Universal Truths (in Spirituality,Belief Systems and Religion) - Issue 21 - September 2021
Updated: Oct 7, 2021
Hi Guys. In this September 2021 blog (Issue21) I contemplate the subject of ‘Universal Truths’ (in Spirituality, Belief Systems and Religion). Have we paid enough attention to the so-called universal laws in our journey inward? Have we paid enough attention to the path of humanity, our spiritual interconnectedness and the stark fact that we are all fundamentally the same?
As in my previous blogs, I will draw on the views and opinions of past and current masters, sages, mystics, gurus, philosophers and generally wise people. I also tap into all the worldly belief systems, religions and philosophies to draw on ancient knowledge and wisdom. These blog posts are designed for those interested in mindfulness and will only give you a taste of the information, knowledge and wisdom that is out there (and all points raised can easily be further researched).
Whilst I don’t necessarily want this post to be simply about discussing if there is a difference between religion and spirituality, there are common factors (there is a whole academic field of comparative religion study out there to check out if you so desire).
It is reasonably suggested that there can be spirituality without religion, religion without spirituality, and religion with spirituality. It depends on what you perceive and how you conceptualise it. In a simplistic sense, religion is given to you and spirituality is something you intuit personally arising from your own instincts. In this regard, Buddha was not Buddhist; Jesus was not Christian. They were highly realised spiritual persons; they were spiritual but not religious. Their followers then evolved their teachings into social institutions with dogmas, doctrines and practices that became formalised in belief, worship, ritual and culture.
However, I will draw specific reference to spirituality and the similar concepts that we can see in all religions and belief systems along with philosophy (as in logic and reason) generally. I will call all these similarities, ‘universal truths’.
The common goal to highlight such universal truths would seem to me to be one of overcoming the ego and awakening reality (i.e. identify with the higher self) and in recognising the similarities. We all are continually cycling thoughts through perceptions, reality and fear in this regard. Deepak Chopra (US/Indian spiritual author, MD & Endocrinologist) in his book, God: A Story of Revelation (2013), articulates his perspective on this and indicates how the book is a combination of spiritual inquiry, both east and west, in one place.
In a recorded response to an interview question on the book; ‘Where are the spiritual leaders and the prophets of our modern age?’, Chopra responds by stating; “One age has taken away the reflective inquiry that was the domain of philosophers in the past. Today, science is the religion to which we try and understand reality and science is more about seeking perceptual validation through observation through experiment theory. However, science sometimes loses insight, scientists lose insight to the fact that science is not a method for exploring ultimate truth - it is a method for exploring perceptual truth. In other words, what we see is not what is.
“What we see is a reflection of our nervous system and our human method of questioning. Perceptual reality is different for different species. In certain species it is a mode of observation, so what we call scientific fact is actually not ultimate truth, it is perceptual experience and it’s a mode of observation. But science has dethroned philosophy because it is so successful. Science is so successful in its application that we mistake the map for the territory, and we do not even question the fact that science is exploring a map, but not the territory. Academic philosophers use scientific methods and mathematics to do their philosophy. Many scientists think that philosophy has no place, so for me it’s a sad time because the role of reflection, contemplation, self-inquiry, insight, intuition, imagination, creativity, free will is in a way not given any importance, which is the domain of philosophers.
I don’t see any authentic, spiritual inquiry in the world right now other than ‘be nice to each other’, which is great, but all the spiritual and religious teachers are teaching us morality, which I think is important – we need to have a sense of modern values in order to go on living life so that we don’t go on into the madness that is around us, from global warming, to gun violence and all the various prejudices that basically make a tribal mindset. Spirituality is meant to take us beyond our tribal identity in a domain of awareness that is more universal.
Right now, the only spirituality we see out there is basically morality. It’s not a deep investigation into the nature of our existence and I think when we stop doing that, we lose a very important part of ourselves. We stop asking ourselves ‘Where is the truth, goodness, beauty, harmony?’, ‘What is the meaning of evolution?’, ‘Why is there life and birth and death?’. These are important questions and we’re not asking them right now. Not in the spiritual, anyway. Not even in the scientific domain.”
