“To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower,
hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.” (Willam Blake)
“The Truth is One – The Sages Speak Of It With Many Names” (Vedic Scripture)
I should begin by stating up front that it is inherently, fundamentally, psychologically and literally impossible for me to adequately, or completely, describe what I “believe” in human language since It is ineffable and transcendent of all words and thought. I can no more express in words the essence of deep, profound and authentic realization than I can dance architecture or explain the marital status of the number 5. In philosophical and ontological terms, It is the all-encompassing and ultimate Category of Being.
As Campbell/Kant/Zimmer and likely many others have said:
“The best things can’t be told because they transcend thought. The second best are misunderstood, because those are the thoughts that are supposed to refer to that which can’t be thought about. The third best are what we talk (or write) about.”
“The ultimate, unqualified mystery is beyond Human experience.”
“God (the ultimate ground of all being) is an intelligible sphere (known to human consciousness) with a center that is everywhere, and circumference is nowhere.”
(Joseph Campbell – Book of 24 Philosophers)
My Personal Systems of Belief
Now that we have that deflating premise, or caveat out of the the way, I would like to try and describe my Personal System of Belief. First, this is a very much a work in progress (the definition) and will be continually updated and expanded so will never really be complete, or a perfectly cohesive system. With that said, my beliefs are actually non-religious in the traditional sense, and more of an unwavering, internal and universal sense of Unity and Connectedness with all things formed after at least 35 years of rational, logical and contemplative exploration and education. An exploration and education which likely started after reading “Journey to Ixtlan” by Carlos Castenada at 15. Eventually I read all but a few of his books, multiple times. My beliefs are also non-theistic in that I don’t believe in a personal god or gods with human, male characteristics and some sort of ethical agenda. This would be silly and dangerous in my opinion and has absolutely nothing to do with the True Nature of things, Man or Spiritual Enlightenment, and misses the point entirely.
“The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion. Not anything can be studied as a science, without our being in possession of the principles upon which it is founded; and as this is the case with Christian theology, it is therefore the study of nothing.”
”God must be greater than the greatest of human weaknesses and, indeed, the greatest of human skill. God must even transcend our most remarkable—to emulate nature in its absolute splendor. The height of arrogance is the height of control of those who create God in their own image.”
Unfortunately, over half of the world’s population follow monotheistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam (known as the Abrahamic traditions). Now don’t misunderstand me here. I am not dissing these, or any other traditional religion in any way. My view of all of man’s religions, mythologies and spiritual systems, is based heavily on the work of Joseph Campbell and the inclusiveness of Hinduism. I believe that all forms of religion and spirituality are man’s way of seeking explanation, order, meaning and the “experience of life” arising out of a sense of some sort of unknown eminent or transcendent force in which everything exists, and into which everything returns. When viewed from this perspective, all religious, spiritual and mythological systems are true as metaphorical and connotative of the underlying, transcendent One. Unfortunately this symbolic, metaphorical and connotative meaning has been lost in many of the old traditions and so most of the symbols have become concretized, made “real”. Another way to think of this problem of lost meaning, is in how we read religious or spiritual writings. If you read them as prose, you only understand, or connect with, the denotative or literal meaning. If you read the same religious, mythological or spiritual texts as poetry, you get the connotative or metaphorical meaning. I believe that it is in the connotative, rather than denotative reference or meaning where you can find the common connection between all of the world’s religions. When read and interpreted metaphorically, I believe they all evoke similar Universal Themes and messages implying some sort of Interconnected Unity as well as Universal Moral Principles. This is not a new idea, or unique perspective in any way. So when I refer to it being “unfortunate” that over half of the world follows Abrahamic or other monotheistic traditions, I mean to say that it is the following of the “literal” or “denotative” meaning (or misinterpretation) of these systems which is unfortunate (IMHO).
“Every god — Every mythology — Every religion is true in this sense;
It is true as metaphorical of the human and cosmic mystery.”
The traditional systems (ism’s) which best represent my own system of belief would be Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and Jainism. Albert Einstein even had something to say about religion, particularly Buddhism, which I tend to agree with completely.
“The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.” (Albert Einstein)
I have come to form my own beliefs based on at least four distinct, yet interrelated factors.
- Personal, Investigative Reading and Research: After at least 35 years and hundreds of books and papers on religion, spirituality, Buddhism, mythology, comparative religion, science, philosophy and psychology, the correspondence and similarity of common themes, is astounding and impossible to ignore. Many of these themes date back thousands of years and permeate through the foundations of every single traditional and world religion. To borrow from Leibniz and Huxley, I like to refer to this common theme as the “Perennial Philosophy”.
