Friday, February 20, 2009

Religion and Spirituality


After a lifetime of experience of, and reflection upon, religion and spirituality, I have felt moved to set down my current thinking about the subject in as systematic a manner as possible. These thoughts may sometimes be incomplete and even inconsistent, since they are very much still in process of clarification and formulation. But that I (and everyone) ought to attempt such an elucidation now seems to me inescapable.

I should mention that I was born and raised in a strict and orthodox tradition of Roman Catholicism. It shaped my earliest consciousness and saturated my emotions and thinking for many years. I first began to challenge its doctrines when I was in my late teens, and by my mid-twenties, I was actively seeking to shake off their confines. And though, after decades of struggle, I believe have managed to do so for the most part, questions of religion and spirituality have never been far from my mind.

My experience, thinking, reading, and conversations with others have carried me far from Catholicism, and even from Christianity, and have led me into realms of speculation and belief which I could never have imagined as a youth. Yet the goal of my searching in this area has always been to discover some form of truth which seemed to me honest and authentic, no matter in what direction it might lie, nor what form it might take. For I believe it is critical to one's integrity and insight to be clear-eyed and unemotional in the striving after spiritual truth. To wish to believe is not enough; and to require truth to take this or that form in order to satisfy one's needs for rationalization or self-vindication is downright destructive to the search for truth.

In that spirit, I will attempt to trace here the outlines and import of my reflections, in the hope that others may find them sufficiently clear and provocative to be of some help in their own quest for that which may inform faith and be a guide to right living.


I have said among my 'lessons learned' that the only true statement I have thus far been able to make about God is: God is not. I promised to explain this, and so I shall attempt it here. The statement is a starting point: I do not know entirely where it will lead, but I will attempt to follow its implications as closely and as far as I can. For if one cannot be honest and intrepid in matters of the spirit, what hope is there for one's soul? And that I, and all other living creatures, have a soul, I no longer doubt. And so, in a spirit of intrepidity and hopefulness, I will begin.

I. The Concept of God

Conventional concepts of God I now find utterly meaningless. In fact, in the course of my life, I have found them to be not only empty, but often destructive, and counter-productive to the attainment of spiritual insight. Most people, I think, conceive of God in much the same way that children do Santa Claus: as a benevolent old man 'up there' somewhere, who bestows or withholds his favor depending on one's supplications and behavior. This is rather pathetically naive.

Those who have taken a more sophisticated view will say that God is a spirit, of undefined nature and substance, who is more or less personified, and more or less directly involved in the affairs of men. And, of course, there are those who cleave to the idea of an incarnated God; in the case of Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth, whom they regard either as a super-human being who walked the Earth, or as a personal savior who remains alive, even two millennia after his death. The former view I find also to be naive, though perhaps not pathetic; in the latter I think I detect a cultic desperation and emotional neediness, which, while understandably human, has little to do with spirituality. (Adherence to the cult of Jesus [as to any cult of personality] I regard as essentially a psychological phenomenon, which often rises to the level of neurosis, and, occasionally, psychosis.)

Without wishing to go too far into my thoughts about the historical Jesus (whom I believe did exist), let me say here only that I have come to regard the idea of the divinity of Jesus as a grave form of blasphemy. Not only does it run counter to the whole prior history of Messianism in Judaic tradition, it is, I think, unnecessary to an appreciation of the teachings of Jesus, and an impediment to understanding their importance as an ethical doctrine and a spiritual guide. I do not think that Jesus was an incarnation of the divine any more than any other human being is, though he did achieve a degree of spiritual enlightenment that is rare among humans. This, taken together with the doctrines of official churches, has become mutated into the idea that Jesus was the unique personal incarnation of God; a concept, as I have said, that I find not only meaningless, but potentially dangerous. My original statement that 'God is not,' might thus be extended to say, 'God is not, and Jesus is not God.'

I agree with mystics such as Marguerite Porrete and Meister Eckhardt who said, in effect, that we must move beyond the conventional conception of God in order to experience that which most people mean by God. And so I make a distinction in my thinking, between 'religion,' which focuses on the concept of God, and 'spirituality,' which is a gesture made by those who have freed themselves from this concept in search of truth.

In saying 'God is not,' what I am attempting to do is to express the contradiction inherent in any concept of God. I posit God as the subject of the proposition, and then immediately negate it, following the verb to be, which is normally an expression of equality or identity. Thus, what I am saying is that the nature of God is negation. That is, God exists only insofar as God is understood not to exist. God is not.

Now, in my mind, this is not essentially a negative statement, but is, in fact, a positive assertion. If God can be said to have a nature, that nature is emptiness. Meister Eckhardt expressed this in his beautiful observation: 'We must become pregnant with Nothing in order to give birth to God.' Until we have summoned the clarity of soul and the courage of mind to acknowledge that emptiness is the essence of existence, we can not even begin to approach spiritual reality. We are so conditioned to think of God as an extension of humanity, with form and substance, qualities, thoughts, intentions and even emotions, that the mere suggestion that God is essentially nothingness is too chilling to contemplate. The very existence of the concept of God is due to man's desperate effort to save himself from the threat of non-being, and so, to consider that God itself is non-being is a horrifying prospect.

Yet I am convinced that, until we embrace the essential emptiness of reality - the void which is at the heart of all that exists - we cannot begin either to liberate ourselves from God, or hope to attain what we mean by God. 'God is not.' God is emptiness; the essential vacuity of the universe; the nothingness which is at the heart of all that exists. That, I think, is the first liberating principle; the initial step on the road to spiritual consciousness. Indeed, once we begin to embrace this idea, we begin also to understand that this nothingness is what makes existence possible - that it is a generative principle that gives rise to all that exists; that non-being stands in a dynamic tension with being, and without this tension, being could exist. Being arises out of nothingness, and so, nothingness, as the generative force of being, constitutes its essence. If God can be said to have any existence, therefore, it is as non-existence itself, which alone makes existence possible. God is not, and without this negation, nothing could be.

This is not the same thing as saying that there is no God. There is quite definitely a God, in the minds, hearts and souls of most of the human race. But beyond that belief, it seems to me, the existence of God has no meaning - it is, as the mathematicians say, an empty set. God is the object of religious belief, a being created out of the inescapable human needs to believe, to feel connected to something greater than oneself, to escape loneliness and meaninglessness in life, to find something to worship. (Mark Twain said that man is the only creature that blushes, or needs to. I would modify that to read: Man is the only creature that worships, or needs to.) And so, man has created God, usually in his own likeness, and has set him on high and worships him, or, more immediately and emotionally, carries him in his heart and loves him as he would a human beloved.

Now, none of this is by its nature pernicious, although I think it is mistaken. But in the quotidian course of things, I have learned, it is far better that people believe in God and worship him and subscribe to his laws (which are, after all, the laws of men), than that they have no such belief and no such guidance. Of course, there are many cases in which belief becomes mischievous, even murderous, and these are to be condemned. But the fact that religion is abused is no more reason to hate and eschew it, than that we should hate and eschew trust or faith or love because they are sometimes abused, or that we should stop eating because food is sometimes abused. Religion is a human endeavor, and as it is the property and practice of humans, who are imperfect, religion, for all its protestations of being divinely inspired, will likewise be imperfect.

And so I maintain that conventional religion, overwhelmingly, is a positive force in the lives of most people, and ought to be respected and encouraged. It most definitely should not be discouraged, as is increasingly the case in this country, where the forces of disbelief are attempting to drive religion out of the public life of the nation. Life has taught me that those who disdain and malign religious faith are, often, simply jealous of those who possess it, and are seeking to compensate for their own lack of faith by despising that in others of which they feel incapable themselves.

But I also believe very strongly that those who seek spiritual enlightenment or experience must move beyond the confines of conventional religion toward a more rarefied form of consciousness. That this has always been true is evidenced by virtually every civilization that has ever existed on the Earth. In every society there have been religionists, and there have been mystics. Mysticism is usually born and nurtured in the cradle of religion, but it grows inexorably beyond it toward a realm that most religionists never attain, and, indeed, that some refuse even to acknowledge. In order for me (or anyone, I think) to begin to talk about this realm, it is necessary to revert to the question of God; which brings me back to my original statement: God is not.

The only way to express the idea of God in words is through paradox and apparent contradiction - admitting the reality, and immediately denying it, for example. The fifteenth century mystic, Marguerite Porrete, argued that the soul was the barrier that separated the self from God, and, therefore, the soul had to be annihilated in order for a union of self and God to take place. I disagree, but would argue similarly, that the concept of God is the barrier between the soul and the soul's attainment of its true nature, and so, the concept of God must be destroyed in order to free the soul. What do I mean by this?

Many years ago, when I was working as a young volunteer with the Jesuit missions in the Congo, I had occasion to attend the death of an old woman. I watched as she passed from life to death, and I was powerfully struck by the fact that a transformation had taken place before my eyes. Something had changed - some unmistakable difference had occurred between the woman alive and the same woman, dead. Indeed, I felt I could almost see a presence lifting out of her - some animating force departing her body, such that, at some definite moment, it was clear to all of us present that she was no longer alive. It was then that the ritual wailing started, and my own wonderment began.

I believe that there is an animating force in everything that lives, which is not material, and which alone enables life to occur. So long as that animating force is present, the creature lives, but so soon as it departs, death occurs. The presence of this animating force, which has traditionally been called the soul, is that which separates life from death, and animate beings from inanimate objects. As soon as the body is capable of 'housing' or hosting this force, it becomes a living creature; and as soon as the body is no longer capable of hosting or sustaining its presence, life ceases.

Now, this is by no means an original or novel conception. But it does raise, in my mind at least, some fundamental questions. If such an animating force does exist, of what does it consist? What is its own realm? What form does it take, and what character does it possess disjoint from a corporeal host? And most importantly: Is this force itself conscious, and does it possess, in its pure state, a moral character?

I will turn to these questions in my next consideration of the topic.

II. Non-Being and Being

I suppose I should say more about my assertion that the essence of existence is emptiness. It is a conclusion that I came to after a long process of reading, reflection, and experience. Virtually every religious thinker whose ideas I admire has come to the same conclusion in some form; virtually every mystic whose meditations I have read has done likewise; and many of the great artists whose work has shaped my consciousness have also reached this insight. And so, I began to wonder, might the truth lie in this direction?

It is in the nature of spiritual development to stress self-negation, self-deprivation, and, in general, the diminution of the material, and detachment from the world, as a way to achieve enlightenment. This is so because strivers after spiritual advancement understand that the self, and indeed, all material being, represent an obstacle to spiritual development. There is a wonderful fable by Tolstoy about a hermit who seeks perfect union with the divine, and in so doing, strips himself of every material possession, except for one little drinking cup. When he dies and presents himself before the portal of heaven, he is refused entrance on the grounds that he is too attached to worldly things. He puzzles over this a moment, then hurries back to his hermitage, smashes the cup, and is immediately taken into paradise.

This mystic movement toward self-negation is, I think, indicative, not of the fact that the material world is evil, but, rather, that the goal toward which all mystical striving is directed is the attainment of emptiness itself. Being is never celebrated in the course of spiritual advancement; on the contrary, it is always stripped away as an impediment. This has traditionally been seen as a process of negation - of the self, of possessions, of indulgence - but in this light, it can be seen as an affirmation. The process of self-negation is, in effect, an assertion of, and a desire to embrace, the essential emptiness of reality. Samuel Beckett puts it succinctly in one of his works when he says, 'I am, I become, I become nothing.' This, I think, is the natural and necessary progress of the self toward the source of all that exists: the movement away from being toward non-being.

Some months ago I found myself engaged in a conversation with a young graduate student in mathematics, to whom I put the questions: What are numbers? What is an integer? What does '7' mean? As a result of this conversation, I began to work out for myself an understand of the nature of numbers, and without wishing to burden the reader with a lengthy explication, let me just say that I decided that one way of looking at numbers is the following: Numbers are a projection of identity into infinity in order to define space. I will try to explain this idea.

The number 1 projects identity itself into infinity, yet it defines no space. It is a pure projection into the infinite, a single point which is a bold assertion of self, without consequence, as it were. For 1 describes no sides, it forms no angle, and, so, it defines no space.

The number 2 doubles this projection of identity, and while its two points describe a line, they form no angle and define no space, except by suggestion or implication. In this sense, 1 and 2 are not authentic or 'successful' numbers, in that they fail to create a boundary, or limit, to infinity; they describe no occupiable or defined space, but merely represent the concept of identity asserted over against the infinite. (Now it may be that this is why the binary system is founded on 1 and 2, rather than on any other pair of integers. In asserting identity without defining space, they represent an almost infinite number of possibilities in their application to the real world; but this is only a musing on my part.)