In the 19th century the whole idea of academically studying all religions comparatively, really took off. There were many academic researchers that tried to bring in the values and principles of the various eastern and western belief systems that converged significantly. One approach was called ‘universalism’ where it stated that all religions refer to the same underlying spiritual reality, manifest through varying cultural forms.
It was reported that even in the world of the ancient Greeks there was a doctrine called, ‘the equivalence of the gods’ where the 5th century BCE historian Herodotus stated that the gods of Egypt were basically Egyptian names for Greek divinities. Similarly, in the East Buddhists commonly interpreted native Chinese and Japanese Gods as ‘manifestations’ of cosmic buddhas.
Max Muller (1823-1900) was a German born, Oxford based scholar of the Sanskrit language (classical language of South Asia and predominantly Hinduism – approximately 3000 years ago) and was said to be the ‘father of comparative religion’. He stated that the study of one religion could shed light on the study of another. He outlined a broad program that included learning about a religion through its own writings, grouping religions according to regional and linguistic patterns, exercising critical historical methods, understanding the nature of religious and metaphoric language, and avoiding the common tendency to compare positive aspects of one religion with negative aspects of another.
Aldous Huxley was an English academic, writer, philosopher and mystic (1894 – 1963) and in his book, The Perennial Philosophy (1945) he writes about the phrase ‘perennial philosophy’ as being first coined by the Renaissance humanist Agostino Steuco in 1540 and further considered by Neoplatonist Marsilio Ficino during the same period. It referred to the idea that there is a shared wisdom in all religions that is one transcultural philosophy. Huxley states that, “this philosophy is immemorial (from the distant past) 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.” Huxley went onto to comment that there was a substantial agreement between proponents of classical theism (i.e. belief in the existence of a creator) in Platonic (as in Plato’s doctrines), Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish philosophy over three main points: God (or other descriptions of the divine) is an unconditioned eternal Being, our consciousness is a reflection or spark of that, and we can find our enlightenment in the realisation of this.
As a matter of interest, in Hinduism, which is said to be the oldest religion in the world, there are 33 types/cores of gods whose function of existence is to sustain the world. However, they are all manifestations of one God (supreme being), Brahman, who is said to be the cause and foundation of all existence. Interestingly or confusingly, three other principle gods pervade, being Brahma, who creates the universe, Vishnu (a.k.a. Krishna who came to earth as an avatar of Vishnu to guide humanity), who preserves the universe and Shiva who destroys the universe (however, they are all manifestations of Brahman).
Following on, Huxley wrote, “The Sanskrit dharma (i.e. cosmic law underlyingright behaviour and social order) – one of the key words in Indian formulations of the Perennial Philosophy – has two principal meanings. The dharma of an individual is, first of all, his essential nature, the intrinsic law of his being and development. But dharma also signifies the law of righteousness and piety. The implications of this double meaning are clear: a man’s duty (person’s duty), how he (they) ought to live, what he (they) ought to believe and what he (they) ought to do about his (their) beliefs – these things are conditioned by his essential nature, his constitution and temperament. Going a good deal further than do the Catholics, with their doctrine of vocations, the Indians admit the right of individuals with different dharmas to worship different aspects or conceptions of the divine. Hence the almost total absence, among Hindus and Buddhists, of bloody persecutions, religious wars and proselytising imperialism.”
Huxley’s book was written and published during the 2nd World War and he wrote strong words about the so-called pseudo-religions of Communism, Fascism and nationalism (and was very much affected by them). He considered that if they are thought to stand in the way of advance towards worldly ends professed by such pseudo-religions, the various manifestations of the Perennial Philosophy are treated with a contemptuously tolerant indifference.
Huxley wrote (in 1944), “A hundred years ago, hardly anything was known of Sanskrit, Pali (sacred language of Theravāda Buddhism) or Chinese. The ignorance of European scholars was sufficient reason for their provincialism. Today, when more or less adequate translations are available in plenty, there is not only no reason for it, there is no excuse. And yet most European and American authors of books about religion and metaphysics (i.e. the nature of existence and being) write as though nobody had ever thought about these subjects, except the Jews, the Greeks and the Christians of the Mediterranean basin and western Europe. This display of what, in the twentieth century, is an entirely voluntary and deliberate ignorance is not only absurd and discreditable; it is also socially dangerous, like any other form of imperialism, theological imperialism is a menace to world peace.
