Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 17: The Religious Urge > Chapter 2: Organization, Content of Religion
Organization, Content of Religion
If we are to keep religion inspired; we must keep its ministers and priests inspired; that is, we must keep their hearts open to the sacred presence, their minds alive to the sacred Truth.
Who are the real bishops, priests, clergymen, and preachers of God's church? They are those who show, by the way they live and think, that they have found the spiritual self and follow the spiritual laws. And this is true whether they wear a clerical garb or a layman's suit.
Let the churchless man follow his own way but let him not deny the priest's path--it too is a service to those who are helped by ceremony and chants.
The objection that no intermediary ought to come between man and God needs to be kept in its place and confined to the limits of reasonableness. That a section of the people should be specially ordained and specially trained in religion and theology as a clergy is not in itself a bad thing, even though it could be abused and turned into a bad thing. That another section should be willing to live a disciplined, ascetic, and secluded life devoted to meditation and study is also not necessarily bad and anti-social, although again it also could become so if the purpose of all this is wrongly understood.
To transmit thoughts which have come out of some celestial plane, or feelings which hold a man by their delicate charm, to make one's way into ever-deepening states of tranquillity or of revelation and later return to point at life's higher possibilities--these also are forms of religious attendance and, in some instances, even of priestly services.
Jesus, the first and best Christian, set an example for all later professed Christians to follow. He did not preach in return for payment. He did not turn religion into a profession. He even told those whom he sent forth as apostles to carry no purse. If therefore we wish to understand one reason why the Church does not represent him, here it is. The apostle Paul made tents so that he could pay his own way while spreading the Christian message. Modern spiritual teachers could not do better than follow this excellent example. Their instruction should be given free. Hence they should either earn their own living or have their own financial resources. Thus, the new clergy will not labour for hire but for love. They will draw no salary for their teaching and preaching, but will draw it from their worldly work. Having learned how to earn their own living first, they will be beholden to no one, dependent on no organization, but will have the freedom to speak as the Spirit of Truth bids them speak. The old idea was to preach and serve at the cost of the clergy's hearers. The new idea will impel the minister to preach and serve at his own cost. When religion is pure, however, there will be no professional clergy. Its ministers will then have to earn their livelihood from a different source. Thus they may remain undefiled in motive and inspiration.
The mere title or position of priest, minister, clergyman does not sanctify a man if he lacks the inner sanctity.
I have a distaste for "professional" spirituality. It took some years to develop. It not only includes the teachers, guides, and ministers but also the special kind of jargon they use in their communication.
By professional spirituality I mean that which is labelled as a priesthood by an established organization, an authoritative hierarchy, and accepted by the people as such. And I mean also that which is self-labelled by members of the laity who take on a title like "Swami," who stand before the public to preach and teach, who wear a special dress or uniform or robe.
All priests should be instructed in the exercises of meditation.
Only when meditation is officially restored among the highest positions in spiritual life will religions be able to rise to their most important level. Only when laymen can find available, whenever they wish to accept it, both instruction in the art and retreats where it can be practised with the least obstruction, will the religious organizations be able to render their best service, their best fulfilment. For this it is which makes men connected in the most intimate way possible--within human limitations, of course--with the Overself.
It is not only those professional persons like priests, clergy, and monks who minister to the religious needs of men and women, but also the writers and artists, the rulers and leaders, the educators and the authorities, who must teach them the necessity and importance of aspiration towards spiritual goals.
Fate has put the priest in the position he holds; the necessity of earning a livelihood doing work on which others depend is an honourable one; and the Church as an influential organization has its definite place in society, a space in which the minister can play a worthy part. If he holds the ideal of service and seeks to infuse a little more light and life into those entrusted to his spiritual care, and if he does this with wisdom and discretion, he may do much good. He should grade his teaching to suit the minds of hearers, reserving for the intelligent few those doctrines which the others could not grasp or would resent emotionally. He must teach fables to intellectual children but the more mature deserve better stuff.
Even the clergyman who is trying to reach simple country folk would do well occasionally to drop a hint for the benefit of the few who are ready to receive initiation into mystical practices.
Clergymen can render better service to their flocks when they deepen their own inner life.
The minister who is able to instruct his flock serves them, but the minister who is able to inspire them serves them better.
When religion becomes a professional job, when men make their living by it, its reality vanishes, its hypocrisy appears.
It is not enough for a priest to have learning and virtue; he needs also to have inspiration. It is not enough that he performs correctly the outward gestures and ceremonial movements required of him or chants the proper sentences prescribed for him.
The ecclesiastic too commonly suffers from spiritual pride, too often makes empty pretense to superiority.
There are priests who lose their own faith and become spiritually impotent, so that in the end they preach to empty churches. They cannot help themselves, much less help others, cannot give consolation, much less give truth.
Why should we not consider some of the great writers like Plato and Thoreau as spiritual prophets, as holy in their way, and as illuminative to their fellows, as Christ himself?
Exaggerated statements by enthusiastic devotees or confused imaginations passed on by naïve ones come from the laymen. For deliberate removals and even insertions responsibility lies with the professional class.
Narrow-minded ecclesiastics look with horror at any and every departure from rigid orthodoxy and insist on a mechanical legalistic following of the form of every detail.
It is more important in their view to preserve the institution of which they are a part than to serve the people.
If there is to be an institution or organization and if it must have a head, experience leads the impartial observers to prefer unhesitatingly the elective principle to that of hereditary succession.
The benediction of a bishop possesses grace and power only if the bishop himself is an inspired man, not because he is a member of the institutional hierarchy.