The first 'successful' integer, if you will, is 3, the points of which form a triangle, and, in so doing, define, or enclose, space. All subsequent positive integers also define space, to a greater and greater extent, increasing the number of sides and angles. However, the action of integers on the infinite would not be possible if a boundless emptiness had not been the ground on which all numbers are posited. This ground is represented by the number 0. Zero is a pure abstraction, a necessary invention, representing the undefined space or emptiness which is the ground of all mathematics. As I understand it, zero was a rather late development of mathematics, but an inevitable and enormously fruitful one, and for good reason.

Zero makes all the other numbers possible. It is nothing but a side (or an infinite number of sides), yet it contains no angles. It defines space while representing emptiness. The boundary between emptiness and space which it posits has no beginning or end, no turning points, no angles to be counted, and it consists of an infinitude of points. It is telling, I think, that all polygons, that is, all shapes with sides (numbers, in my construction), when multiplied, tend toward a circle. If we double the number of sides of a triangle (3) or a square (4) or a pentagon (5) infinitely, we will, theoretically, arrive at a circle. Yet that process is asymptotic in nature; that is, the limit (a circle [which is zero]) can be approached but never achieved. Since there is no highest number, there can be no ultimate number of sides, and while the circle can be approached, it cannot be reached.

This fact does not surprise me at all. I would expect that, if, in fact, zero represents the founding emptiness of reality, it can never be achieved by an increasing definition of space, since that would mean that space and emptiness, being and non-being, are ultimately the same thing. But they are not. They are inimical to each other, yet indispensable to each other as well. As I have said, nothingness is the foundation of existence, without which being could not exist. The dynamic tension between emptiness and reality, between being and non-being, is what makes existence possible.

This same young mathematician answered for me a question that had intrigued me for many years; namely, that of division by zero. From the moment I first read of this concept as a college student, I had wondered at its meaning. How can one divide a number by zero? What would be the process, and what could be the result? What did the concept mean? 'That depends,' the young man said, 'on what you are dividing by zero.' He then went on to try to explain the process to me, and when he ended with the assertion that any division by zero is asymptotic, that is, when described on a graph, the answer represents a line that can be approached but never reached, the fact, once again, came as no surprise to me.

I then explained my thoughts about the nature of numbers to him, concluding with my belief that zero is the only true number, the ground and generation of all integers, just as nothingness is the ground and generation of all existence. Now whether any of this has practical value in a mathematical sense I cannot say (not being a mathematician), but I offer these thoughts by way of elucidating my general point about the relation between non-being and being. Non-being, in my view, stands in the same relation to being as zero does to the integers. It is not, itself, one of them, its implications for calculation are necessarily asymptotic, that is, unattainable, yet without it, none of the integers could exist. Zero is in a category of its own in that it has no categories, but it makes all categories possible.

(Mathematicians will tells us, of course, that zero is an even number, because it is divisible equally by two [which is the definition of an even number], but, in the case of zero, this is a false definition. Zero is divisible by two, yes, but it is also divisible by three, and five and seven, and every other number, even and odd, positive and negative, rational, irrational and prime, and of no other even number is this true. Zero is unique in that it is divisible by all numbers, and this is so because it contains all numbers and is contained in all numbers. And yet it cannot be successfully divided into any number, since it is non-being itself: limitless, undefined; approachable yet unattainable by being. It is the emptiness from which all numbers are generated, and which pervades all numbers.)

In exactly the same way, existence arises out of emptiness, which contains it and is contained within it. And while we may strive to reach or attain this essential emptiness, to do so is impossible for any corporeal being, and for any conscious mind. This is so because the mind can only conceive of 'defined space'; that is, it can only understand through the creation of concepts. Now, a concept, by definition, is a 'grasping together,' a statement that consists of, at least, a subject and a predicate. These two taken together form a thought, or a proposition, which can be understood by the mind. This is the equivalent of what I have termed 'the projection of identity into infinity to define space.' Yet only through such conceptualization can the mind understand, or relate to, reality. Because of this, it cannot relate to or understand non-being, or emptiness, which admits of no concepts, has no parts, consists of no categories. The process of consciousness, therefore, is inimical to a 'grasping' of non-being, and so, the mind can never understand God, because God is not. And that is why I said initially that any concept of God is meaningless, and must be bypassed if we are to achieve spiritual enlightenment. The mind's concept of God is an impediment to spiritual progress.

What we can do as humans, however, is experience, or achieve union with, spiritual reality. This is the whole drive and purpose of mysticism, which posits what mystics call 'direct experience of the divine.' This divine cannot be understood, but it can be experienced. And to do this, as I have suggested, it is necessary to take the first step - or the final plunge - toward non-being: an acceptance of the essential emptiness of existence. Only when that truth has been 'grasped' if you will, can the mind be bypassed, and the soul be exposed to the terrifying, yet ultimately consoling, experience of what humanity has meant by 'God.'

Having said this, I realize that I have not addressed the question of the animating force in life. This I promise I will do in the next section.

III. The Animating Force

I have said that emptiness is the essence of existence, and that concepts of God must be bypassed, and this insight embraced, in order to achieve spiritual development. I have also said that there is an animating force in living beings which distinguishes them from the inanimate world, and which is the same in all organic life. The presence of this force in organic beings constitutes life, and its absence, death; it enables consciousness, and, in humans, its presence generates consciousness and self-awareness. It is now time to attempt to wed these ideas.

If existence is essentially empty, and being stands in a dynamic relation to non-being, what is this animating force that enables organic life to exist, which makes consciousness possible, and, in, humans, self-awareness as well? What is its nature, can it be said to be conscious (or consciousness itself), and does it possess will and moral character? To begin to answer these questions, I think it is necessary to look more closely at the relation between being and non-being.

All that exists can be characterized as being in a state of flux. Specifically, all being trends from a condition of integration toward disintegration. One definition of Time is that it is the measure of the decay of being. There is an arc or pattern to existence, which consists of birth, flourishing, decline and death, and this is as true of stars as it is of humans. Indeed, the universe itself appears to be trending toward disintegration; an inexorable movement away from its point of origin toward greater and greater randomness, leading eventually to some form of stasis when a maximum degree of disintegration has occurred. At that point, some cosmologists argue, the entire process of reintegration and disintegration will begin again, and so on, ad infinitum.

That all that is, is becoming, and ceasing to be, seems inescapable. Time appears to be a process of birth, followed by integration under pressure or through force, leading toward an opposite process of disintegration as that pressure or force subsides. We see this in the life of man, from birth to youth to mature strength to aging, decline and death. Thus, we might argue that all that is trends toward the re-attainment of that emptiness from which all being arises.

In the process, some being is invested with an animating force which enables life to exist. This animating force appears only in those beings sufficiently developed as to support its presence. Such beings, of course, are organic in nature, and exhibit sophistication of organic systems of a very wide range, from the simplest microscopic creatures through plants and the animal kingdom, to man. These creatures exhibit varying degrees of the characteristics of life, from locomotion, feeding and reproduction, to social interaction, consciousness, reflection, emotionality, imagination, creativity, and spiritual awareness. But what they all have in common is life; that is, the indwelling of what I have called the animating force. As Tolstoy has said: 'That which gives life is the same in all things.'

This animating force I have characterized as a presence, inhabiting and manifesting itself through corporeal beings. It is present in the lower animals, the higher animals, and in man, though not equally so. As a force, or principle, it has no substance, and can be said to exist only insofar as it is able to manifest itself through the corporeal beings which it animates. In the lower creatures, this manifestation is of a more limited order. As we move up the chain of living creatures, it becomes more complex, including varying degrees of consciousness in animals, the higher species of which are capable of learning, and of expressing definite emotions, such as anger and fear, sadness and joy. In man, it reaches its highest degree in the form of conscious self-awareness (which I shall call human consciousness), given the complex development of the human brain, nervous system, senses, and affective and intellectual capabilities.

(Now, I am aware that there are those who insist that no such animating force exists, that man is simply the sum of his parts, and that his life and consciousness are the result of a coincidental concatenation of chemicals. They believe that when a human is conceived, no extra-corporeal animus is added to his being, and when he dies, no such animus is released therefrom, and they demand proof of the existence of such a presence. But to my mind, the burden of proof rests with them, since they posit no dividing line between life and death, or between the animate and the inanimate, save a generic reference to chemistry, as if chemistry were alone sufficient to explain the difference. This is nothing but a form of scientific superstition, in my view, and wholly inadequate to the question. It is, as I suggested earlier, an effort to deny faith, rather than to define life.)

Thus, it is in humanity that the animating force achieves its highest degree both of expression and of self-awareness. This is not to say that humanity represents the highest possible degree of the manifestation of the animating force; merely the highest in the material world as we understand it. This, of course, presents a paradox. Since we are the only beings on Earth capable of conscious self-awareness, we become, de facto, the sole measures and judges of the force which animates us and makes us capable of those qualities. Thus, that through which the animating force expresses itself becomes the unique assessor of its nature and meaning. This reminds one of the old paradoxes of who shall judge the judge, or who shall heal the healer. To put it another way: How can man know himself when only he possesses the power of knowledge? It would be as if one were using a ruler to measure itself, or as if one were to perform radical surgery on oneself.

But that man does desire to know, and strives to know, the nature and meaning of life is an inescapable fact of humanity. Every culture, every society, indeed, almost every individual, has shown an intense curiosity, sometimes even to the point of obsession, about the reason for our being on the Earth. Entire cultures have been organized around this search for meaning, religions have been founded, schools of philosophy promulgated, great art created, and countless lives devoted to searching out the meaning of life. From our earliest years of consciousness, we humans are invested with wonder, and the chief object of that wonder is the reason why we are here.

Implicit in this existential wonderment, of course, is the assumption that life has meaning; we do not search for that which we do not assume to exist. But herein lies, I think, the critical query in our attempt to understand the nature and character of the animating force. For if we begin by assuming that life has meaning, then we have already accepted the idea that the animating force brings meaning to life, or invests meaning in life, and, by extension, possesses some form of meaning in and of itself, either actually or potentially. What we are assuming is that the animating force, whatever it is, is capable of generating meaning in life, and that, in turn, implies that it possesses qualities, or a nature, or an intent, which represent meaning that can be discovered by human consciousness. This is a critical assumption, and one that should be examined.

The question that must be addressed at this point is: What is the relation between the animating force and the dynamic tension between being and non-being? In answering this, I think we will gain insight into the nature and character of that force.

I have said that all that exists arises out of the essential emptiness of reality, which both contains and is contained within it. I have also stated that it is the dynamic tension between being and non-being that makes existence possible. It follows from this that the animating force itself is the result of this dynamic tension. At this point in my thinking, I am positing that the force which animates organic life is a byproduct of the interaction between being and non-being. If this is true, it then follows that this animating force reflects its parents, if you will, embracing both existence and non-existence, substance and emptiness. And, indeed, this does appear to be the case.

The animating force, or soul as it is usually called, is non-material, yet is an integral part of material existence. It has neither form nor substance, and yet it is manifest in every aspect of life. Indeed, without this non-material presence, life itself would not be possible. In much the same way, emptiness acts on, in, and through existence, enabling it, sustaining it, and serving as its point of origin and point of termination. As Shakespeare put it: 'Our little life is rounded with a sleep.' (By 'sleep' he did not mean death, I think, since death does not precede life.)

As it is true that the animating force enables life and consciousness, it is equally true that, absent conscious life, the existence of the animating force would not be known or knowable. To put it another way: without human consciousness, the very existence of the animating force would, in effect, be purposeless. It was with this in mind, I believe, that the novelist, Nikos Kazantzakis, declared in his spiritual exercises that man is the savior of God. What he meant, in this sense, is that, without man to know of the existence of God, God would not be known at all, and so, to that extent, God depends on man for its existence. I am saying much the same thing. I believe that the animating force, which is generated by the dynamic relation of emptiness and existence, depends on human consciousness for its knowability. For what would be the purpose of such a force if it cannot express itself, make itself known, and find its manifestation? This is why I say that the existence of the animating force would be purposeless without consciousness.

Now, this is not at all the same thing as my observation that people create God in their own image. Quite the contrary: the existence of the animating force precedes that of man and succeeds that of man. It is simply the case that the existence of this force would not be suspected if not for its presence in man, generating human consciousness. For I do believe that the presence of the soul is the source of consciousness in humans.

(This is so notwithstanding such cases as those of victims of coma and brain-death. For what we are considering here is the ability of the soul to express itself and make its presence known through the organs of the body, and for that, such organs must be functioning properly. The soul is present in those who live yet are not conscious; it is simply incapable of expressing itself. I have often used as an example of this point the fact that television signals are always and everywhere present; they penetrate even our bodies at every hour of the day and night. Yet it is only when we are in possession of a receiver that is crafted specifically to receive them, and is functioning properly, that we can recognize their content. In the same way, the soul can generate consciousness only in functioning neurological systems.)

