosmos—and that is not the kind of God in my story. In fact, it isn't my story at all, for any student of the history of religions will know that it comes from ancient India, and is the mythical way of explaining the Vedanta philosophy.
...Sophisticated Hindus do not think of God as a special and separate superperson who rules the world from above, like a monarch. Their God is "underneath" rather than "above" everything, and he (or it) plays the world from inside.... What is more, no Hindu can realize that he is God in disguise without seeing at the same time that this is true of everyone and everything else.So let me return to my own view, for the last time. I am not a pantheist, a polytheist, a monotheist, nor an atheist. I am not any 'ist' with a 'the' in it. I am a monist, which goes beyond most limits that words impose. I don't look for a Heaven as described in the Semitic faiths, whatever attractions it may hold for others. Nor have I the least fear of a fire-and-brimstone Hell. To me, the latter represents in mythic form the hell we make for ourselves and others.
In the Vedanta philosophy, nothing exists except God. There seem to be other things than God.... The universe of seemingly separate things is therefore real only for a while, not eternally real, for it comes and goes...
But Vedanta is much more than the idea or the belief that this is so. It is centrally and above all the experience, the immediate knowledge of its being so, and for this reason such a complete subversion of our ordinary way of seeing things. It turns the world inside out and outside in.
I take both to have a vital mythic quality suitable to the great tales of humanity, but we shouldn't cajole or frighten children with them. To me they mean a fulfilment or realisation that we are all of the same essence, as Watts describes is the message of the Vedanta.
Some may call that atheism. They are wrong, but that’s OK. It's non-theism, or as I said elsewhere, monism. In a way, it's recognising the relative world we live in within the absolute. Once you have this awareness, just about everything falls into place.
I accept that others see it differently and it would be presumptuous of me to deny anyone their perception of why they are here and how to spend the short time we all have on this earth. As I've said many times before, when people say they pray for me, I'm sincerely grateful, just as I am for the kindly wishes of the agnostic or the atheist. Good-heartedness is a characteristic of humanity completely separate from religious or philosophical outlook.
Should this blog end here, then that’s OK. I've said enough, I hope, to make people aware that I accept where and what I am, with no fear of what's beyond the last breath. Between now and that point? That's the terra incognita.
Let my old friend Alan Watts have (almost) the last word:
As a human being it is just my nature to enjoy and share philosophy. I do this in the same way that some birds are eagles and some doves, some flowers lilies and some roses. I realize, too, that the less I preach, the more likely I am to be heard.I apologise for the preaching. How much better this would have been if told as a myth in Harry Potter style. Words are good servants but bad masters.
These quotes all come from Alan Watts The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who you Are
Search for it on Google; You may be in for a pleasant surprise if you do.