If the words of a priest or a clergyman contain the message of true spirituality and carry comfort to suffering men, the latter might walk many miles to hear him; but if they do not contain them, they might probably walk miles to avoid him! How many clergymen have said all that they had to say in their very first sermon, since which they have added nothing new? Yet although they have had nothing further to preach, they continue to preach it boringly for the remainder of their lifetime! The people of this hapless epoch seek the bread of an inwardly-ravishing spiritual experience; they are offered instead the stones of inwardly-dulling intellectual gabble.
There are doctrines which belong to the spiritual infancy of the race, others to its spiritual adolescence. A prophet, a minister, or a priest who offers them to spiritual adults makes himself ridiculous.
The finished product of the theological seminary who takes his first pulpit with much education but little inspiration, may know his dogmas but is unlikely to know "the peace which passeth understanding."
Religion has suffered from the impostures of wily priests and the hollowness of boring services. But it has survived because of the nobility of inspired priests and the truth of fundamental beliefs.
If the clergy are to free themselves from this corruption of doctrines, this degeneration of mood, this hollowness of rite, the first step is to free themselves of ignorance of the true meanings of religious doctrine, the religious mood, and religious rites. Then only religion itself becomes intelligent and its following become sincere. It then worships the One Spirit, not any one person.
Church and State
If the clergy are to be supported by anyone else rather than by their own work, it should be by the worshippers themselves, and not by the State.
No church can keep its primitive spirituality unless it keeps its political independence. And this in turn it cannot have if it accepts a preferred position above other churches as a state establishment. It was not the leader of Russian atheism but the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church itself, the late Patriarch Segius, Metropolitan of Moscow, who admitted that the disestablishment of the State Church in his country by the Bolsheviks was really "a return to apostolic times when the Church and its servants did not deem their office a profession intended to earn their living." Such were his own words.
There is no way, opening, or gate to God through the State, but only through the individual human being. The establishment and entrenchment of a State Church is based on an illusion, but the Communist disestablishment of religion in general is based on a much bigger illusion.
Faith in any religious creed and the following of any religious system should not be imposed by the State nor financed by it nor identified with it, but should be left entirely to the individual conscience and support. Even authorities, as history proves, are capable of making mistakes.
Protestants, Calvinists, and Muhammedans who reject excessive symbolism, such as we find in Hinduism and Catholicism, make a good point in refusing to attach too much importance to the symbol, to the appeal to the senses of the body. But the fact remains that for the mass of people who until lately were untutored, simple, and overworked, symbolism did come within their mental reach and thus enabled them to get something from religion which in higher forms they might be unable to approach.
True religion is often fostered in a man by the use of a symbol. If a visible representation of the invisible God helps a man's worship, he is entitled to use it. If he has need of a symbol of the Infinite Spirit--be it man, angel, or Incarnation--to help him feel that It is something more than an abstract conception, that It may become existent and real, then its use is of assistance. If the symbol evokes a higher mood for the worshipper, it is an effective and worthy and honourable device which is unaffected by its failure to do this for others. It is one use of the symbol to lead him from the familiar outer plane of awareness to the unfamiliar inner one, to throw a bridge over which his mind can cross into perceptions beyond its everyday zone. He has passed from the tyrannous rule of exterior attractions to the gentle sway of interior ones. Until the time comes when the external symbol is no longer needed, he would be as foolish to cast it aside prematurely as another would be to refuse it altogether. But if he begins to believe that this image is thereby permeated with divine power in its own right, he begins to go astray. The worship of any false deity is the degradation of reason. Hindu pilgrims make their threefold ceremonial perambulation around smug idols and expect marvel and miracle in return. Reason denounces these futile propitiations of an unheeding deity.
Unless he possesses enough intuitional and metaphysical capacity, there is no way in which the believer may make contact with the Real except indirectly through the use of a Symbol. This can mediate between the limited degree his capacity has reached and the ineffable degree that can alone make the contact. The mediation is indirect, however, because it makes use of the senses, the imagination, the capacity to believe, or even of the ego itself. Consequently the result is incomplete. There is no way of completing it without passing first into mystical religion and, later, into philosophical religion.
The symbols of a religion may mean much where there is faith in them or else recognition of their true inner meaning. But they may also mean little where there is neither. Yet in the end, one should not stop with adoring them or with despising them, but move on to the reality they represent. For the believer, this is something on the spiritual plane; for the sceptic, it is a figment of the superstitious imagination. Only the actual, firsthand, personal investigation of it will determine what it is, if properly done. And this is what philosophy proposes--and does.
The same religious symbol which, at an early stage, helps a man to advance spiritually may, at a later stage and after its inner meaning has been well grasped, become a hindrance to further advance.
Beauty and Goodness, as we witness them on earth, are symbols of the divine. The failure to recognize this is responsible for much misery and suffering. The commandment "Thou shalt have no other God before me" meant that the highest of all desires should not be sought among earthly things. It did not mean especially the physical gold, bronze, or other metal images that the unfaithful worshipped--these were only symbolic of those earthly things.
To take every descriptive statement in most scriptures only literally betrays want of intelligence, but to take it only allegorically betrays a want of balance. The gods and goddesses of scriptures and mythologies are but popular explanatory principles of the one and only Divine principle. They are more easily comprehended by the masses than abstract metaphysical teachings.
In religion, metaphysical principles become symbolized by mythological persons. Thus Adi Buddha, the primeval Force, becomes the first historic Buddha, while Christos, the Higher Self, becomes the man Jesus. Thus the universal gets shrunken into the local.