- Transcendent Personal Experience: Around 1984 or so, I took a long fall of around 35-40 feet off the Grand Wall of the Squamish Chief. I have much more to say about this and will expand when I can.
- Drug-Induced Hallucinogenic Experiences: During the late 70’s I experimented with many different types of hallucinogenic drugs. For a time, I was even considered something of a “guru” with regards to learning how to setup an environment to facilitate and induce hallucinations in others. I also have more to say on this and will expand when I have the time.
- Internal Explorations of Consciousness: Meditation, mindfulness and many other forms of internal explorations. Again, I have much more to say on this but it will also come later.
Guidelines For a Moral Life
One of the other common functions of a religion or system of belief, is that they typically prescribe various ethical “commandments”, or moral principles for living a “good” or “authentic” life. So what might be the moral principles suggested, thus far, by my vaguely defined system of belief? None really, but there are many other belief systems and philosophies which I like to borrow from when trying to define what might constitute moral human conduct. This list is certainly not complete, but one set comes from the Native American traditions, another comes straight from Buddhism’s oldest teachings and others from the humanistic philosophy known as “Ubuntu“. Ubuntu is a South African ideology which means “humanity towards others” or “I am because we are.”
“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.” (Desmond Tutu)
The following list of ethical precepts, self-reflective explorations, moral and pragmatic guidelines for psychological and spiritual development, seem like a reasonable starting point for the design of a good and authentic life. I think I can also say with confidence that this set of precepts should pass Kant’s moral litmus test whereby one chooses to “[a]ct only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” (Immanuel Kant)
Do I personally follow all of these precepts consistently and to the letter? No, of course not. Do I strive to be a better man and to honestly reflect upon, evaluate and improve my actions in accordance with these (and other) ethical or spiritual principles? All the time and to the best of my ability.
A First Nations Ten Commandments
- Treat the Earth and all that dwell therein with respect
- Remain close to the Great Spirit
- Show great respect for your fellow beings
- Work together for the benefit of all Mankind
- Give assistance and kindness wherever needed
- Do what you know to be right
- Look after the well-being of Mind and Body
- Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater Good
- Be truthful and honest at all times
- Take full responsibility for your actions
The Buddhist Eightfold Path
The Noble Eightfold Path describes the way to the end of suffering, as it was laid out by Siddhartha Gautama. It is a practical guideline to ethical and mental development with the goal of freeing the individual from attachments and delusions; and it finally leads to understanding the truth about all things. Together with the Four Noble Truths it constitutes the gist of Buddhism. Great emphasis is put on the practical aspect, because it is only through practice that one can attain a higher level of existence and finally reach Nirvana. The eight aspects of the path are not to be understood as a sequence of single steps, instead they are highly interdependent principles that have to be seen in relationship with each other.
1. Right View (Wisdom)
Right view is the beginning and the end of the path, it simply means to see and to understand things as they really are and to realise the Four Noble Truth. As such, right view is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. It means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. Right view is not necessarily an intellectual capacity, just as wisdom is not just a matter of intelligence. Instead, right view is attained, sustained, and enhanced through all capacities of mind. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Since our view of the world forms our thoughts and our actions, right view yields right thoughts and right actions.
2. Right Intention (Wisdom)
While right view refers to the cognitive aspect of wisdom, right intention refers to the volitional aspect, i.e. the kind of mental energy that controls our actions. Right intention can be described best as commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions: 1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire, 2. the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion, and 3. the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.
3. Right Speech (Ethical Conduct)
Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline, which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however, essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: 1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.
4. Right Action (Ethical Conduct)
The second ethical principle, right action, involves the body as natural means of expression, as it refers to deeds that involve bodily actions. Unwholesome actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind. Again, the principle is explained in terms of abstinence: right action means 1. to abstain from harming sentient beings, especially to abstain from taking life (including suicide) and doing harm intentionally or delinquently, 2. to abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty, and 3. to abstain from sexual misconduct. Positively formulated, right action means to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest, to respect the belongings of others, and to keep sexual relationships harmless to others. Further details regarding the concrete meaning of right action can be found in the Precepts.
5. Right Livelihood (Ethical Conduct)
Right livelihood means that one should earn one’s living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and that one should avoid for this reason: 1. dealing in weapons, 2. dealing in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), 3. working in meat production and butchery, and 4. selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs. Furthermore any other occupation that would violate the principles of right speech and right action should be avoided.