To summarize to this point: Emptiness is the essence of existence, all that is arises out of nothingness, and the dynamic relation of non-being and being sustains reality. A byproduct of this relation is the force that animates living creatures, that generates consciousness, and, in humans, self-awareness. Having said this, it is possible to take the next step, and to assert that this animating force is what has traditionally been called God. It is that which gives us life, consciousness, and all the affects of these, and, aware of this fact, and in awe of it, man has elevated the animating force to the level of the divine, and has determined to worship it.

This is an irresistible tendency in man, who, from the beginning of the race, has found, sought out, or recognized transcendent forces, which he then feels he has no choice but to worship. He does so out or awe or fear, hope or expectation, gratitude or loneliness, humility or hubris, or some combinations of these. It may be the sun or fire, a pantheon of beings on a mountaintop or a single all-powerful spirit, male, female, unified or manifold, angry, jealous or benevolent, it makes no matter; man has always found or created an object for his worship. But that there is a non-material source of life and consciousness, that it can both make itself known and be known, that it acts more or less directly upon the affairs of men, and that it is the origin and terminus of life is the awareness that forms the basis of all religion, and inspires in man a conception of God.

What I am suggesting is that the true object of man's religion is what I am calling the animating force. It is this of which man has always spoken when he has spoken of God, and it is this which he worships. And this is only natural. The animating force is, so far as man knows, the source of his life and consciousness, the ground of his being, and so it is inevitable that man should worship it. (Conventional religion admits this, at least tacitly, when it asserts that the soul is a portion of God in man. Yet if the soul flows from God and returns to God, then the soul is of one substance with God, and, so, the soul is the same thing as God.) But is this soul God in precisely the sense which man has always intended? No. For the God of conventional religion is conceived of as the ultimate source of all that is, both material and non-material, beyond which nothing can be thought. This God possesses the qualities of omnipresence, omnipotence, eternity, unity, primacy, and a host of wants, desires, intentions and plans for man. But of the animating force of which I am speaking, none of this is true.

To begin with: the animating force is not the source of all that exists. I have said that the essence of existence is emptiness, and that existence arises out of emptiness. Emptiness is the ultimate generative force in the universe, not the animating spirit, which is a byproduct of the interaction of non-being and being. Nothingness thus stands behind the animating force, and so, that force cannot be God as God is usually conceived.

This answers a whole series of contradictions and inconsistencies in the concept of God; for example: If God is good, how can evil exist? Or: If God is loving, why does suffering exist? If God is all-knowing, then why does man possess free will? If God is all-powerful, can God destroy itself; can God create another God equal to itself; can God limit its own power? Or, the classic query of logic: If God created all that exists, did God create itself?

III. a. The Paradox

This simple conundrum is a form of Bertrand Russell's famous paradox, which, traditionally, has been stated in the following terms: Imagine a town in which only one barber lives, and this barber shaves all the men who do not shave themselves. Does the barber shave himself? If the answer is yes, then he is not the barber of the proposition, since he shaves a man who shaves himself. If the answer is no, then he is a man who does not shave himself, and, since he does not shave himself, he cannot be the barber of the proposition.

In the same way, if we define God as the creator of all that exists, then we can ask: Did God create itself? If the answer is yes, then there must have been a time when God did not exist, and so, God could not have created itself. If the answer is no, then God did not create everything that exists, and, so, cannot be God.

The solution to this paradox, it seems to me, is contained in the idea that emptiness is the essence of existence, and that all that is, arises from emptiness. If this is true, then there is a ground of being, a first principle, if you will, to which no categories apply. It contains existence and is contained by it, but it remains distinct from it, just as zero is distinct from the integers, the existence of which it enables.

The paradox raised by Russell occurs only when we posit a premise which contains categories; that is, a concept. If we then try to trace contingent propositions back to that premise, we encounter contradictions by virtue of the fact that all concepts, no matter how simple or broad, are composite and limiting in nature, and, as such, are insufficient to serve as a universal ground. By beginning with a concept that contains categories (for example, a barber who shaves men who do not shave themselves, or a God who created all that exists) we set limits. When we then seek to trace the propositions that derive from that concept back to their source, we bang up against those limits in the form of paradox, discovering that, at critical points, the predicates contradict the premise from which they flow.

In exactly the same way, division by zero draws us toward an asymptote which can never be realized, and concepts of God lead us inexorably into contradictions. This is so because concepts are insufficient to serve as a universal ground for truth, which must be free of categories if it is not to produce the contradictions that necessarily follow from the limits which concepts impose. Thus, once we posit that God is loving, for example, we are bound to encounter a contradiction when we try to trace suffering back to its source. God is all-loving, and so God cannot be the cause of horrible suffering. But God is the source of all that exists, and so God must cause horrible suffering; but if God causes horrible suffering, then God is not all-loving. And so on, and so on, as one category contradicts another in an endless series of paradoxes.

To escape such paradoxes, then, we must posit a premise which contains no categories, and is not a concept. In other words, we must imagine a barber who shaves all the men who do not shave themselves, but to whom the concept of shaving does not apply. And while one may argue that such a barber cannot exist, I would reply that the paradox itself demands that he must, and does. Likewise, we must substitute for the concept of God a source of all existence to which the concept of existence does not apply. And this I have termed emptiness, or non-existence. Or, to put it in my original terms: God is not.

IV. Consciousness

Having argued that emptiness is the essence of existence, that the force that animates living creatures is a byproduct of the tension between these two, and that this animating force is what people have traditionally worshipped as God (though not what they have meant by God), we must now turn our attention to the question: What is the character of this animating force? Is it, itself, conscious, or does it merely generate consciousness in living beings, and conscious self-awareness in humans? Can it be said to have a moral quality - is it good or evil, or is it morally neutral? And, finally, does it have a will for man?

(Naturally, I forego any consideration of these questions with respect to emptiness, since emptiness, as I have said, can have no categories, and, therefore, nothing can be posited of it. It contains all categories and gives rise to all categories, but possesses none. It cannot even be said, as some may argue, that it possesses the sole characteristic that it does not exist, since, if it did possess such a characteristic, it would not be nothing, but something which possesses the quality of non-existence.)

It is impossible to know the animating force in its pure form; that is, its form outside of its presence in living creatures. To glimpse its true character, then, we must look at the effects it creates in living creatures, and, especially, in man, since man represents the highest manifestation of this force of which we are aware. In man, the primary effect of the animating force is twofold: life and consciousness. This life we share with all living creatures, and consciousness we share with some of them, but conscious self-awareness is unique to us. It is in the area of human consciousness, then, that we can best discern the character of the animating force.

I have said that human consciousness is the product of the indwelling of the animating force in humans. But this does not mean that the animating force is itself conscious. If we extend my analogy of the television signals: the animating force represents the potential for consciousness, just as television signals represent the potential for images and sounds. The signals themselves, however, are nothing but beams of electrons in the air until they are received by a television set. In the same way, the animating force is nothing but non-material being, or spirit, until it inhabits organic being.

I do not believe that the animating force is conscious. It is, rather, the potential for consciousness in life, and conscious self-awareness in humans, just as it is the potential for life in organic being. Neither do I believe that it possesses the attributes normally ascribed to God. It is limited, in that is can manifest itself only in organic life; it cannot animate inorganic matter. It is unable to make its existence known apart from the consciousness it enables; in its pure form, it would be unknown and unknowable. It does not possess will, nor purpose nor plan, as are normally ascribed to God; these are the affects of humanity, which man traditionally projects onto God.

Rather, it is like water, in that it cannot take form without some kind of container; that is, the presence of the animating force cannot be discerned unless it inhabits living beings, and it cannot express itself except by virtue of human consciousness. It is, if you will, disembodied spirit, as in the higher conceptions of God. But I do not confer upon it any of the conceptual or anthropomorphic qualities of humanity, such as will, desire, purpose or intent.

What most people refer to when they speak of God is, I think, a combination of disembodied spirit and conscious self-awareness; that is, pure spirit endowed with human consciousness. This, it seems to me, is a further contradiction in the conceptual approach to God. A disembodied spirit cannot possess conscious self-awareness, since there is no 'self' of which it may be aware. Without self-awareness, it cannot be said to possess such attributes of consciousness as intention, desire, will, and, by extension, a moral sense. In my conception, the animating force is pure consciousness but is not, itself, conscious, and therefore, does not possess a moral sense.

In what, then, does morality ground itself? If the animating force is, we might say, morally neutral, possessing neither will nor purpose, desire nor intent, then what is the source of morality in the conscious life which it engenders? For I have said elsewhere in this site that it is impossible to sustain a system of moral values without reference to an immutable Truth. Absent such a truth, any system of morality becomes tendentious, situational, relativistic and chaotic. But would this Truth not have to possess those qualities which man usually attributes to God? Or, to put it another way: If the animating force possesses no intent for man, and no moral quality of its own, then how can it be the foundation of morality?

At this point, we come to a crossroads in our discussion; there are two paths we can take.

First: one could argue that, since the essence of existence is emptiness, and, since the animating force which enables life is not itself conscious and has no moral character of its own, then there can be no foundation for morality, and, in fact, no need for morality. If all that is, ultimately, is emptiness, and the animating force is morally vacuous, then what would be the point of any moral system? It would make no difference what humans choose to do, what course they lay out for themselves in life, what moral quality their behavior takes on. The end result of every life would be exactly the same.

In fact, this is the very problem posed by the concept of God. Since the conceptual God is both omnipotent and all-knowing, then the concept of human free will becomes a contradiction. In exactly the same way as I have just described, human choice becomes irrelevant. This is the paradox of predestination, which is similar to the paradox discovered by Russell which I discussed earlier. If we examine the matter soberly (that is, without the intoxication of a specific religious doctrine), then is it clear that the almighty God of conceptualization negates, or cancels out, the effect of free will in humans. If God knows, indeed, has determined from all eternity, what is to be our fate, then why should we undergo the pointless daily charade of striving and struggle represented by free will? As the character in Beckett's 'Waiting for Godot' exclaims: 'Why this farce day after day?'

The conventional explication is that free will enables us to 'earn' or 'become worthy of' the spiritual fate for which we have been predestined. But this is a specious, even comical, argument. It is as if we were to argue that a laboratory rat that must maneuver through a maze only to be killed when it reaches the center has, in some way, 'earned' its destiny. But such a logical anomaly is part and parcel of any concept of God - one of the inevitable contradictions that must arise when we attribute categories to a founding principle, and then seek to trace back through their implications to the source. The barber who shaves the men who do not shave themselves does not and cannot shave himself at all, just as the God who knows all things cannot exist coincident with humans who possess meaningful free will. One must be true and the other, false. Or, as we have pointed out: the first principle must be devoid of any categories if the predicates which flow from it are to have meaning and be free of contradiction.

And so, the first path we may take at this point in our consideration of religion and spirituality leads inexorably toward meaninglessness, a non-moral existence, and, thence, to nothingness. Life becomes a pointless exercise in the face of ultimate emptiness, and no moral choice which man makes is of any more or less import than any other. In fact, this is the position that many people do take, after they have become frustrated by, or feel betrayed by, conventional religion. Unable to imagine any alternative to the inevitable contradictions of such religion, they fall into relativism and hopelessness. (Some of these people then become virulent haters of religion, attacking it with great bitterness, in much the same way that children hate and attack their parents when the parents have disillusioned them.)

This is, perhaps, the greatest curse of conventional religion - it leads those who seek most earnestly and honestly for truth toward disbelief and despair. We witness this every day of our lives, among our friends and families, and in the accounts of others who admit that they have lost any sense of purpose in life, because that purpose was grounded in a religious belief which has betrayed them by its hypocrisies, inconsistencies, and lack of inspiration. This is the irony and tragedy of religion, which encourages the individual to seek meaning in that which is absolute, while grounding its faith in the absolute in concepts that are limited and contradictory. From such false faith, paradox, confusion, dismay and despair are bound to follow in the minds of genuine seekers of truth.

The second path possible at this point leads toward a ground of morality, and, thus, meaning in life, which are consistent with the purpose for which we seek them. This purpose is what I have described as the need to move beyond the concept of God toward 'spirituality'; that is, a transcendent source of truth. That source cannot be located in the emptiness which is the essence of existence, since that emptiness can possess no qualities or categories. Wherein, then, does it reside? What is the ground of morality?

The answer lies in the fact that the animating force represents the potential for life. Without it, no life would be possible, and no consciousness could arise. Because the animating force is the ground of life, it becomes the ground of morality. Thus, life itself (and by extension, the animating force which enables life), becomes the foundation of morality. From this it will be clear that the first principle of morality must be respect for life, for, as the animating force enables life, life enables morality. And respect for life is, I believe, in fact, the basis of all morality.