The dangers and downfall of every religion begin when its symbols are taken as substitutes for its realities, and when attendance at its public services replaces efforts at individual development.
Man worships through the particular form which tradition and environment suggest to him. In his ignorance he gives the form more importance than it deserves until it comes at last to stand between him and God, a barrier to be broken down if he would find God.
In Christian symbolism the vertical line of the cross stands for spiritual aspiration, and its horizontal line stands for earthly desire.
If he is to use his religious symbol or spiritual guide philosophically, he ought to direct his mind to the truth behind the one and the reality behind the other. He should not leave it solely with the outer form.
The symbolic meaning of so many religious, ritual sacrifices involving the killing of animals on an altar was that the beholders should slay the beast within themselves.
They are right in honouring the sacred symbols of their religion, but wrong in letting those symbols extinguish knowledge of the reality for which they stand.
As understood by the masses, the gods--whether of India or Greece--never existed: but their figures were used to create significant myths and helpful symbols.
The Symbol which has become overused and devitalized, which is almost dead through being taken too much for granted, may prove inadequate and even misleading.
Several antique religions make the Virgin Mother a chief feature. Why stretch the credible so far to accept literally what is, after all, only a symbolism? The pure in heart--that is, the ego-free--shall see God--that is, shall give birth to the awareness of a new life within them.
The language used, the fables told as if they were history, may not be acceptable to an honest well-educated mind. But it could still, if it wished, accommodate them and remain within the fold of its traditional religion by taking them allegorically, not literally.
Places of worship
The simple feeling of religious reverence which we have on entering a church building, even though we may not believe in the doctrines of the sect to which it pertains, if stretched to a farther extent becomes the deep feeling of mystical communion which we have on entering the advanced degree of meditation.
Every temple, ancient or Oriental, if built on a philosophically traditional plan, acts also as a diagram of the human mind, with the shrine representing the Overself.
The deep heavy clang of a temple bell reverberates in the inner being of its hearers. The musical chimes of a church bell seek to attract worshippers, and each sound works in its own way as a sacred reminder.
It is right that the principal cathedrals, temples, and mosques of religion should be built on a majestic plan to impress those who go there to worship and to express the faith of those who put the buildings up. Such structures are not only symbolic of the importance of religious faith, but also conducive to the humility with which worship should be conducted.
A building specifically planned and built for religious purposes only, holding an assembly of people who meet there to direct their minds and feelings towards the divine power, kept orderly and quiet so that its atmosphere becomes saturated with worship, prayers, chants, and meditations--such a building is inevitably more attractive to anyone who seeks to use it for the same purposes.
It is right and proper that a building put to a sacred use should be reserved for it and kept apart from profane activities.
It is understandable that they would like to keep the serene aura of such a place uncontaminated by negative thoughts and mean, entirely self-enwrapped emotions.
In some rose-stained-glass-windowed church one may sense the strong atmosphere of true devotion so acutely that one instinctively falls on bended knee in humble prayer and in remembrance that self is nought, God is all.
God is Mind and they that would worship it in truth must worship it mentally. The ostentatious ceremonies set up by paid professionals enable men and women to obtain pleasing emotional effects but they do not enable them to worship God. A building becomes a sacred temple when it ceases to hear phonographic mumblings and when it ceases to witness theatrical mimicries, and when it provides a fitting place where its visitors can engage in undisturbed silent and inward-turned communion with their own deeper Mind.(p. 211)
A church's architectural form, a temple's sunward orientation and rhythmic music, a mosque's geometric decoration, and a synagogue's galleried arrangement are helps to each religion's expression of itself.
The visual effect of those temples, with their towers and carvings, upon the people is a successful reminder of sacred duties, mental and physical.
Temples or churches where men babble of God (whom they have not known) might be better used if men themselves kept silent therein. Then, after a while and little by little, God might speak to them.
They too often forget that the temple is not greater than the god.
The great height and grand interior of a cathedral or an important church are intended to create a mental impression, on the worshipper, of the importance of religion.
Although the mental impressions and emotional reactions which follow entry into a Greek temple, a Christian church, or a Muhammedan mosque are distinctly different, the architectural intention is the same--uplift to a higher plane.
The church building should arouse or confirm or strengthen religious aspiration when a man first beholds it and then enters it.
Temple: The rows of kneeling people, the chanting, the choir, the painted pictures and figures, the robed priests, the dim coloured lights--all contribute to set this place apart and produce an unearthly atmosphere.
What is the use of these temples of traditional religion when the gods have deserted them, when the only things in them are a bit of stone or metal, an idol, when truth and compassion, honesty and sincerity, spirituality and service are absent?
The symbolism that is built into the walls of church or temple, that is enacted in its ceremonies and rites, may be translated by a philosophical mind into philosophical meanings.
Thought, interest, attraction, wonder, and enquiry concerning God are not necessarily stirred up only in the buildings specifically planned for religious purposes; it may happen elsewhere.
One of the Indian seers actually prayed to God asking to be forgiven for having gone to the temple so often, visits which by their very nature seemed to reject the truth that God is everywhere.
Ceremonies and rituals
These grave ceremonies and beautiful rituals, which mean nothing at all to those practical men who feel no response to religion, mean comfort, inspiration, hope, mystery, and wonder to those who do.
If sacramental worship helps to put you into a reverent mind, take advantage of it. If ritual and ceremony seem hollow and meaningless and powerless, turn aside. But do not condemn them. Others may benefit.