He went on to say, “The reign of violence will never come to an end until most human beings accept the Perennial Philosophy and recognise it as the highest factor common to all the world religions. The only way we can wake up from the nightmare of history is by focusing on the ‘Eternal Now’ (i.e. experience and focus the present instant). This requires a complete overhaul of society to install a new infrastructure of contemplation: a society is good to the extent that it renders contemplation possible for its members.”
The following is partly reproduced from a comparative religion table written by Australian Philosopher/Spiritual Teacher/Guru, Michael Bohuslav, to depict how difficult a spiritual journey to realisation (enlightenment) can be for some. (unfortunately the actual comparative table could not be properly depicted in this format)
“The human birth is rare to obtain. After having obtained it, if man does not aspire for the realisation of Iswara (Self), he is born in vain”. (Swami Chidbhavananda translation Chapter 15:20)
Among thousands of men scarcely one strives for perfection, and of those who strive and succeed, scarcely one knows Me in truth. (Swami Chidbhavananda Chapter 7:3)
Among thousands of men one here and there strives after perfection, and of those who strive and attain to perfection one here and there knows Me in all the principles of my existence, tattvatah (in truth). (Aurobindo Chapter 7:3)
Unchangeable- be who realizes Him, frees himself from the jaws of death. But it is very difficult. It is, as it were, walking on the edge of a razor, the way is long and perilous, but struggle on, do not despair. Awake, arise, and stop not till the goal is reached. The one central idea throughout the Upanishads is that of realisation. (Eight Upanishads Vol II Foreword Swami Vivekandanda)
Death said: “God made sense turn outward, man therefore looks outward, not into himself. Now and again a daring soul, desiring immortality; has looked back and found himself”. (Katha Upanishad)
BIBLE (King James version)
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is
the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:”
“Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
“For many are called, but few are chosen”.
The Buddha is alleged to have said: -
“Rare it is in the universe to be born into a human lifetime;
Rarer still is to hear of the dharma;
Rarer still is it to accept the teachings;
Rarer still is it to act on the teachings; and even rarer still is it to realise the truth of the teachings.”
To even hear of enlightenment is already the rarest of gifts. Anyone who has ever heard of enlightenment will never be satisfied with anything else.
TAO TE CHING
When the highest type of men hears Tao,
They diligently practice it.
When the average type of men hears Tao,
They half believe it.
When the lowest type of men hears Tao,
They laugh heartily at it. (Lao Tzu)
Whilst going off course a little, I cannot resist quoting from English Philosopher A.C Grayling’s book, The Meaning of Things (2007), and his views on religious morality. He mourns the aspect of Christianity being the official religion of the later Roman Empire and that Plato’s and Aristotle’s academies in Athens being suppressed in CE 529 on the grounds of their ‘pagan’ teachings. And the stopping of the Olympic games in CE 393 by Roman Emperor Theodosius because he thought it pagan and that the Christians disliked the athletes’ nudity! In some of his more tempered views on religion he states, “Religion is immoral. Elsewhere in the world, religious fundamentalists and fanatics incarcerate women, mutilate genitals, amputate hands, stone to death, murder, bomb and terrorise in the name of their faiths. It is a mistake to think that our own Western milk-and-water clerics would never conceive of doing likewise; it is not long in historical terms since Christian priests were burning people at the stake.
And goes on to say, “…. But religious morality is not merely irrelevant, it is anti-moral. The great moral questions of the present age are those about human rights, war, poverty, the vast disparities between rich and poor, the fact that somewhere in the third world a child dies every two and a half seconds because of starvation or remediable disease. The churches’ obsessions over pre-marital sex and whether divorced couples can marry in church appears contemptible in the light of this mountain of human suffering and need. By distracting attention from what really counts and focusing it on the minor and anyway futile attempt to get people to conduct their personal lives only in ways the church permits, harm is done to the cause of good in the world.”