I will explore the implications of this idea further in the next posting.

V. Morality

We have said that emptiness is the essence of existence, that the dynamic tension between non-being and being gives rise to all that exists, and that the force which animates life arises from this tension. Further, we have argued that this animating force generates life in organic creatures, and human consciousness in man, and that it is the ground of morality insofar as it is the ground of life. From this, we have posited that respect for life is the first principle of morality.

We must now move back one step and reiterate that the animating force of which we are speaking is that to which man usually refers when he refers to God. As the source of life and consciousness, this force, which is a form of non-material being, or spirit, becomes the object of man's worship. He anthropomorphizes it, attributes to it human qualities, imputes to it will, desire, intention and moral character, and, in this way, it becomes the source of his morality.

I have said, however, that spirit does not possess such characteristics, is not conscious, or consciousness itself, but that it is merely the potential for consciousness. Nonetheless, I hold that, devoid of all humanly-projected characteristics, the animating force can still be said to be the source of morality, since it is the source of life.

To put this another way: I am suggesting that it is not necessary to anthropomorphize spirit in order for it to become the ground of morality. Indeed, I have learned that it is highly dangerous to attribute to spirit, or the animating force, or God, human characteristics. This leads, as I have shown, to inevitable contradictions which, among other deleterious effects, tend to undermine morality itself. Purely on the question of respect for human life, for example, we witness every day the shoddy spectacle of religionists claiming the will of God as their rationale for murder and violence of every kind. Which nation has not declared that God supports its cause in a war? Which religion has not arrogated to itself the right of holy war? Which cult does not promulgate a doctrine of just war, and legitimized violence? Yet all of these concepts violate the basic principle of morality, which is respect for life. Such unspeakable contradictions are the inevitable byproduct of religions based on the projection of human attributes onto God.

To avoid these, we must do something that echoes our idea that first principles must contain no categories in order to produce meaningful predicates. We must strip the animating force of any human attributes, and recognize it as a pure form of being which represents the potential for life. This life force, then, which has no will or desire in and of itself, gives rise to will and desire in living beings, and to conscious self-awareness and morality in humans. For, just as human consciousness is the highest manifestation of the presence of spirit, morality is the highest form of consciousness.

Why is this so? Because, taking as its first principle respect for life, morality is the ultimate affirmation of the spirit which animates us. Our ability not only to recognize the presence of the animating force, but consciously to modify our behavior so as to affirm that presence, is what marks us as both self-aware and moral beings. Human consciousness thus becomes an affirmation of life through moral choice, and that choice begins with respect for life. (Indeed, I would argue that moral choice is what makes us human; without it, we would be nothing but animals with consciousness - self-aware beasts, indicted as such by the very consciousness which ought to elevate us above the lesser life forms.)

Now, this is what men have always meant when they have talked about the importance of understanding 'the will of God.' Tolstoy said repeatedly that true happiness occurs only when you harmonize your will with the will of God, or submit to the will of God; and many other thinkers, including Jesus of Nazareth, have echoed the idea. But, in recognizing the principle which I have called the conscious affirmation of spirit, subscribers to conventional religion have cast onto spirit a 'will' that it does not, and cannot, possess, which desires that man behave in such a way as to acknowledge it. I am saying essentially the same thing, though, once again, I find it unnecessary to anthropomorphize spirit in order to make the statement valid.

The animating force, or spirit, generates life. The highest expression of that life is human consciousness. This consciousness, recognizing the life force which generated it, reveres that force and cherishes it, just as early men revered and cherished the fire that lighted and warmed their homes, and enabled them to cook their meals and forge their weapons. Such reverence comes naturally to man, and, in the case of that which is cherished most dearly, takes the form of worship. This is why the theologian, Paul Tillich, stated that God is one's point of ultimate concern. Man has always worshiped that which is most precious or most powerful in his life. And that is why God, for most people is, as I have said, the force which animates life itself.

(But please bear in mind that I have also said that, while this force is that which man has worshiped as God, it is not that which man has meant by God. I will return to this point later.)

Human consciousness, however, is capable of rising above the impulse to worship. Worship is the necessary gesture of conventional religion, reflecting as it does a sense of awe and expectation – awe of the superior nature of that which is worshiped, and expectation of reward as a result of worship. The fear of gods of old has developed into a love of God today; the propitiation of gods of old has developed into a prayerful appeal to God for beneficence. These are, as I have said, childlike attitudes and approaches to the transcendent, based on and promulgating an anthropomorphic concept of God.

That we can and must rise above such a concept is essential if we are to achieve any significant degree of spiritual advancement. Our consciousness must break through the barrier of the conceptual God and its attendant worship, and free itself to go in search of an encounter with that which lies beyond. First, this means an insight into the nature of the animating force, which is pure being and the source of life and morality.

Now, Tillich has pointed out that pure being cannot be known, and with this I thoroughly agree. Pure being, as spirit and the byproduct of the interaction of non-being and being, cannot be grasped conceptually. It can be approached, however, through what mystics have called direct experience, manifested in a sense of heightened consciousness, or ecstasy.

We sometimes experience this in our lives even without a conscious effort at spiritual enlightenment, in moments of great joy or profound emotion. I, personally, have tasted such ecstasy while attending the birth of my children, when I felt that I had come close to witnessing pure being in flesh. I have also known it through the experience of great art, especially music. The late string quartets of Beethoven, for example, have moved me to something like spiritual experience. In them I perceive an imaging of the divine, a depiction of transcendent truth, which I can only describe as speaking to my soul. The quartets, especially the opening adagio of the Opus 131, are, I believe, the purest expression of spiritual insight ever achieved. That Beethoven, at the end of his life, was in touch with a spiritual reality rarely glimpsed by men, and that his genius enabled him to create a language which was so close in nature to that reality as to be almost the reality itself, is clear to me in these works. They are a great soul speaking about pure spirit to other souls, and they resonate in those who are open to them at the deepest levels of their being.

That Beethoven achieved a heightened state of consciousness, that Jesus of Nazareth did so, that Tolstoy, Buddha, Bach, and the great mystics of the Eastern and Western traditions did so, demonstrates that such consciousness is accessible to men, in differing forms and to differing degrees. Everyone, I believe, who is capable of sincere worship of God is capable also of moving beyond that worship and that God to a higher, truer experience of spiritual reality. This freedom from the fetters of conventional religion and the conceptual God open the soul to the possibility of direct experience and the ecstasy which it entrains. On this score, I must disagree with Tolstoy, who argues that happiness is possible only when man brings his will into line with the will of God. I would argue instead, that happiness is possible only when man frees himself from the concept of the will of God.

Such a heightened consciousness has more implications for the life of man than enlightenment and ecstasy, however. It has practical, moral implications which are no less significant; indeed, the two forms of implication must go hand-in-hand if spiritual development is to progress.

I will turn to a consideration of the moral implications of heightened consciousness in the next posting.

If we take respect for life as the first principle of morality, then all moral categories must flow from it. This is, I think, what Saint Augustine meant when he said, 'Love, and then do what you will.' It is also what Jesus of Nazareth meant when he said that all of the law and scriptures were contained in the commandment to love God and man unqualifiedly. And it is certainly what Tolstoy and Gandhi meant when they taught that absolute love is the first and last principle of moral behavior.

In each case, however, we see that the precept of respect for life has been translated into the concept of love. This is a useful approach, since all people understand the power and purity of love. It is not, however, a necessary approach in my view. Let me explain.

Love, as conceived of by these thinkers (and by all who argue that love is the universal good, the highest form of human self-expression, and the greatest quality of man), is the apotheosis of man's profoundest longing and loftiest hope. By this I mean that love is a deeply felt need and highly valued human wish which, in this context, has been raised to the level of God, so that love itself becomes God. 'God is love,' is a common expression of this idea, which might just as well be put, 'Love is God.'

At this point we begin to see a familiar phenomenon. Love is raised to the level of the divine, and invested with divine power and universality, just as the concept of God is projected out of human experience. Here, once again, we see the natural human tendency to anthropomorphize the concept of God, ascribing to God the human value of love, and, at the same time, to apotheosize, or make God out of, human experience. And this, we have said, while useful as a guide to moral behavior, is ultimately dangerous and contradictory. God is not love, because evil exists in the world; God is not love, because man suffers, even terribly; God is not love, because love begins and ends, has limits, makes mistakes, and sometimes is transmuted into hate. God is not love, because God is not.

What, then, is respect for life? It is a fundamental attitude or recognition that all life is what the self is; that there is no distinction between that which animates me and that which animates all that lives, and no barrier between myself and all that lives except the self. That which animates and dwells in me is the same as that which animates and dwells in all living beings. The very fact that I can declare that I am, resonates through all life. My consciousness is an affirmation that all that lives is connected, though it is temporarily separated by selfhood. That selfhood is at once the enabler and the inhibiter of the animating force, allowing me to experience and express it, while at the same time imposing limits on that experience and expression. In other words, while the animating force generates life in the self, the self imposes limits on the animating force. This fact is what conventional religion refers to when it speaks of ‘the fallen nature of man.’

In this construction, man’s ‘fallen nature’ is responsible for all sin, error, imperfection and impiousness in human behavior. Fallen-ness is normally ascribed to an original sin in some form or other, depending on the religious tradition, for which atonement must be made, either by man himself, or by a savior of mankind. From this concept flow many of the great religious traditions of our world. It will come as no surprise, by this point in our discussion, that I think none of this is necessary.

There was no ‘original sin,’ no primal transgression of first humans, which indicted all subsequent generations of humanity. This is simply a myth created to explain evil and imperfection in human affairs, and any sober examination of such myths will quickly reveal them to be nothing more than this. That we find them in so many cultures and religious traditions only marks them as an inherent aspect of human consciousness; an awareness of imperfection of knowledge and will that cries out for an explanation to relieve the sense of guilt, and a remedy to remove the prospect of punishment. For all such myths involve some vision of what will become of man if he reforms, or if he persists, in his error. Commonly, this vision is the dualistic concept of heaven and hell: of everlasting reward or everlasting damnation.

Without wishing to dwell too long on this concept, let me say only that I find it neither convincing nor necessary. It reflects, I think, a childlike expectation of reward and punishment, reminiscent of what I have called the 'Santa Claus' conceptualization of God. Once again, the most cursory consideration reveals the contradictions inherent within the concept of heaven and hell. Like the concept of God from which it flows, when we examine it in any depth, we see that it cannot stand.

Heaven and hell are conceived as places of eternal reward and punishment, yet man is not eternal, and so, how is man to be punished or rewarded eternally? They are places of physical experience, yet man, after his death, is no longer a physical being. Even if they are conceived as states of spiritual reward and punishment, how is a spirit to experience bliss or suffering, since it has slipped beyond the categories of experience, such as physical, mental or emotional sensation? And finally, the concept of heaven and hell beg a fundamental question concerning the nature of the animating force, or soul: Is the soul individuated after death? That is: Does any given human being’s soul retain after death the individual personality of the living person? (This is a question critical to our discussion, and to which I will return.)

I have devoted this much consideration to the matter of heaven and hell only because they are so persistent in our thinking about religion. And, indeed, if one remains on the plane of conventional religion, they are a necessary component of religious thought. But we have said that it is imperative that we move beyond conventional religion in order to achieve spiritual insight, and in so doing, we must leave the myth of heaven and hell behind, and move toward a more mature understanding of the implications of moral behavior.

Perhaps at this juncture, a clarification of terms may be useful. I have used the terms 'animating force' and 'soul' interchangeably, but from this point on, I will make a distinction between them. The animating force of which I am speaking is the non-individuated, non-material source of organic life, which, in turn, is the product of the dynamic interplay between non-being and being. The key word here is ‘individuated,’ and it is a word which will take on more and more significance as our discussion proceeds. For me, the word ‘soul’ denotes the presence of the animating force within an individual being. Thus, the animating force is the undifferentiated source of life, whereas, the soul is the animating force present within any living being. While this may be a ‘distinction without a difference,’ it will, I think, help to clarify our consideration of the relation between the individual soul and its universal source. A metaphor may be of some help here.

If we think of the animating force as water, then the individual soul is the form which water takes when it is put into a container. If we pour water into a square bottle, for example, the water takes on the form of a cube. That cubed form is what I am referring to as the soul. Remove the container, and the water returns to its former state. Now, in imagining the animating force, it becomes necessary to visualize water without a defining container of any kind. Water in this state would have no discernible form at all, for it would have no boundaries, no shape, no depth; indeed, it would scarcely be imaginable as water.