The controversy between those who believe ritual to be indispensable and those who believe it to be irrelevant nearly always ignores four truths which, understood, dismiss the controversy itself--as ordinarily carried on--as futile. The first is that any means that adapts the truth to the limitation of intelligence which is present in the masses is useful to those masses. The artistic symbolism of ritual is such a means. The second is that the idolatry which the puritan objects to in ritual, reappears in his own use of mental images and limiting attributes, or anthropomorphic terms in thought, speech, and literature about God. The third truth is that the puritan's means is obviously adapted to a higher grade of intellect than the ritualist's and that one day the physical worship will have to give way through evolution to metaphysical worship. The fourth truth is that since each means helps different groups of men, its advocates should not attempt to impose it on a group to whom it is unsuited and consequently unhelpful. The diverse levels of human minds must be recognized. If it is wrong for the ritualist to interfere with the non-ritualist who has outgrown this level, the latter needs to be tolerant of the former who has something more to exploit in the lower Level.
Both Jesus and Buddha sought to remove bloody sacrifices from the institutional religion which surrounded them.
Any rite or ceremony which reminds men of their spiritual duties, which instigates them to worship the higher power, which helps them to concentrate on it, which creates the feeling of its presence, and which excites them to love it, has justified its existence.
For the mass of mankind and for beginners on the Way, any outer ritual or physical method which turns the mind away from earthly things, which lifts it up from total immersion in the lower interests of the personal ego to recognition of and aspiration toward its divine source, has its place and value in human life. But its spiritual merit depends on the extent to which it provokes a mental or emotional--that is, an inner--result. A mechanical co-operation with the ritual, empty of such a heartfelt result, is useless and, instead of being virtuous, may become harmful by creating a complacency which deceives the worshipper and a hypocrisy which deceives society.
Correct ideas of the place of asceticism and the proper form it should take are too seldom held. This is just as true of religious ritual.
Liturgical ceremonies which touch the deeper feelings are not less useful than inspired texts which touch the deeper thoughts.
The ceremonial observance of festival dates, the ritualistic participation in church or temple services, and the following of liturgical usages have their chief value in being first steps for the masses towards faith in a higher power and fervour in devotional attitudes. If a truly illumined priest is present during any of them and, more especially, if he performs a leading role, this value is transcended.
It is not hard to surrender to the hypnotic and repetitious choral chants, to the dim flickering lights, to the authoritatively voiced liturgies. Whether the result be only a spectacular theatrical show emotionally received or a vital communion spiritually uplifting depends largely on the celebrant of the rite.
If cold intellectuality looks on these ancient sacraments as mere outward shows, participated in as hypocritical routine, fervent piety looks on them as foundations which have supported the established religion and maintained its importance through the centuries.
Respectful ceremonials and huge buildings are not in themselves hollow, empty, and hypocritical materialistic forms, although they may become so with time. They are intended to impress the observer's mind, kindle appropriate feelings, and overwhelm him into submission by the power of suggestion.
Animal sacrifices do not belong in any way to the worship of God but to the worship of demons. They come near to, and are even used in, some forms of black magic. Whenever temples were turned into slaughterhouses in the past, and in certain lands still today, religion takes its lowest form, becomes pseudo-religion. Still lower were the rites of human sacrifice. Both kinds are concessions to, or expressions of, the killing instinct so marked in unevolved humans.
Have no use for a spirituality that only puts itself on show.
If church bells remind people of the existence of churches, and if churches remind them of the existence of religion, both serve a useful purpose. But this is not to say that all must go to an external church. Those who can find the spirit and practice of religion from within themselves do not need to; they may, if they wish, but it is not a necessity for them.
No sacred performance, ceremony, or rite gives anyone enlightenment, salvation, absolution, or inner strength without the real presence of the higher power. But this can manifest itself anywhere, and when one is completely solitary.
Insofar as a religious rite succeeds in arousing the proper attitude of reverence, enchaining the thoughts to a loftier centre than usual, and bringing the worshipper into contact with a genuinely inspired priest, it deserves an honoured place.
No formal rite of circumcision, as in Judaism and Islam, no mechanical baptism, as in sects of Christianity, can have the slightest actual virtue in spiritually affecting a child. All that it can do is to affect him post-suggestively by providing a remembrance in adult years of his dedication to a Faith to be secretly held, an Ideal to be earnestly followed.
The real use of any physical ceremony in religion can be only to help the worshipper who is not able to arrive at the same mood by metaphysical understanding.
Within one and the same church there should be place for such diverse expressions as those who can find stimulus only in rituals as well as those who can find it only in non-ritualistic worship. There should be place for mystics and thinkers as well as for the simple sense-bound masses.
Why not be large enough to tolerate both the ritualistic and the rationalistic in the same system, for each has its place and does its service?
The liturgy and vestments are but a door to the Real Presence.
We do not hear the voice of God in the priest's voice. We can hear it only within the mind's stillness. We do not commune with God through pageantry and ceremony. We commune through self-relaxation and self-surrender.