6. Right Effort (Mental Development)
Right effort can be seen as a prerequisite for the other principles of the path. Without effort, which is in itself an act of will, nothing can be achieved, whereas misguided effort distracts the mind from its task, and confusion will be the consequence. Mental energy is the force behind right effort; it can occur in either wholesome or unwholesome states. The same type of energy that fuels desire, envy, aggression, and violence can on the other side fuel self-discipline, honesty, benevolence, and kindness. Right effort is detailed in four types of endeavours that rank in ascending order of perfection: 1. to prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states, 2. to abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen, 3. to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen, and 4. to maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen.
7. Right Mindfulness (Mental Development)
Right mindfulness is the controlled and perfected faculty of cognition. It is the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. Usually, the cognitive process begins with an impression induced by perception, or by a thought, but then it does not stay with the mere impression. Instead, we almost always conceptualise sense impressions and thoughts immediately. We interpret them and set them in relation to other thoughts and experiences, which naturally go beyond the facticity of the original impression. The mind then posits concepts, joins concepts into constructs, and weaves those constructs into complex interpretative schemes. All this happens only half consciously, and as a result we often see things obscured. Right mindfulness is anchored in clear perception and it penetrates impressions without getting carried away. Right mindfulness enables us to be aware of the process of conceptualisation in a way that we actively observe and control the way our thoughts go. Buddha accounted for this as the four foundations of mindfulness: 1. contemplation of the body, 2. contemplation of feeling (repulsive, attractive, or neutral), 3. contemplation of the state of mind, and 4. contemplation of the phenomena.
8. Right Concentration (Mental Development)
The eighth principle of the path, right concentration, refers to the development of a mental force that occurs in natural consciousness, although at a relatively low level of intensity, namely concentration. Concentration in this context is described as one-pointedness of mind, meaning a state where all mental faculties are unified and directed onto one particular object. Right concentration for the purpose of the eightfold path means wholesome concentration, i.e. concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions. The Buddhist method of choice to develop right concentration is through the practice of meditation. The meditating mind focuses on a selected object. It first directs itself onto it, then sustains concentration, and finally intensifies concentration step by step. Through this practice it becomes natural to apply elevated levels concentration also in everyday situations.
By no means is this a complete description of my Personal System(s) of Belief. Beyond suggesting a few, mostly common sense, moral guidelines for conduct borrowed from other sources, and that the Ground of Being is an ineffable, transcendent phenomenon (indirectly) experienced only by metaphor or connotative reference, there is very little that has been stated clearly, unambiguously or comprehensively. Nor is there anything new or revolutionary about the concepts I have alluded to, all of which have been borrowed heavily from other belief systems or writers. Nor is there any singular, cohesive system or structure of belief being proposed. I suppose if I had to try and pull it all together, I could say that my beliefs are formed from aspects of Native American Spirituality; Shamanism; Paganism; combined with the inclusiveness of Hinduism; the humanitarian ideology of Ubuntu; “the way” or path suggested by Taoism; many of the core components of Buddhism; along with various works in comparative religion, mythology, philosophy and psychology from the likes of Joseph Campbell, Aldus Huxley and Carl Jung. Throughout all of these works and belief systems, I (and many others) get the sense of an underlying and common theme which has been called the Perennial Philosophy. At the very least, I BELIEVE there is indeed, such an underlying and universal foundation which is perennial and permeates, or forms the core philosophical and spiritual basis of most, if not all the worlds religions and spiritual systems. Part of the “way” or “path” towards the realization of this universal foundation, is attained through humanitarian, moral and compassionate conduct along with deliberate and introspective explorations of self and consciousness.
I never claimed this was going to be easy. However, I think this is a reasonable starting point and in a very broad sense, covers the gist or foundation of what I believe, and represents where my “Spiritual Centre” rests. At least for now, this overview is about the best I can do with regards to trying to suggest (evoke) through the writings and ideas of others, a sense of the “Perennial Philosophy” as I interpret its meaning. It is also my intention to actually write far more on this topic, but I still have much to read, and of course learn, about writing and many other topics before I feel that I have something, anything, worth writing. But for now, there are far better writers and spiritually-minded people who have expressed what I believe, in far more eloquent and succinct language than I am capable of. Although I intend this to be the start of formulating my own ideas on these systems of belief, I will leave it here with a few quotations which state pretty much the same thing, and speak to the same system of belief, or “Perennial Philosophy” to which I believe might be the One Thing, One Source, One Witness.