(On the other hand, if we are accustomed to experiencing water in a square container, and, in fact, only ever experience it that way, then we would quite naturally assume that water is, by its nature, cubed. We would ascribe ‘cube-ness’ to water as a necessary quality. This is precisely what we do with the animating force, when we ascribe to God human characteristics. Since the only form in which we ever experience the animating force is through life, and, in particular, conscious life, we naturally project onto it the qualities of conscious life. Among these qualities are moral categories, such as good and evil, benevolence and malignity. But since we cannot bring ourselves to ascribe negative moral qualities to God, we reserve for God only the positive ones, and we invent a devil, to which we ascribe their negative corollaries. Of course, as we have observed, since God is conceived as the source of all that exists, God must necessarily be the source of all forms of evil, and, thus, the contradictions entrained by the concept of God emerge.)

For the purposes of this discussion, then, the soul is that presence of the animating force individuated within a specific living being. We may thus say that the soul generates and sustains consciousness within the individual. This consciousness, in turn, recognizes the presence of the animating force, which is its own source, in all that lives. And out of this recognition, the respect for life is born, which forms the basis of all morality.

This respect for life is, therefore, a form of consciousness, and not an emotion. It is awareness, and not love, for example. Love may be engendered by this conscious respect for life; indeed, I am inclined to believe that love is a function, or a reflection, of such moral awareness. Love may, indeed, be an instinctive response of conscious respect for life through which a living being seeks to connect the self with another in an immediate and intimate way. Love might thus be seen as the active expression of conscious respect for life. (Now, by this I am referring to love as an expression of consciousness, and not as an expression of emotion. I do not mean by it romantic love or sexual love, though these may be aspects of the conscious love of which I am speaking. However, whether this is, in fact, true, is another discussion.)

In any case, I think it will be clear from what I have said that I do not believe it is necessary for the conscious respect for life which is the basis of morality to be expressed as love. To do so is, of course, entirely natural to humans, and, indeed, this often forms an important part of religious self-expression. We hear people speak of their love of God, of their love of Jesus or Buddha or Allah, of their intense, passionate devotion to such figures, which often takes on the character of a deep, personal relationship and of a cultic obsession.

I have already said that such religious behavior is, in my view, unhealthy, and, in fact, a form of neurosis, even of psychosis. Certainly we see this in the fanatical attachment which the Muslim terrorists exhibit toward Allah, in whose name they willingly commit murder and suicide. We also see it in the slavish devotion of certain born-again Christians to the person of Jesus, whom they insist is not dead, and with whom they claim to enjoy an intimate personal relationship. All of this is the apotheosizing of profound emotional neediness; a mad attempt to substitute for one’s own will and personal responsibility the will and dictates of a projected deity.

Leaving this aside, let us return to the question of the foundation of a moral system. In our construction, life itself becomes that foundation, and the consciousness of the communality of life, the impetus to moral behavior. Morality is thus grounded in the animating force, recognized by the individual soul, and expressed through human behavior. The key to such behavior is, of course, conscious choice, and so, choice becomes the critical mechanism through which a living being expresses itself as a moral entity. The operative question then becomes: How are moral choices to be made?

I will take this matter up in the next posting.

VI. Moral Choice

Those thinkers who, and belief systems which, take respect for life as the basis of morality proceed immediately (and inevitably) to posit absolute love as the operative principle in making moral choices. Gandhi, Tolstoy, Buddha and Jesus all taught that no form of violence ought to be offered to any living creature under any circumstances. (Christian religionists will be quick to exclude Jesus from that list on the grounds that he did not preach universal love and non-violence, but that is, quite simply, a lie, about which I will have more to say later.) These thinkers promulgated a doctrine that has come to be known as non-violence, passive resistance, or non-resistance to evil, which, for most of my life I accepted as the true guide to moral choice. But my view has changed.

Absolute love fails as a guide to moral choice on two scores. First, it is not a choice at all, but a diktat – an unquestionable command which admits of no exceptions. In fact, the choice not to resist evil is not a choice at all, since no alternative is permitted. One either applies absolute love in every instance, or one is not behaving in a moral fashion. This reminds me of Henry Ford’s famous declaration that Americans can have a car of any color they wish, so long as it is black. In like manner, those who accept the principle of absolute love may choose whether to use violence, so long as they choose not to.

Secondly, the principle of non-violence and non-resistance to evil has been effectively abandoned by every sect that has espoused it, in the face of the overwhelming realities of the world. Tolstoy, in responding to the hackneyed question, ‘What would you do if some homicidal madman was threatening your family?’ declared that in more than seventy years of life he had yet to encounter this famous lunatic who had no other purpose than to travel the landscape terrorizing innocents. Now, that may have been true in Tolstoy’s nineteenth century rural Russia, but we encounter this devil almost daily in our newspapers, television reports, and even in our own neighborhoods. Tolstoy’s bland dismissal of the possibility of single-minded, soul-less evil loose in the world is of no comfort to those people who have suffered at its hands, as is the case in the child rapes and murders, the random mass killings, and the terrorist assaults which are the fodder of today’s headlines.

I have not been able to cling to absolute non-violence because the world has not allowed me to. This is not moral capitulation on my part any more than my abandoning my childhood desire to bring about world peace, end hunger, and revolutionize American literature. It is not so much a case of choosing realism over idealism as it is a search for a moral paradigm that works in the world as we find it, rather than merely in a philosophical system in the abstract. There must be a practical aspect to morality in order for moral choice to make sense in the world. Or to put it another way: Morality must reflect reality if moral choice is to have meaning.

Having said this much, we ought to return to our founding principles; namely, that emptiness is the essence of existence, that the dynamic tension between these two gives rise to the force that animates life, that this animating force produces consciousness in higher living creatures, and, in humans, conscious self-awareness, and, as a consequence, that respect for life is the basis of morality. A moral choice, then, is one that reflects the conscious awareness of life; it affirms life and does not violate it; it promotes life and does not diminish it; and, in issues of uncertainty, it is a always a choice for life and not against it.

Now this sounds very much like the teaching of the adherents of absolute love, but I have said that love is not necessarily the operative principle in expressing respect for life. And why? Because absolute love, being absolute, does not reflect life as it exists, and so, it is not a competent moral guide. Life is not absolute – it is limited, imperfect, full of error and uncertainty, and constrained and confined by the self which it inhabits. Does it then make sense to apply absolute love to this clearly limited form of life? Is that not incongruence, as the mathematicians would call it? Can one apply an absolute value to that which is not absolute?

The answer, oddly, is yes, but only in this sense: Absolute value stands as the ideal in moral choice; indeed, if this were not the case, no moral system could founded which would be consistent. Absent some immutable ideal, any morality becomes situational, self-centered, and, ultimately, chaotic. Your good is not my good; your truth is my anathema; your interest conflicts with my interest, and then on what basis but force can I assert the ascendancy of my interest over yours? So an absolute value is essential to the establishment of a moral system, and in matters of moral choice, ought to be asserted as an ideal against which the effects of the choice are measured. But as a practical matter, such an ideal always remains beyond our ability to realize it; the best we can do is to reflect it. Thus, in my conception, moral choice must reflect as closely as possible the absolute value which lies behind the founding moral principle.

In our case, the founding moral principle is respect for life. The absolute value which lies behind it, informing and inspiring it, is absolute non-violence to life. It is this which has been taught by the seers whom we have mentioned, an ideal which man’s moral choice approaches as an asymptote. But as is the case with any asymptote, it can never be reached by the process which seeks to attain it. What the great teachers of absolute love urged as a principle of moral choice is, in fact, akin to the concept of God. ‘God is love,’ is their cry; yet, as we have seen, such concepts cannot serve as founding principles, because they are, essentially, contradictions.

Love is a product of human consciousness – the indwelling of the animating force in mankind. It cannot, then, be the ground of all morality, since it is the product of humanity. It can be projected onto the concept of God as a quality, even as a will, and in the process it may serve a benevolent purpose; but ultimately it is bound to lead to contradiction. We see this even in the teachings of its major proponents. Tolstoy found himself in the position of arguing that violence should not be used to protect one’s own life or even that of a loved one. Similarly, Jesus argued that no force should be used against those who would do evil to us – ‘Resist not the evildoer,’ he told his disciples – but instead, he taught that evil should be met with passivity, force should not be countered, and no effort should be made to preserve one’s life or protect one’s property in the face of assault.

Indeed, absolute respect for life would negate life itself. It would leave us open to all sorts of evil, denying to us the ability to protect our lives and the lives of those in our care. Carried to extreme, it would deny us nutrition, since we would be prohibited from eating any living creature, including plants. And finally, at its greatest extreme, is would forbid us to fight infection, since bacteria and viruses are living creatures. Such are the contradictions that absolute love would lead us to, and for this reason, it cannot serve as the operative principle in making moral choices in the name of respect for life.

Thus, absolute love is not an attitude toward life, but a concept of love projected onto a conceptual God, and made to refer back to life, whether it reflects life or not. It is an ideal, which may serve as an asymptote for moral choice, but it is not, as I have said, a form of moral choice, since it admits of no alternatives, and leads to contradictions which threaten life itself.

At this point in our discussion of morality, I believe it is necessary to make a distinction between two types of moral choice: moral choice with worldly intent, and moral choice with spiritual intent. The purpose of moral choice with worldly intent is social; to suppress evil and promote happiness. The purpose of moral choice with spiritual intent is individual; to enable us to achieve heightened consciousness and attain truth. But both have as their founding principle respect for life.

I will expand on these ideas in the next posting.

Worldly moral choice affects our relations with other people; spiritual moral choice affects the individual soul. Worldly moral choice, while grounded in respect for life, is conditioned by the exigencies of human society; the need for order, for comity among men, and for the pursuit of happiness. If we are to achieve happiness, establish harmony with our fellows, and maintain social order, we must subscribe to a code of behavior which protects and promotes these values.

Ideally, we imbibe this code of behavior from earliest childhood, and it becomes second-nature to us, constituting a part of the fabric of our consciousness in the form of conscience. Conscience is the instinctive sense of what is right and what is wrong, calibrated against the requirements of living within a human community. On the operative level - that is, when a moral decision must be made - conscience has almost a visceral quality, causing us to ‘feel’ what we ought to do: discomfort in the case of a bad choice; satisfaction, in a good one. Now, it is probably correct to say that conscience is nothing more than social conditioning; the habit of choosing good over evil, culled as a result of experiencing the effects of such choices, which have been reinforced either positively or negatively in our lives. In the absence of such reinforcement, individuals may lack a clear sense of conscience, and in the case of twisted or demented reinforcement, they may appear to be amoral or evil. But in any case, conscience, and the conditioning of moral choice which flows from it, are learned values, representing the consensus of a society as to what constitutes behavior conducive to order, harmony and happiness.

Spiritual moral choice creates its effect on the soul; that part of the animating force present in any given human being. It, too, is grounded in respect for life (more intimately than is worldly choice), but it is not conditioned by social relations. Instead, it flows from the need of consciousness to discover and express the animating force itself. This conscious need is what has traditionally been called the search for truth, and is commonly expressed in such queries as ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘What is the meaning of life?’ and ‘What happens to me after I die?’ These are fundamental questions of existence that must be asked and answered in some fashion during the course of one’s life.

As I have said, every person experiences this need to understand life to some degree, sparking a search for truth, which most people resolve by positing a conceptual God to which they attribute human qualities. But, as we have seen, this leads, ultimately and inevitably, to contradictions which defeat the desire to understand and express the animating force, the awareness of the existence of which creates the need and motivates the search. It is possible, of course, to stop at the way-station of the conceptual God, there to linger and worship, perform rituals and pray, in the expectation of reward or punishment, until death. And, indeed, this is what most people do in subscribing to conventional religion, deriving in the process moral guidance which generally reinforces worldly moral codes. Thus, institutional religion dovetails nicely with social consensus; indeed, forming an important part of that consensus in societies which have not been entirely secularized. And this is well, and as it should be, for the sake of society, and of those who seek no higher truth. For as I have said, it is better for society that people cleave to a conceptual God, and the moral codes which flow from that belief, than that society be stripped of religion and fall into the chaos of situational morality.

But for those who can summon the courage and insight to break through the concept of God, spiritual moral choice is a key mechanism in the search for truth. For the purpose of spiritual morality is to gain a clearer vision of the nature of the animating force, and to shape one’s life so as to reflect that vision and render it more acute and rarefied. This is what I mean by such terms as ‘enlightenment,’ ‘spiritual development,’ and ‘heightened consciousness.’ We must now turn to a consideration of this form of moral choice, and the effect it has on the individual human soul.

Worldly moral choice affects our relations with other people; spiritual moral choice affects the individual soul. Worldly moral choice, while grounded in respect for life, is conditioned by the exigencies of human society; the need for order, for comity among men, and for the pursuit of happiness. If we are to achieve happiness, establish harmony with our fellows, and maintain social order, we must subscribe to a code of behavior which protects and promotes these values.