The magical value of any sacrament lies not in itself but in the faith it arouses, the reverence it suggests, and the reminder it gives. If a man can believe, revere, and remember God by any other means, such as reading, for instance, and if the sacrament has no effect upon him, he is not obliged to participate in it. But if a sacramental form helps him to either the remembrance or the aspiration of divine reality, why should he not take advantage of it? It is true that ritual which helps man to concentrate on a value higher than the material ones is certainly useful to him. But it is not indispensable to him. At the last, no sacramental symbol, no external rite can give what a man's Overself alone can give. Although the chief function of external rites is to direct the mind towards internal ideas, a mechanical ceremony of itself has no moral value. One may ask how far do the collective incantations and public prayers of organized religion lead to any tangible results? The mistake is not in creating or continuing these ceremonial systems themselves, these processions and observances, but in forcing them upon people who have no inner affinity with them, who feel no need for them and no help from them. Liturgical symbolism and ecclesiastical rite may exalt and satisfy the emotions but they do not go beyond this. They do not carry out their claim to constitute for the participant a direct sacramental means of grace. Those who administer such sacraments are invested with no higher authority than a merely human one. We must not believe that any paid professional has a better right to assume the status of intermediary between God and man than does an unpaid amateur. In fact, it often is better to believe the opposite. The confusion of clerical power with authentic spirituality is a common mistake. There is no real relation between the two. This is because it is not the ethics of a holy man which clerics seek to spread, but the power of a worldly institution. It is not faith in an immaterial reality whose propagation is their prime aim, but faith in a material hierarchy. When it has become outworn, the inner mental attitude which gave it birth and the accompanying feeling which gave it justification are no longer active. Consequently, its followers do not know why they are following it and act mechanically or, quite often, hypocritically. A ceremonial observance which carries no inner meaning and gives no mental uplift to those who partake in it becomes even worse than useless. It becomes a deception. There is a further danger when ceremonial symbolism becomes more important than moral principle. It is then that a religion falls into risk of betraying itself. Philosophy appreciates the services of organized religion and objects only when it loses itself in mere externals, when it sets up its own ecclesiastical organization and liturgical forms as all-important to man's salvation. The greatest dangers to its purity are the corrupt forms that men give to it and the selfish institutions that men set up in it. The seeds of destruction are implanted by karma and germinated by time whenever a religious form fails to serve humanity.
If anyone wants the processions and banners, the lights and incense, the priestly robes and litanies of ritualism as essential to his feelings for religion, let him have them. But if he insists on imposing these things on others who do not share the same feeling, he acts wrongly.
The creed and doctrine of a religion, its rites and sacraments, its communions and prayers, hold or lose their value according to the inspiration with which they were created, the character and conduct which they demand, the proportion of truth they contain.
If it is the business of religion to guide faith and not to supply knowledge, to promote moral feeling and not to stimulate rational intelligence, it would be well if those who are officially in charge of religious institutions were occasionally to remind themselves and their flocks not to become so immersed in its forms and customs as to forget the ultimate aim of the institution. Ceremonies which become more and more mechanical as they become more and more familiar, also arouse less and less inner response, stimulate less and less true reverence, and are apt to turn religious services into empty shows. To take a human ecclesiasticism for a divine religion or a showy ritualism for divine worship is a sign of intellectual childhood. It is perfectly proper in its own time. But systems and customs must grow up, like the child itself. Formalized religion is too often dead religion. "In the opinion that my body is completely extinct they pay worship in many ways to the relics, but me they see not. . . . Repeatedly am I born in the world of the living," observes Buddha in Saddharma Pundarika. There is no nutriment here for matured human minds or true human lives. This is why we neither support any external organization nor encourage the following of any personal teacher. This is why we practise, and counsel others to practise, a balanced individualism.
When people work themselves into too much emotionalism in religious dancing or singing, there is departure from, or inability to reach, that inner calm wherein alone the Spirit can visit us. These orgies of religious zeal do not yield true insight.
The gorgeous ceremonials and censered picturesque rituals of a religion appeal to those of aesthetic feeling, impress those of simple unsceptical minds.
It is partly to prevent the doctrines and teachings from fading out of men's minds and memories that they have been put into ceremony and song, symbol and bible, ritual and record.
What is it but a few sounds heard in the ears of men? Without the private experience of a glimpse--even only a single one in a whole lifetime suffices--what kind of conception can they form of it that will be accurate and trustworthy? What meaning can it carry to them at all?
For, after all, the really important factor is what happens inside, what is felt and thought, and less what is being done and said or sung under the imposed formula of the outside ritual.
Incense may be used for religious purposes in ceremonies and worship, but less devout persons use it to help smoke out mosquitoes, while more aesthetic ones find its fragrance and colour attractive.
All forms of external sacramental worship become worthwhile if they are used as jumping-off steps into real devotion.
All gurus and disciples, ceremonials and initiations belong to duality, relativity.
The services of aspiration expressed in song are an excellent feature of some churches and chapels.
Throughout the Orient, at least, if not in other parts of the world, rituals, sacrifices, and ceremonies have been a large source of income for the priestly order.
It is inevitable that where people tend to exaggerate the external, sacramental form so disproportionately, they will tend to overlook the power within the form.
A rite, a ceremony, or an image is of worth to anyone only insofar as it brings him, however slightly, closer to a sense of holiness, a feeling of reverence, and a recognition of mystery.
The exhibition of relics, the erection of shrines, or the creation of memorials, statues, paintings, and sects to record the name of a saint or prophet or holy man is useful to impress his attainments upon the minds of others living long after he has gone, and perhaps to inspire them to do something for themselves in the same direction.
They believe that in touching these objects left by holy men or in visiting these places where such men resided, they touch holiness itself. A few even believe that they commune with it.
"Spare me, and take your absurdities elsewhere!" exclaimed Goethe a few days before he died in rejection of the belief in holy relics--in this case an Apostolic thumb-bone.