So what exactly is the “One Thing”, “One Source”, or “One Witness”? Maybe It is Mohammed, Christ, Buddha, God, Jahweh, Atman, Brahman and the Great Spirit all together. Maybe It is undifferentiated Self, transcendent of all human language and concepts. Maybe It is the Other, maybe It is Now. Maybe It is the fourth syllable in AUM: “A”, “U”, “M” and the Silence, out from which AUM emanates. Maybe it has something to do with Dark Matter. Maybe It’s unknowable. I certainly made that point right from the start. I suppose I like to think of it as the One Underlying and Persistent Influence on all Life and all Things. A Perennial Philosophy, the Ground of all Being, the Absolute. Another metaphor I like to use is the Sound NOT made by things rubbing together. It might also be the non-local correlation in Quantum Entanglement. It might also be the Collective Unconscious. It is the Source and Sphere of all Being without circumference, yet with a Centre which is everywhere, nowhere, and in each of us. It is the Universe, It is a Flower, a Mountain, a Child, a Pebble. It is Love, It is Compassion, It is a Selfless Act, It is You. You are This. I am This. Thou Art That. Tat Tvam Asi.
The term “Perennial Philosophy” was coined by Leibniz, but popularized by Aldous Huxley, according to whom it pertains to a primary concern “…with the one, divine Reality substantial to the manifold world of things and lives and minds. But the nature of this one Reality is such that it cannot be directly or immediately apprehended except by those who have chosen to fulfill certain conditions, making themselves loving, pure in heart, and poor in spirit.” (Aldous Huxley)
The Perennial Philosophy” is “…the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being — the thing is immemorial and universal. Rudiments of the Perennial Philosophy may be found among the traditionary lore of primitive peoples in every region of the world, and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions. A version of this Highest Common Factor in all preceding and subsequent theologies was first committed to writing more than twenty-five centuries ago, and since that time the inexhaustible theme has been treated again and again, from the standpoint of every religious tradition and in all the principal languages of Asia and Europe.” (Aldous Huxley)
“The underlying idea is that the ultimate truth, substance, support, energy, or reality of the universe transcends all definition, all imaging, all categories, and all thoughts. It is beyond the reach of the mind, i.e., transcendent. Consequently, to ask, as our theologians do: “Is the Godhead just?, merciful?, wrathful?” “Does it favor this people or that: the Jew, the Christian, or Mohammedan?” is from this point of view absurd. To think thus is to project human sentiments and concerns beyond their temporal sphere, and so, to short-circuit the problem altogether. It is a kind of anthropomorphism, hardly more appropriate to a developed religion than the attribution of gender to the source-mystery of being—which is another of the absurdities of our bewildering religions. But now, on the other hand (and here is the great point): that which is thus ultimately transcendent of all definition, categories, names, and forms, is the very substance, energy, being, and support, of all things, including ourselves: the reality of each and all of us. Transcendent of definition, transcendent of enclosure, it is yet immanent in each.“ (Joseph Campbell)
“It is only in the act of contemplation when words and even personality are transcended, that the pure state of the Perennial Philosophy can actually be known. The records left by those who have known it in this way make it abundantly clear that all of them, whether Hindu, Buddhist, Hebrew, Taoist, Christian, or Mohammedan, were attempting to describe the same essentially indescribable Fact.” (Aldous Huxley)
“Now I shall tell you the nature of the absolute Witness. If you recognize it, you will be freed from the bonds of ignorance, and attain liberation. There is a self-existent Reality, which is the basis of our conscious ego. That Reality is the Witness of the states of ego consciousness and of the body. That Reality is the constant Witness in all three states of consciousness —waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep. It is your real Self. That Reality pervades the universe. It alone shines. The universe shines with its reflected light. Its nature is timeless awareness. It knows all things, Witnesses all things, from the ego to the body. It is the Witness of pleasure and pain and the sense-objects. This is your real Self, the Supreme Being, the Ancient. It never ceases to experience infinite release. It is unwavering. It is Spirit itself.” (Shankara).
“With the assumption that ultimate reality is the non-physical (the ontologically ‘wholly other’), perennial philosophy in its various versions interprets divinity as non-personal (e.g., Brahman) or analogically personal (e.g., the “supra-personal”). The most philosophic forms of major Asian religions most clearly choose the former, while Judaism, Islam, and especially Christianity, under the influence of Greek philosophy, have utilized the latter as a mainstream of their theologies. Uniting both the Oriental and Hellenized Jewish, Christian, and Muslim systems of thought, the conviction is maintained that true reality (whether called “the One” or “God”) is supersensible or non-physical.” (Richard Nolan)
“The more God is in all things, the more He is outside them; the more He is within, the more without. Only the transcendent, the complete other, can be immanent without being changed by the becoming of that in which it dwells.” (Meister Eckhart)
“My thesis then, is as follows: in addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents.” (Carl Jung)
“There exists only the present instant… a Now which always and without end is itself new. There is no yesterday nor any tomorrow, but only Now, as it was a thousand years ago and as it will be a thousand years hence.” (Meister Eckhart)