Ideally, we imbibe this code of behavior from earliest childhood, and it becomes second-nature to us, constituting a part of the fabric of our consciousness in the form of conscience. Conscience is the instinctive sense of what is right and what is wrong, calibrated against the requirements of living within a human community. On the operative level - that is, when a moral decision must be made - conscience has almost a visceral quality, causing us to ‘feel’ what we ought to do: discomfort in the case of a bad choice; satisfaction, in a good one. Now, it is probably correct to say that conscience is nothing more than social conditioning; the habit of choosing good over evil, culled as a result of experiencing the effects of such choices, which have been reinforced either positively or negatively in our lives. In the absence of such reinforcement, individuals may lack a clear sense of conscience, and in the case of twisted or demented reinforcement, they may appear to be amoral or evil. But in any case, conscience, and the conditioning of moral choice which flows from it, are learned values, representing the consensus of a society as to what constitutes behavior conducive to order, harmony and happiness.

Spiritual moral choice creates its effect on the soul; that part of the animating force present in any given human being. It, too, is grounded in respect for life (more intimately than is worldly choice), but it is not conditioned by social relations. Instead, it flows from the need of consciousness to discover and express the animating force itself. This conscious need is what has traditionally been called the search for truth, and is commonly expressed in such queries as, ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘What is the meaning of life?’ and ‘What happens to me after I die?’ These are fundamental questions of existence which must be asked and answered in some fashion during the course of one’s life.

As I have said, every person experiences this need to understand life to some degree, sparking a search for truth, which most people resolve by positing a conceptual God to which they attribute human qualities. But, as we have seen, this leads, ultimately and inevitably, to contradictions which defeat the desire to understand and express the animating force, the awareness of whose existence creates the need and motivates the search. It is possible, of course, to stop at the way-station of the conceptual God, there to linger and worship, perform rituals and pray, in the expectation of reward or punishment, until death. And, indeed, this is what most people do in subscribing to conventional religion, deriving in the process moral guidance which generally reinforces worldly moral codes. Thus, institutional religion dovetails nicely with social consensus; indeed, forming an important part of that consensus in societies which have not been entirely secularized. And this is well, and as it should be, for the sake of society, and of those who seek no higher truth. For as I have said, it is better for society that people cleave to a conceptual God, and the moral codes which flow from that belief, than that society be stripped of religion and fall into the chaos of situational morality.

But for those who can summon the courage and insight to break through the concept of God, spiritual moral choice is a key mechanism in the search for truth. For the purpose of spiritual morality is to gain a clearer vision of the nature of the animating force, and to shape one’s life so as to reflect that vision and render it more acute and rarefied. This is what I mean by such terms as ‘enlightenment,’ ‘spiritual development,’ and ‘heightened consciousness.’ We must now turn to a consideration of this form of moral choice, and the effect it has on the individual human soul.

We have said that morality must reflect reality if moral choice is to have meaning. But what reality does spiritual morality reflect? It is the reality of the animating force. This assertion compels us to look more closely at the nature of this force than we have heretofore done, since, only by comprehending its nature can we determine the form which spiritual moral choice takes, and the purpose which it serves.

In first discussing the animating force, we raised two related questions: Is the animating force conscious? and Is it consciousness itself?. I have stated that I do not believe the animating force is conscious; that is, that it does not possess consciousness as we understand it. Rather, consciousness is a product of the indwelling of the animating force in living beings, and human consciousness, or self-awareness, which is unique to our species, represents the highest form of the expression of that force of which we are aware. But that the animating force does not possess consciousness should be clear from the fact that it is disembodied, and, therefore, there is nothing ‘to do the possessing,’ as it were. Consciousness is the property of embodied living beings; a phenomenon resultant from the interaction of the animating force and organic life.

The question of whether the animating force is consciousness itself, however, is a different matter. I have stated that existence reflects its ‘parents’; namely, non-being and being in dynamic interaction. In the same way, I believe that consciousness reflects its parents – the animating force and organic being. To the extent that it reflects the animating force, it must follow that this force does, itself, represent some kind of consciousness, since organic being is not always conscious in and of itself; there are, for example, lower forms of life which cannot be said to possess consciousness. Further, human consciousness, as self-awareness, must also be reflective of the force which enables it, since humankind, uniquely among living creatures, possesses it.

To return to our analogy of television signals: Those signals did not self-generate, but were generated by three-dimensional forms consciously composed and consciously transmitted. In order for their signals to be interpreted by a receiver, they must first have had a discernable form. The signals received and interpreted thus reflect in two-dimensions the three-dimensional images and living sounds originally transmitted. From this I would argue that the animating force could not have generated consciousness in general, and human consciousness in particular, unless it, in and of itself, represented some form of consciousness. Since this consciousness is not embodied, it is, I believe, consciousness in its purest form; what we might call ‘consciousness itself.’

In my conception, therefore, the animating force is pure consciousness, which achieves its expressive form in living creatures, and its self-aware form in humans. To put it another way: the animating force is the potential for consciousness, which, but for its indwelling in living creatures, would not be knowable, and but for its action in human beings, would not be aware of itself. This is another way of stating Kazantzakis’s assertion that humans are ‘the saviors of God.’ (Although, once again, I would ask the reader to bear in mind that, while the animating force is that which man worships as God, it is not, in my view, that which man means by God.)

If the animating force is pure consciousness, then it follows that the goal of spiritual morality is to draw the human soul closer to that reality. And, indeed, in my conception, spiritual moral choice is the mechanism by which man effects this movement toward pure consciousness. This is what has traditionally been meant by the mystical concepts of union with God, or the direct experience of the divine. How is this to be accomplished?

We have said that the concept of God forms the chief barrier between the individual soul and the divine. Since the term ‘divine’ is inextricably bound up with the concept of God, I prefer to substitute for it the word ‘truth.’ And here I must make an assertion which some may find difficult to accept; namely, that the truth lies outside of God. By this, of course, I mean, outside the conceptual God, for reasons which should be apparent to those who have read thus far. Indeed, the whole thrust of my argument is that truth cannot be aspired to or attained until one has freed oneself from the concept of God. I might even state that God is the chief obstacle to the attainment of the divine; paradox though that may appear to be. But if we simply substitute the word ‘truth’ for ‘divine,’ then the statement becomes: God is the chief obstacle to the attainment of truth. And this, I firmly believe, is the case. (Again, by ‘God’, I mean the concept of God.)

Eliminate the concept of God, and the individual human soul is exposed to the possibility of direct experience of truth. And what is this truth? It begins, at least, with the experience of pure consciousness, which is the ground of human consciousness; that is, the animating force. But this is not the terminus of the search for truth, as we shall argue later on.

Spiritual morality moves us forward in this quest for pure consciousness in making those choices which bring us closer to an experience of the animating force. Another way of expressing this is to say that spiritual development is conscious life searching for the source of life itself. The mechanism of this search is spiritual morality. The active striving to come closer to the source of life is the beginning of the answer to those fundamental questions which drive the search, such as, ‘Why are we here?’, and ‘What is the meaning of life?’, and ‘What happens after we die?’ I believe that answers to these questions are contained in the movement of human consciousness toward the source of life and consciousness themselves.

Now we must consider what constitutes spiritual morality, as distinct from worldly morality.

We have said that worldly moral choice refers to, and produces its effect in, human society; but that spiritual moral choice refers to, and produces its effect in, the individual human soul. Spiritual moral choice, however, takes place in the world, and since this is so, it is not an abstract process. Rather, it involves making decisions about the way in which life in the world relates to the condition of the soul. If the goal of spiritual morality is to bring the soul closer to the source of consciousness (and of life), then spiritual moral choice must dictate behavior which promotes a heightening of consciousness. Such behavior has not been a mystery to mystics of all ages and cultures, and I will attempt to characterize it here.

I noted early on that it is in the nature of spiritual development to engage in self-negation, self-deprivation and detachment from the material world. That this should be so is, I think, self-evident, since that which is being sought – pure consciousness – is itself non-material. Thus it would seem that a detachment from the material would be a necessary gesture in the movement toward the immaterial. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine effecting this movement in any other way.

(I must note, at this point, however, that I do not agree with those mystics who maintain that the material world is an illusion, or that it is a lie. This is, it seems to me, an unnecessary premise to the argument that the material world must be abandoned in the search for truth. On the contrary, I will argue that immersion in the material world is a necessary, and inevitable, experience in the process of human development, and, by extension, of spiritual development, though this I will leave to a later time. Suffice it to say, at this point, that the material world is the ground of the spiritual quest, the context in which it occurs, and, as we have noted, without which it could not occur. This is so because, without organic life, pure consciousness would not and could not be known. Far from being a lie, then, the material world is indispensable to the achievement of spiritual advancement, and, to the extent that this is true, it ought to be celebrated as a gift, rather than derided as a lie.)

The question now becomes: How does one effect detachment from the material world? To this question, the answer is manifold, but may be summed up in the phrase ‘spiritual exercise.’ Spiritual exercise is a choice of behaviors intended to promote spiritual advancement; specifically, to elevate consciousness to a higher degree which more closely reflects the source of consciousness itself; that is, pure consciousness. Its most common form is an effort gradually to strip away the layers of attachment of the self to the world, while, in the process, strengthening the presence of consciousness within the self. Kazantzakis expressed this idea with characteristic power when he declared: ‘The goal of life is to transform flesh into spirit.’

Though this is a dramatic and beautiful formulation, it is not one I would have chosen, since it emphasizes a duality between the material and the non-material, or, more particularly, between the human and the spiritual. I hope that, by this point, it will have become clear that I do not favor the positing of such dualities. Instead, I have spoken, for example, of the dynamic interaction of non-being and being, of the indwelling of the animating force in organic life, and of the generation of consciousness in living creatures by non-material consciousness. I do not conceive of such phenomena as being in opposition so much as being in fluid interaction; not as dualities so much as dynamic relationships. This may appear to be a minor distinction, but I believe it will take on greater significance as we proceed.

VII. Spiritual Exercise

Many of the great mystics and religious thinkers of the past have laid out for us their programs of spiritual exercise. Augustine, Ignatius Loyola, the Greek Fathers in their Philocalius, Kazantzakis in his Saviors of God, Tolstoy in his writings, the Hindu sages, and the practitioners of Eastern religions, all have described for us what they believe to be the most effective techniques for the attainment of spiritual development. And while these formulae are valuable, my approach takes into consideration certain factors which, I think, theirs do not.

The first point I should like to make is that, in my view, spiritual exercise becomes appropriate only at a certain point in the life of the individual. For many years, I was involved in weight-lifting and body building, and I often found it a useful metaphor for spiritual exercise. One of the first facts of this form of exercise which one learns is that it should not be practiced by anyone under the age of fifteen or sixteen. The reasons for this are simple: the body is not ready to undertake heavy lifting, the joints, connective tissue and growth points are not sufficiently developed, and the mind is not mature enough for the discipline and restraint which the sport requires. Very much the same is true of spiritual exercise. It should be undertaken only at a later point in one’s life, when the personality has developed sufficiently, a needful amount of life experience has been acquired, and the mind and religious sensibility are mature to the point where the discipline required by the exercise is already present.

Secondly, while correct techniques are useful, as in any form of exercise, it must be remembered that spiritual exercise is a form of spiritual morality, which means that choice is the critical component. Too often, the techniques of spiritual exercise are practiced in a vacuum, disjoint from the larger purpose of the undertaking, in which condition they become sterile, and even counter-productive. I learned this when I lived, on several occasions, in religious communities of the Catholic Church. There, spiritual exercise often became formulaic - a set of ritual behaviors divorced from any living, organic purpose. Once such a divorcement has taken effect, it becomes possible for the practitioners of spiritual exercise to commit the most petty and mean-spirited offenses toward one another, and to become the capable of the most venal vices, such as alcoholism, sexual perversion, and child molestation.

Therefore, one must never lose sight of the fact that spiritual exercise forms a part of spiritual moral choice, which means that one must keep in view continually the purpose for which the exercise is being performed. And to do this, one must not cease asking such questions as, ‘What is the goal of my striving?’, and ‘Why am I doing this?’, and ‘How does what I am doing relate to the nature of that which I am seeking?’

Such questions require that choices be made in order to ensure that one remains on the right track toward the goal of spiritual exercise. These choices keep the exercise focused, and relevant to the practitioner’s efforts. They help strengthen the will, and fortify the soul for the tasks required.

I will not go into a catalogue here of the techniques of spiritual exercise, which the reader may find in a perusal of the literature on this subject. However, I will mention that among the most useful are those relating to breathing, the centering of the self through the practice of mental focus, self-restraint in diet, speech, thoughts, and in behavior toward others, reading which promotes spiritual development, the importance of silence, and the practice of austerity in its many forms.