If you study the history of religion, you will find that prophets of the highest order, like Buddha, Krishna, and Jesus, did not write their messages in books. Every writer of a religious revelation or mystical inspiration belongs to spheres below that on which the great prophets stood. Their work at best is incomplete and at times imperfect. Therefore we should not look for perfection in it. Nevertheless, it is necessary to help lead people in their journey towards the Ever-Perfect and the message reaches those who are not yet ready for the final quest. To understand this situation, we must understand first of all that the truth is beyond all intellectual formulation. A book is the product of the intellect. The truth in its purity can be communicated only in silence and only to the awakened intuition. Hence the great prophets felt that the pen would be a limiting instrument to use. But why then did they use the instrument of speech which also is a mental expression? The answer is partly that in almost all cases their speech was directed to individuals, whereas books are not, and partly because of their being able to give some measure of help towards the understanding of truth through the impact of auras. The spoken words became merely supplementary to the interior and intuitive help.
Among the other chief purposes, it was the work of a priestly class as in Hinduism or of a learned class as in Islam to study and learn their scripture, thus preserving and protecting it. For in those days there was no printing. The scripture itself was treated with the greatest respect as containing the record and memorial of the prophet's revelation.
It is better to use the term "inspired book" than the term "divine revelation." The one is more scientific, more in tune with modern psychological knowledge; the other raises religious doubts and theological arguments when the assertion is made that it never originated in a human brain.
All scriptures are valuable as inspirers of faith and uplifters of minds but none is essential as the absolute arbiter of creed.
They do not understand that in setting up the text of some scripture as the last authority, they are worshipping a graven image as much as Moses' faithless followers did of old.
So much misinterpretation of sacred scriptures, and especially of the Bible both in its Jewish and Christian parts, has been rife in the past that it has been used to support contrary opinions. This shows how much fancy and speculation go into these opinions.
The great variety of interpretations of religious texts may reveal only the different capacities of the interpreters' imaginative power in many cases but it may also attest their different levels of awareness.
Sacred writings are not necessarily those alone which conventional opinion labels as such. Any writing which uplifts the mind, ennobles the character, and imparts a feeling of reverence for the higher power is a sacred one.
From the philosophical standpoint, the entire chapter of Genesis in the Old Testament is both an allegorical legend and a divine revelation at remote remove.
The undeveloped mentality may be allowed to take the Book of Genesis as historical fact, in the same way and for the same reasons that children may be allowed to take any fairy tale as fact. But the developed mentality ought to know better, ought to take Genesis as an allegory and its scenes, personages, and events as symbolical.
There are several interpretative schools of semi-mysticism which devote their energies and spend their time finding new meaning in old texts. They lose themselves on some scripture and torture it into agreement with their own particular teachings. They might be better employed in finding reason first, rather than finding incorrect imaginary meanings in sacred books.
There are mystically minded students who spend much, too much, of their time juggling with esoteric interpretations of scriptural texts or tortuously hatching out from these texts confirmations of their own beliefs. My experience is that most passages of sacred scriptures and most happenings in profane fortune are open to as many mystical interpretations as there are mystically minded persons to make them. Such quotations of divine writ and such ascriptions to divine intervention prove nothing.
It is easy to fall into the errors of so many sectarian enthusiasts who see so much more in simple texts than the writers ever dreamed of.
Such grave and great distortions, interpolations, and eradications have some scriptures undergone in the course of their history and manipulation, it is no wonder that sects compete in common ignorance with one another.
A writing can be as much a piece of religious work as one so labelled, even though it is not dealing with a religious subject. It depends on the writer himself, his attitude and character, his knowledge and grade of consciousness.
In these ancient scriptures the religious babblings of primitive men are found strangely confounded with the philosophic reflections of wise ones.
Those who find allegorical significances in religio-mystical bibles, or who attach symbolical meanings to historical sacred records, need to be especially balanced and discriminating in such activities.
Scriptural texts have accommodated so many different interpretations in the past, and still do, that prudence should precede acceptance, patience should attend suspense.
It is a grave error to found man's moral life on the say-so of any tribal collection of outdated stories and maxims. A scripture is acceptable not because it is a scripture, but because and to the extent of the truth it contains. Also, not everyone who knows how to read can extract the true meaning from holy scriptures. No scripture, no gospel ever fell from the skies. Somewhere, some man took up a writing instrument and composed the one with which his name is associated. And because he was a man, however divinely inspired, the production was a human act and therefore a fallible one. A book is not a sacred image. It is not something to be revered merely because its typeset pages are printed in black ink on white paper. If we set it up as an authority, we fall into the fallacy of authoritarianism. Medieval debates about angels dancing on needle points or Mosaic cosmogonies are equally unreal today.
Those who think that because a statement appears in sacred scripture such appearance terminates all further controversy upon a question are deluding themselves. They base their unqualified assent upon the undeniable fact that the ancient sages knew what they were talking about, but they ignore the other fact that some of their followers did not. They do not know that the scriptural texts have been peppered with later interpolations or debased with superstitious additions and are consequently not always reliable. But even if they were, still, the human mind must keep itself unfettered if it would achieve truth.
The biblical sages have told to all human races, not only to the Hebrew race, truths which, being eternal, are as needed in the twentieth century a.d. as they were in the twentieth century b.c. There is no statement in the Book of Proverbs, for instance, which requires revising and bringing up to date, or which can be dismissed as discarded religious superstition.
The Authorized Version of the New Testament is so clean-cut, so forthrightly spoken and yet picturesque, that it comes near to being a work of poetic art. It never forgets its purpose--to tell us the story of a man of God and to teach us what to do with our life.
Jesus spoke in Aramaic but the written texts of his teaching came to us in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Buddha spoke in Pali but at least half his followers got the written teaching in Sanskrit. The possibility of mistranslation through symbolic, metaphorical, or allegorical expressions being taken literally; or through esoteric-mystic experiences being only half-understood; or through terms with two different meanings being used; or through simple ignorance, is an ever-present peril.