In terms of researching religions that had aspects of the perennial philosophy, I discovered Manichaeism, a dualistic religion (i.e. involving a complete separation of good and evil – as forces within the universe and opposing forces within the mind). It was founded in Persia in the 3rd century CE, was considered a Christian heresy and was vigorously attacked by the Christian church and the Roman state. It sought to be a truly ecumenical and universal religion that integrated all the previous revelations, especially those of Zoroaster, Buddha, and Jesus. It sought the proclamation of a truth that could be translated into diverse forms in accordance with the different cultures into which it spread. It was said to resemble Iranian and Indian religions, Christianity, Buddhism and Taoism. It disappeared almost entirely from western Europe by the end of the 5th century and from the east during the course of the 6th century CE.
I will briefly mention the following religions/beliefs (derived from direct paraphrasing from the internet) as having aspects of the perennial philosophy which you could further research along with many more:
Jainism is entirely interesting - Jainism is an ancient religion from India that teaches that the way to liberation and bliss is to live lives of harmlessness and renunciation (in this context shifting focus from the outer to the inner world). The essence of Jainism is concern for the welfare of every sentient being in the universe and for the health of the universe itself. ... Jainism is a religion of self-help and non-harm (ahimsa).
Bahaism: Baha’is believe that all people are one. Perhaps the most profound and challenging of all Baha’i teachings, this idea involves the need for a new human identity. All the old barriers that have divided people from one another—our lesser identities of race, culture, language, nationality, caste, rank, class, gender, religion, and so forth—Baha’is believe we must set aside in the larger quest for unity among all people.
Druidry: Sometimes termed Druidism, is a modern spiritual or religious movement (derived from an older form) that generally promotes harmony, connection, and reverence for the natural world. This is commonly extended to include respect for all beings, including the environment itself.
Pantheism (more of a doctrine): For the pantheist, God is the non-personal divinity that pervades all existence. It is the divine Unity of the world.
Buddhism: The word Buddha means ‘enlightenment’. The teachings of the Buddha are aimed solely at liberating sentient beings from suffering. The Basic Teachings of Buddha which are core to Buddhism are: The Three Universal Truths; The Four Noble Truths; and The Noble Eightfold Path.
"All religions carry the same message — love, compassion, things like that," he said. "That's the basis of our harmony." – Dalai Lama – current Tibetan spiritual leader.
“The universe is always speaking to us. Sending us little messages, causing coincidences and serendipities, reminding us to stop, look around, to believe in something else, something more. - Nancy Thayer – American novelist.
The pathway to Enlightenment via radical truth is demanding and requires surrender of your belief system. Only then does the ultimate reality reveal itself as the sought after “I” of the Supreme. – David Hawkins (1927–2012) American author, psychiatrist, physician, and renowned spiritual teacher. – from the Eye of The I (2001).
Whenever morality is based on theology, whenever right is made dependent on divine authority, the most immoral, unjust, infamous things can be justified and established. – Ludwig Feuerbach (1904 – 1872) German anthropologist and philosopher.
This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples. No need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple – the philosophy is kindness.” – Dalai Lama – current Tibetan spiritual leader.
“Until there is peace between religions, there can be no peace in the world.” – Thich Nhat Hanh – Vietnamese Buddhist monk and global spiritual leader.
“The faith of all humans conforms to the nature of their mind. All people possess faith, and whatever the nature of their faith, that is verily what they are.” (also translated as; Man is made by his belief. As he believes, so he is) – Bhagavad Gita Chapter 17 Sloka (verse) 3
Religion and spirituality are not the same thing nor completely separate from one another. A spiritual person looks within to the higher self and a religious person might tend, initially, to look to the outside for predefined guidance.
There is a ‘Universal Truths’ connectivity between all religions and belief systems – climb life’s ‘mountain’ and find all trails eventually lead there.
If some of us cannot find common threads in these aspects then we have lost courage in the path of humanity – i.e. religion can be hijacked to extreme views – spirituality cannot – if you are connected to the life force, it is simply that.
Overall, there is a yearning from humanity for an explanation of the meaning of life and the relationship to each other. Both religion and spirituality can provide for this.
Also, try yoga, along with meditation – a natural combination for overall well-being.
Compiled by Baz Shirley.
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And all my previous posts on: mumbojumbonews.com*