Some will note, no doubt, that I have not mentioned prayer in this grouping, and this is so because I associate prayer with the concept of God, which I have steadfastly maintained must be renounced in order for the attainment of truth. Prayer, to the extent that it is a conversation between the self and God, is a function of that very approach to God which I find to be the chief obstacle to spiritual enlightenment. Prayer in the form of mental focusing on the soul can be useful, such as that which we find in the marvelous little tract, ‘Tales of a Russian Pilgrim.’ This anonymous spiritual autobiography, by one of those masses of mendicants of 19th century Russia known as ‘God’s fools,’ tells of the obsession of the author with the scriptural command to ‘pray without ceasing.’ This ceaseless prayer becomes the writer’s chief tool in the achievement of physical discipline, mental focus, and spiritual insight, forming the backbone of his spiritual exercise. In such a case I would support prayer, not as a conversation with some personified ‘other,’ but as an exercise for the strengthening of the soul.

While urging the reader to instruct himself in the literature of spiritual exercise, I will focus here on spiritual exercise as a form of spiritual moral choice. There are many such choices that must be made in constructing an ‘ethic of spiritual development,’ as it were, and these choices refer, as I have said, both to the nature of the animating force, and to the individual’s behavior in society. Given this latter assertion, it will be clear that I do perceive an intersection of spiritual moral choice and worldly moral choice, and, indeed, a moment’s reflection will tell that this must be so.

It would be impossible to imagine a system of spiritual moral choice which is not connected to, and reflective of, worldly moral choice. The idea of an individual embarking on a course of spiritual exercise in order to achieve a heightened consciousness, who is not also adept at making moral choices in the world is absurd. Yet one witnesses this kind of behavior all too often. Jesus refers to such people in the Gospels as ‘whitened sepulchers,’ pristine on the outside, and filled with corruption. Such behavior is the quintessence of hypocrisy, and honest minds deride and reject it. Spiritual morality must be allied to worldly morality if it is to have meaning and effect. The seeker after truth must first be an ethical person, sincere, well-intentioned and forthright in his relations with others. This should be so clear as to be self-evident, though, alas, experience tells us that such is often not the case.

A related problem arises when people assume that worldly morality is self-contained and self-referential; that is, when they believe that there is no outside referent for moral choice in the world. Such people conceive that worldly moral choice is the only form of moral choice (if they concern themselves with morality at all), and that it neither reflects nor refers to anything absolute. I have already said that such a view of morality leads to the egocentric practice of situational ethics, and to moral chaos, which can be avoided only if one takes the position that all morality is founded in some form of immutable truth. In our terms, then, worldly morality refers for its foundation to that which is the object of spiritual morality. This, proximately, is the animating force. Ultimately, however, the ground of all morality is to be found elsewhere, but to this consideration, I must return at a later point.

The need for a history of ethical behavior in society reinforces my assertion that spiritual exercise is inappropriate to the young. Worldly morality early in life is the training ground for a later program of spiritual exercise, just as playground activities and scholastic sports are the preparation for weight-lifting and body building. The joints and muscles must be developed, strengthened, and even injured and repaired, before they can undertake the discipline and stresses of heavy-lifting. In the same way, the moral sense must be developed through trial and error, through the making of moral choices, and even through the pain of moral crises, before the personality – body, mind, emotions and spirit – is ready to undertake the rigors of spiritual morality.

Spiritual moral choice means, above all, choosing those behaviors and attitudes which promote spiritual development, and allowing those which do not to fall away. At this point in my thinking, I believe that the most comprehensive way in which to express the nature of such choices is through the concept of ‘wanting.’

From the youngest age, we seek to acquire possessions in the belief that they will make us happy. This is so, because, whether we understand it or not, we assume that material possessions expand our being. We desire objects in our lives because we think they will strengthen and enlarge our being in the world. This is a very common supposition, and everything in our acquisitive society is meant to reinforce it. So dependent upon possessions to validate our being do we become, that our happiness, and our very identity, are bound up with them. We cannot imagine our lives without a car, a house, a kitchen filled with appliances, attractive clothing, amusements, and money to spend; and, indeed, in the early part of our lives, this is entirely understandable. During this phase of human life, spiritual exercise is simply not advisable, and, in fact, it is probably not possible. Rather, I see the importance of this phase of life as being the proving ground for the development of the ethical sense – the arena of worldly moral choice – which is indispensable for a later undertaking of spiritual morality.

What I am saying, in effect, is that young people are not, and should not be expected to be, spiritually advanced. It is not natural to their age and condition, and it should not be forced upon them. The only result of such a premature imposition of spiritual morality on the young is the development of unnecessary guilt. The immaturity, acquisitiveness, egotism and experimentation of youth form a natural stage in the advancement toward the heightening of consciousness, which should not be derided or disdained. Neither should it be contorted into a hapless spiritual quest upon which the young are bound to fail, and thence to fall into cynicism and disbelief. Yet, all too often, such is the effect of childhood religious education; and the tragedy of this misplaced effort has haunted the lives of millions of adults. Children are made to feel guilty because they are not ‘holy’; a standard of spiritual conduct is held up to them which they can no more bear than they could lift the heaviest weights in a gym. The spirit is simply not strong enough - indeed, even the ethical sense is barely formed - and so, the effort is doomed to injury and failure.

The power of sexuality in the formation of the consciousness and conscience of young people cannot be overstated. The sheer force of the biological compulsion to reproduce overwhelms all other instincts and intents, and in the midst of its churning maelstrom, spirituality is tossed and shredded equally with every other ethereal pursuit. What must be done during this period is to channel the sexual imperative into ethical questions, and construct thereby a substructure of worldly morality which can act as a restraint on the most potent of passions. This restraint may then be carried over into other aspects of the developing personality, forming a skeleton of moral value and discipline which, in turn, becomes a support for the blood and tissue, sinew and muscle of spiritual moral choice.

In short, young people must be allowed to be young: they must pursue the heady and breathless explorations of youth, make their dramatic discoveries and their dismal mistakes, grow, develop and mature in knowledge if not in wisdom, and, in the process, cultivate a moral sense in their relations with their fellows which may later mutate into a quest for spiritual insight. Thus truth may rise from the lightening darkness of youth, and the soul may develop the strength to seek out and embrace that truth. Young people are to be loved and mentored, guided and reassured, corrected and encouraged, and allowed sufficient freedom in which to mature through trial and error; but it is a great evil to try to graft onto their tender consciousness the religious dogmas and practices of old age.

When I see, for example, the mullahs of the madrases putting children through their ritual paces, or the fundamentalist preachers browbeating children with their bibles, I experience a physical sense of revulsion. Clerics must never be allowed to foist upon the young their religious fantasies, fanaticism and frustrations, no matter how fervently they are held. This is a form of child abuse; indeed, on the psychological and spiritual level, a form of child rape, which every civilized society should condemn.

This is not to say that young people should be given no religious instruction; on the contrary, I believe that every child should enjoy the benefits of some religious tradition. Such traditions are the repositories of great wisdom accumulated across the ages; they can transmit important values, such as a sense of the absolute, of the need to place one’s actions within a context larger than that of the self or society, of self-discipline for the sake of ascribing to a higher law, and of the habit of thinking about that which transcends the merely material. All of this will be useful as training for the later search for truth; and it must be said that, just as one who has never experienced altitude will find himself breathless and weak as he approaches a mountaintop, those who have had no religious training will lack the stamina for spiritual exercise. And not only will they lack stamina, they will lack what we might call ‘spiritual imagination’; they will be unable to envision anything beyond their material being.

There are many forms which spiritual exercise can take, but I will mention here only the most obvious and needful. Choices regarding lifestyle, diet, mental attitude, silence and the establishing of priorities of value are, I think, essential forms of spiritual moral choice. In each case, choice must be informed by respect for life. Clearly, violence toward living creatures must begin to be minimized, and this, in turn, has implications for all aspects of behavior.

It has seemed to me for many years that violence is a spiritual disease. It represents a profound inability to grasp the communal nature of life, and the concurrent need to avoid violating respect for life. It goes without saying that one should avoid the taking of life if one is to advance spiritually, and, equally, no one who seeks spiritual advancement ought to advocate or sanction the taking of life. However, experience of the world proves that, in certain cases, violence is unavoidable, and may, in fact, be necessary. Here, regretfully, I have parted company with those who preach total non-violence and non-resistance to evil.

I have come to this junction because it has become clear to me that such is the presence and potency of evil in the world that total non-violence has the contradictory effect of promoting a lack of respect for life. To surrender one’s life, or to jeopardize the lives of others, for the sake of the principle of total non-violence is, it seems to me, counter-productive to the ethic of respect for life. In effect, such an attitude subordinates the primacy of life to a principle which fails the test of morality as I have stated it; namely, that morality must reflect reality if moral choice is to have meaning. This is not to say that morality should bow to reality or mimic reality, for, if moral choice has any meaning at all, it is to elevate and enlighten reality. Thus, while moral choice must rise above reality for the sake of improving life, it must never sacrifice life itself in the effort to improve it. This is a contradiction, reminiscent of the quandary of the Vietnam war: We had to destroy the village in order to save it.

This is not to say that any given individual may not choose to sacrifice his own life for his beliefs. Such selfless heroism has graced the history of every generation of men, and has served as inspiration to others in their striving to make principled choices in their own lives. But to argue that no one, under any circumstances, may employ violence and remain morally justified is, to my mind, an attempt to substitute an abstract ideal for real moral choice. As I said earlier: Absolute love and non-resistance to evil do not represent moral choice, since they admit of no exceptions; one either practices absolute love or one is considered to be morally deficient.

Respect for life is thus a guiding principle, and not a moral diktat. The matter of diet offers a case in point. I believe that it is necessary, as one moves toward spiritual development, to consider the importance of what has been called ‘the ethics of diet,' which means applying to one’s choice of food the principle of respect for life. The consumption of meat, and red meat in particular, ought to be avoided, since meat-eating represents a feeding on life. However, just as in the case of non-violence, it is possible to carry this principle too far. Veganism strikes me as an unnecessary extension of the principle of respect for life in dietary choice. And to apply such a practice to children, who cannot exercise choice in such matters, is morally wrong. The general principle here, as I have stated elsewhere, is that no adult has the right to volunteer children to suffer for his beliefs, no matter how fervently they are held. Children are entitled to a rich and varied diet, and their bodies require the protein which meat offers. Later, in the fullness of their consciousness, they can make for themselves the choice of what role diet will play in their lives.

In general, excess in all matters touching on the question of respect for life must be avoided if one is to behave in a spiritually moral way. Speech must be moderated, and limited to the greatest extent possible, to enable a focusing and deepening of the consciousness. Acquisitiveness must be curtailed. The individual must undertake a gradual program of detaching himself from material possessions, living more and more simply, and devoting more and more time to reading and reflection on spiritual matters. Chief among these are those questions which we have characterized as being fundamental: the meaning of life, the nature of God, and the question of life after death.

Spiritual exercise likewise requires many choices in the matter of lifestyle. In general, it eschews ostentation, excess, egoism, and indulgence, moving instead in the direction of austerity and simplicity. It dictates the subduing of temper and selfishness, and replaces them with kindness. ‘Kindness,’ said Tolstoy, ‘is a necessary addition to everything.’ It is always amazing to me how often the need for simple kindness is overlooked in everyday behavior. The need to think and act as a decent human being appears to have become so difficult and extraneous to human affairs as to provoke wonderment when it is encountered on any regular basis. Yet this simple remedy for the excesses of self-indulgence is one of the most effective and efficient ways to promote spiritual advancement.

I have also alluded to a need to establish priorities of value. By this I mean a natural tendency, as one grows older, to determine that which is, and is not, of importance in life. Embracing that which is of importance, and eschewing that which is not, is a cleansing process for both the mind and the soul. It removes much of the clutter of consciousness, freeing it to move beyond quotidian concerns, and opening it to higher aspirations. To a great extent, this involves one’s use of time. Time spent in unimportant pursuits is wasted as one grows older, and must be diverted to the pursuit of that which has meaning, or can confer meaning. To put it another way: To devote one’s time to trivialities as one moves toward death is to condemn oneself to death. In the face of mortality, time must be coveted, and husbanded as carefully as one would use one’s last remaining store of water in the desert. Abandoned in the wastes, under a merciless sun, no right-thinking human would use water to clean the dust from his boots, or remove a spot from his shirt sleeve. Yet in just such wasteful ways do many people use their time in the dusking of their lives.