The simply constructed, unforgettably inspired sentences of Jesus may be picked out in the four Gospels from those which have been interpolated by later men. Why this interpolation, it may be asked? Because they wrote down the words, as we have them today, after original bearers were themselves dead. Because with the passage of years and the passing down from mouth to mouth, remembrance may be faulty. Because human mentality may misinterpret the facts. Because human desire may exaggerate them. Because the fatal influence of an ambitious emperor forced organization and institutionalism on believers to serve his own ends and secured the necessary interpolations for this purpose on the theory that the end--monopoly and stability of power through the union of religion and State--justified the means.
Those who wish to understand their Christianity better should make this experiment. Let them procure Doctor Moffatt's translation of the Bible into modern English. It lacks the beauty of the King James Version, and can never take its place, but it amply compensates for that lack by the clearer expression and the fresher insights it gives. The two versions are needed together, side by side.
Esoteric meanings of the Bible: "Jehovah" means "Who is and who will be." "Israel" means "to see God."
Conceptions of God
The God a man believes in will reflect something of his own moral character, mental capacity, upbringing, tendencies, and education. There is no such person as an unbiased, unprejudiced believer. For God being unknown, the man has to substitute his own idea for direct knowledge. It makes no difference that this idea has been supplied to him by other men, through tradition, authority, reading, or hearing. They projected their own concept onto God and he has enough affinity with them to share their limitations.
God has made man in His own image, says the Bible. Man has made God in his own image, says the critical science of comparative religion. Understanding this, we can understand why the African savage imagines God in the form of a magnified tribal chief of terrifying aspect. It is not easy, however, to proceed on a higher plane and understand that it is for much the same reason that highly evolved civilized men have made God a great Artist or a great Logician or a great Architect or a great Mathematician. Yet it really is so. Such concepts represent the Supreme seen under the limitations of the beholder's personality. Therefore they are only partial and inadequate. The Infinite Power not only includes all these aspects but necessarily transcends them. So far as the human intellect can form a complete and correct idea of God it can form it only by bringing the whole personality to the effort and not merely a fragment of it.
Whatever men may say or write about the divine will always fall short of the actuality. This is so for three reasons. First, the Real transcends thoughts and their clothes, words. Without personal experience of it, and achieved insight into it, the intellect yields opinion only. Second, each man sees and says from his own standpoint, gives his own reaction to the divine. This is always an individual one. Third, there are many aspects of the divine. Muhammed listed no less than one hundred, without exhausting them. So far their totality has eluded description. Let no one insist on his own picture of the divine as being the whole one. Let no one set up his favoured symbol of it and exclude all the others from the right of worship.
We do not mean that the concept of God is an untenable one: we do not assert that it should be totally dropped. We mean only that in the light of our latest knowledge, as gleaned from such sciences as physics, astronomy, anthropology, archaeology, comparative religion, and psychology, the hour has arrived to restate this concept in a modern way. The concept itself remains, but the semantic content which is put into it must be rectified and purified. The fictions about God which were fashionable in older times have been largely exploded, but the fact of God's existence remains what it always must be--the greatest and grandest in the universe.
However false a man's idea of God may be, the basic instinct which is behind the idea's acceptance still remains a true one.
The God whom they worship may be a fiction of their own brains, but It is not a baseless fiction. The essence of the concept is true enough; only its form is false.
Whether he knows it or not (and if he is a sage he will surely know but if he is a religionist he may not), the Christian mystic, the Hindu pundit, the Buddhist monk, the Taoist priest, and the Muhammedan theologian talk of one and the same Principle under different names.
Each group gives a different name to the Parent of the universe, calls it Brahma or Jehovah, Allah or Tao, but all groups really direct their worship to one and the same God.
The self-existent Principle of Life which is its own source was given the same name by prophets of three different religions: "I AM" is the appellation of God in Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and Hinduism.
No dogma is more utterly materialistic than that which would compress the infinite unbounded Spirit into a physical human form, a personal human self, and worship that as a God. Nor could any other dogma so utterly falsify truth than that which would make a single religion, a single church, or a single man be sole repository of God's revelation to the human race. They are not religious truths, they are merely concessions to human weakness and human egos. They are exhibitions of the infirmity of human understanding.
The man who goes into a church because he believes that all the other churches are wrong, is going to a kindergarten school. When experience has schooled him through many births, he will learn the first lesson--that God is no respecter of churches but comes to the threshold of all, and nowadays too often to none.
The elementary religionist protests that he cannot form a conception of an impersonal God and that It could not exist. The philosophic religionist answers that he cannot form a conception of a personal God and that no other than an impersonal one could exist.
When I feel the divine presence in my heart, I acknowledge God as Personal; but when, going deeper in silent contemplation, I vanish in the infinite immeasurable Void, I must afterwards call Him Impersonal.
The old theology invested God with the quality of man. It belittled the Infinite power and imputed petty motives to the motiveless. Such a theology really worshipped its own thought of God, not God in reality, its own cruel and pitiful concept of the Inconceivable. Can we wonder that it provoked atheism and led to agnosticism when the human race began to outgrow its intellectual childhood? However fitted to that early stage of our growth, such an idea is unfitted to this mid-twentieth century of our history. We must and can face the truth that God is not a glorified man showing wilful characteristics but a Principle of Being, of Life, and of Consciousness which ever was and therefore ever shall be. There is only one Principle like that, unique, alone, the origin of all things. The imagination cannot picture it, but the intuition can receive some hint of its solitary grandeur. Such a hint it may receive through its worship of its own source, the Overself which links man with this ineffable power, the Divine Spirit within him which is his innermost Self. The personal concept of Deity was intended to satisfy the race's childhood, not to enlighten the race's adulthood. The time has come to do away with such a false concept and to accept the purity of this philosophic truth.
The primitive man fears God. He seeks to propitiate this distant and awful power by offering sacrifices. The positive value of this view is the recognition that a power higher than himself does exist and does affect the course of his life. The civilized man reverently believes in, and gladly worships, God, who is felt to be much closer and like a benevolent parent. The element of fear is still not eradicated but it is very largely reduced.
Words or names like "OM," "Allah," and "Mana" were never invented by ordinary men; they were +revealed to seers. They are the true natural expressions for˙the corresponding ideas of God.
The Bible's first commandment is "Thou shalt have no other Gods before me." What is the meaning of a "god" here? It means something which is the object of worship. That thing can be money, fame, or sex: it is not at all necessarily an idol, a force, or a being.
What any religion, creed, or cult proclaims about God is almost always true as to God's existence, but is not always true as to God's nature.
Let us not be misled by the wide-flung nature of the theological belief in a personal god. For this single primal error introduces a whole host of other errors in its train. (a) The error of the observed Nature apart from the observer. This error is involved in the notion of a separate Creator. (b) The error of teaching a beginning and ending to the world. If matter ever existed in any form, its underlying essence would never completely disappear, whatever the changes it underwent and however numerous they were. (c) The error of the belief that something--the world--was created out of nothing. (d) The error of the belief that time, space, and motion could have been created, for the same reason. Their very existence implies that infinite duration, infinite space, and perpetual motion must also exist--which would negate their own supposed creation. (e) The error that God is all-benevolent and merciful yet creates an immense multitude of living creatures only for the sake of seeing them endure sorrows and tribulations of every kind, finally crushing them with the bitterest blow of all--death. (f) The delusion that we are entering into communion with this God (when we are only communing with our own imaginings about Him).
If the arguments of atheism are studied, they will all be found directed against the idea that God is a Person, the mental image which has been set up and which presents God as an enlarged and glorified semi-human being.
Religion worships a Personal God through symbols but nondualism sees and seeks union with what is behind them, the Impersonal Reality.
The discovery that God is may be beyond our own experience, but it need not be beyond our faith.
The divine presence is outside time, and those who seek it through ceremonies, practices, or methods measured inside time can find looking-glass images but not the original presence.
Many people have so meditated upon their concept of God, that they have become one with the concept and not one with God, as they vainly delude themselves. The concept˙is not reality.
The idea of a personal God as a loving father naturally appeals to, and greatly helps, the intellectually young. Children everywhere feel acutely the need of, and depend upon, such a parent. But when they grow up and become adult, they learn to practise a large measure of self-reliance. In the same way, with the more advanced concept of Deity, the love remains but the being is depersonalized.
It will not avail us to practise self-deception. Let us think for a moment of how many millions of men and women implored God to bring this bitter war to an end during its first year but found God deaf, how many millions repeated this request during its second year with the same sad result. Those who would force this narrow and petty picture of God upon others, deny and blaspheme the true God in the very act. Whoever reflects upon this unsatisfactory conception of a deity subject to racial bias, arbitrary favouritism, and other limitations of human personality, must repudiate it. And if it is not repudiated by millions it is only because they never pause to reflect long enough nor deeply enough on such a matter.
They project their own mental picture of their prophet or saviour, and it is this only that they see and worship. This projection becomes a barrier between them and the reality, which is by its very presence rendered inaccessible to them.
Tibetan texts admit frankly what other religious documents fail to admit, that the crowds of gods whose forms fill temple altars and wayside shrines are virtually "the play of one's own mind," that all the pageantry of worship, chants, music, and prayers is directed to symbolic figures.
We all worship God as best we can. But the ignorant perceive and honour only the veils of liturgy, dogma, and ceremony which enwrap Him, whereas the wise thrust the veils aside and worship Him as He is.
It is necessary to remind the orthodox from time to time of what one of the greatest and sincerest of orthodox Episcopalian clergymen reminded his audience in a Philadelphia church. He himself dwelt in the holy Presence and knew what he was talking about when he startled them by exclaiming: "God is not an Episcopalian."
The concept of God as Father or Father-Mother is a true one but still only an elementary one. The man who rises to the understanding of God as that in which his own self is rooted holds a truer concept.
Most people worship at an idol's shrine even when they honestly believe they are worshipping God. For they accept the imaginary personification of the Infinite Power which popular religion sets before them, and bow before it.
The atheist asserts that God does not exist, the religionist claims that He does, while the agnostic declares that both are talking nonsense because it is utterly impossible for the human mind, with all its limitations and conditioning, to get at the truth of this matter, since it can know only its own states.
Those who feel they must apply a personal pronoun to Deity should do so. But they in turn should accord equal liberty to others who are unable to share this feeling, and not regard them as apostates or heretics.
Those who can only believe in a God who has taken up his abode in some institution, some established organization, are and always have been in the majority.
The unconscious belief that there is a divine power back of the universe prevails even in the materialist, the sceptic, and the atheist. Only he conceives of it in his own deficient way, limits it to some force issuing from it, and gives it a different name.
There are such wide differences among the ideas about God which men, groping to get out of their ignorance, hold, that they might find it more useful to start by examining their equipment for the task.
Whatever evidence in disproof of God's existence is provided by thought can refer only to a personal God of popular religions rather than to an impersonal God of an intellectual elite.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.