In every case, spiritual morality dictates real choices, not between good and evil, but between that which is not necessarily evil (I have stated my belief that the material world is not in itself evil), and that which is vital to the attainment of truth. It is not always wrong to eat meat, for example, but it is supportive of the search for truth to refrain from doing so. It is not always wrong to engage in sex, but it is conducive to enlightenment to restrain sexual appetite. It is not always wrong to seek the comfort and pleasure of material possessions, but it is necessary to spiritual development to strip oneself of such things to the greatest extent possible.

Now, all of these behaviors are more suitable to a later stage in life than to an earlier one. Young people, as I have said, ought to be allowed to acquire possessions, express and explore their sexuality, and experiment with life in all of its forms, if they are to mature, and to develop worldly morality. This is essential to establishing a foundation of life experience in which to ground a later quest for spiritual morality. Yet the first thing adult religionists attempt to do is to curb youthful appetites. This is not only wrong, it is unrealistic; and it is counter-productive to moral development. Only within the rich, unpredictable, and brutal context of life can the individual learn about the nature of morality, and develop a taste for truth. Only through labor can one create; only at the risk of failure can one hope to succeed; only in the face of danger can one learn courage; only in crisis can one grow; only through mistakes can one develop wisdom; and only in tragedy can one glimpse the depths of the self. Deny young people these fructifying experiences, and you may forever deny them the chance of achieving truth. Substitute your religious doctrine for the lessons that only life can teach, and you make a lie of their lives.

Worldly morality is restraint; spiritual morality is liberation. This is so because the purpose of worldly morality is to subdue evil behavior, while the purpose of spiritual morality is to attain truth. But before one can embark on the search for truth, one must have acquired discipline. Worldly morality confers discipline by teaching the ability to choose between that which is good and that which is evil; spiritual morality refines and elevates that discipline by teaching the ability to choose between that which is good and that which is better. Worldly moral choice affects the self in society; spiritual moral choice affects the soul in eternity. Another way to put this is: Worldly morality teaches us to make choices within the context of time; spiritual morality teaches us to make choices that refer to timelessness.

Because of this, whenever worldly morality and spiritual morality conflict, spiritual morality trumps worldly morality. There can be no discussion on this point. The social exigencies of the moment cannot outweigh the transcendent destiny of the soul. Social obligation must give way to spiritual aspiration. And so the requirements of spiritual morality must prevail.

I faced this very question during the war in Vietnam, which I considered to be both illegal and immoral. When called upon to participate in that war, I had no choice but to refuse. Though I was very young and scarcely aware of such matters as spiritual morality and respect for life, my deepest moral instincts told me that the life of my soul depended on my refusal. And so I made my choice, accepted the consequences, and have never regretted it. The requirements of the soul must be met, no matter the consequences; for man lives, man suffers, man strives for truth, and dies. It is the soul that lives forever.

Having said this, it will now be necessary to move on to a consideration of the meaning of spiritual moral choice, and the goal of spiritual morality. This will be the most difficult and far-reaching aspect of our discussion, taking us full circle to our initial assertion that emptiness is the essence of existence. I will begin this undertaking in the next posting.

VIII. Cosmological considerations

We have said that there are two forms of morality: worldly morality and spiritual morality. We have further said that worldly morality is outwardly directed, and relates to man’s behavior in society; and that spiritual morality is inwardly directed, and relates to the condition of the individual soul. It is clear that the purpose of worldly morality is to suppress evil, promote social order, and harmonize man’s relationship with man. Spiritual morality serves the purpose of promoting a heightening of consciousness and the attainment of enlightenment, or truth. Now we must ask ourselves: What is the nature of this truth which is the goal of spiritual enlightenment?

To answer this question, it will be necessary to come to some broad conclusions in the realm of cosmology. For, ultimately, spiritual development reaches beyond even the animating force, toward that which transcends it. This is so because, as we have noted, the animating force is not the ultimate form of reality in the universe, but, rather, is the product of the dynamic interaction of non-being and being. To this point in our discussion, we have, in a certain measure, begged the question of the nature of this interaction. It is now time to confront it directly.

I have stated from the beginning that emptiness is the essence of existence, and that being arises out of non-being. Being and non-being hold each other in a dynamic embrace, giving rise to all that exists. Cosmologists tell us that the vast bulk of the universe consists of empty space, in which matter is suspended, and through which it is moving. The material universe, we are told, is expanding away from a hypothetical point of origin at increasing speed.

Since empty space, or emptiness, as I call it, is infinite, then there is, theoretically, no limit to the extent to which the material universe can expand. In fact, given the nature of matter, this is not true. As the material universe expands, it also approaches randomness. Galaxies will gradually disintegrate as the distance among their components increases, and within galaxies, the same will be true of solar systems, and the components of solar systems. Indeed, all matter appears to be moving in the direction of ultimate disintegration, from the largest agglomerations of matter to the smallest subatomic particles. As we have noted earlier, matter tends toward disintegration, and Time is the measure of that process.

What happens, then, when this process of disintegration reaches its ultimate extreme? Does matter cease to exist - does it pass from being into non-being? I do not think this is so. Being and non-being are inimical: by its nature, matter cannot pass into non-being, and by its lack of nature, non-being cannot pass into existence. To put it more simply: thing-ness cannot be made out of nothingness; and nothingness cannot resolve itself into thing-ness. Rather, I think that the disintegration of matter is asymptotic; that is, total disintegration, to the point of non-existence, can be approached but not reached.

We have noted this phenomenon before, in our consideration of division by zero, for example. The Greek philosopher, Anaxagoras, argued that the unifying principle of matter was ‘smallness.’ That is, being could be divided infinitely into smaller and smaller particles, so that an ultimate division of matter could never be achieved. (We find a similar concept in Zeno’s famous paradox.) If this is true, then we can say that the universe consists of two fundamental realities, or phases, or gestures, if you will: non-being and being. All being tends toward disintegration through Time, but being never passes out of existence, transforming itself, as it were, into non-being.

From this it will be clear that I believe that matter is eternal. This is not, however, the same thing as saying that Time has no end. It seems to me that three possibilities exist on this score: 1) Matter has both a beginning and an ending, 2) Matter has a beginning but no ending, 3) Matter has neither a beginning nor an ending. Let us take each possibility in turn.

For matter to have a beginning and an ending, it must follow that matter was created out of nothingness, and that it returns to nothingness. For this to be true, there must either be an agent of such creation; or being and non-being are interchangeable, much as water and ice or energy and mass are different phases of the same phenomenon.

I have made it clear that I do not accept the idea of an agent of creation, that is, a God, since, in order to exist, such a God must be posited as a concept containing categories. At the very least, one must assert that this creator God is, itself, eternal, that it created all that exists, and that it neither created itself, nor was created. All of these concepts lead, as I have shown, to contradictions. Let me run through these contradictions briefly. If God is eternal, then God did not create itself, and so, God is not the creator of all that exists. Conversely, if God did not create itself, then God cannot exist. Also, God cannot have created non-existence, since non-existence, by definition, cannot have been created. God, then, cannot both exist and not exist, and so, God, being incapable of non-existence, is bound or limited by it, and is not God. And so on, and so on, through the entire plethora of contradictions which rise inevitably from a conceptual god.

The question of whether non-being and being are interchangeable is more subtle. Is it possible that just as energy and mass transform into each other (as Einstein proved), non-being and being likewise mutually transform? In the case of the interchange of energy and mass (to the extent that I understand it), the determinative factor is the speed at which the system that contains them is moving. The relationship between energy and mass, then, depends on acceleration. Some such determinative factor would have to be present if being and non-being were to be said to be interchangeable. Yet, in the case of energy and mass, we have two different and measurable physical phenomena, affected by a third measurable phenomenon. This is not so in the case of non-being and being.

Unlike the fluid interplay of energy and mass, where two phenomena are being transformed into each another through acceleration, non-being and being are two entirely different realities. Non-being possesses no physical dimensions, no mass, no energy, no time or speed quotients, no reality at all. It cannot transform into another phenomenon since it is not a phenomenon, and since there is nothing to be transformed. Further, there is no substance for any third phenomenon, such as speed, or temperature, or even thought or will, upon which to act. Indeed, if non-being were susceptible of transformation, it would not be non-being, but some form of potential for such transformation. For all these reasons, I think it is clear that being cannot be created out of non-being, nor can being become non-being.

This, in turn, obviates the second possibility; namely, that matter had a beginning but has no ending. Once again, being cannot be generated out of non-being since the two are inimical; and it is not possible to posit a generative force without giving rise to contradictions. And so, we are left with the third possibility: that matter cannot be said to have a beginning or an ending. This means, by definition, that matter is eternal.

I have suggested, however, that this is not the same thing as saying that Time has no beginning and end. In my view, being has no beginning and end, and Time is circular. What do I mean by this?

We have asserted the asymptotic nature of the disintegration of matter. Matter breaks down into smaller and smaller components, but it never ceases to be. I have noted, too, that this appears to be the fate of the material universe, which, cosmologists agree, is expanding toward an ultimate degree of randomness. When this ‘stasis’ as it is called, is reached, they argue, a process of re-integration of matter will occur. There is, thus, a theoretical threshold of disintegration which triggers the process of cosmic re-integration.

This strikes me as likely to be true. I believe that the material universe, having achieved maximum randomness, or disintegration, or stasis, will reverse this process, and re-integrate until it attains maximum critical mass. At this point (usually referred to as ‘The Big Bang’), the process of disintegration will begin again. That this cycle of disintegration and re-integration may have occurred once, or a hundred times, or an infinitude of times is certainly conceivable, though hardly critical to our discussion. What matters is that we, in the material universe as it is presently constituted, stand at a definite point in this process. Given that the speed at which the material universe is expanding appears to be increasing, it seems likely that we are in the earlier phase of disintegration of matter. The acceleration will slow through eons of time, until it approaches stasis, and, the threshold of disintegration-re-integration being reached, the process will reverse itself.

Time, then, as the measure of this recurring cycle, must, itself, be cyclical. One could argue equally that Time has no beginning or ending, and that it has an infinitude of beginnings and endings. As with the points on a circle, there is no determining how many starting and ending points there may be, nor which is a starting point, and which, an ending point. Time is tied to matter, and matter is eternal. Time is the measure of that which has no beginning or end, and that which has infinite beginnings and endings. The relationship between them is the process of disintegration and re-integration.

This brings us to a consideration of what I have called the dynamic relation between non-being and being. In what does this relation consist? One aspect of it is, I think, that of priority. It must be said that non-being precedes being, in the sense that being requires non-being in order to establish itself. Being is pervaded by non-being, from the empty space among atomic particles to the distances among galaxies. Indeed, it would be impossible to recognize being without its distinction from non-being. To put it another way: We could not know that anything exists unless we were aware of the possibility of non-existence. Being exists precisely in contrast to non-being. Being thus requires non-being.

The reverse, however, is not true. Non-being does not require being. Non-existence would be a truth whether or not anything existed. While being necessarily implies the lack of being, the lack of being does not imply being. For this reason, it seems irresistible that non-being has priority over being, and non-existence has priority over existence. I do not mean by this a priority in Time. Non-being has no aspect of time; it is atemporal, and so cannot be said to precede anything in a chronological sense. Rather, pure logic suggests that, since being could not exist without non-being, but non-being does not require being, then non-being must be the ground of being. And for this reason, I have said that being arises out of non-being.

It may be helpful here, once again, to turn to a mathematical concept. In mathematics, one definition of “equality” is the ability to posit a one-to-one correspondence. Thus, we can say that two sets are equal if, for every member of one set, we can find a corresponding member of the other. If such one-to-one correspondence exists, then we say that the two sets are equal. A conundrum arises, however, when we consider such sets as those of all integers, and of all even integers. Since there is no highest integer, both sets are infinite, and because of this, it must be possible to establish a one-to-one correspondence between them. By definition, then, the two sets are equal. Yet pure logic tells us that the set of all integers must be larger than that of all even integers, since the latter is a subset of the former.

In such cases, mathematicians speak of ‘stronger’ and ‘weaker’ infinities. This means (if I understand it correctly) that it is possible to conceive of infinities which contain more elements than others; in other words, that not all infinites are equal. One infinity can be said to contain another, though both remain infinite. Using this as a frame of reference, I would argue that non-being has priority over being. Non-being contains being, though non-being has no limits or properties; while matter is eternal and Time is circular. Non-being is thus the ground of being. With its utter lack of qualities and categories, nothingness is the necessary condition, if you will, for existence. Non-being can thus be said to have priority over being.

This non-being, which is the ground of all existence, possesses no qualities, is outside of Time, and does not change, is that which man has always meant by God. It is what I have referred to as emptiness, nothingness, and non-existence, and it is the first principle, the primal cause, the point of ultimate concern. It is God. God is not.

Let us look for a moment at this emptiness. It has, as we have said, no qualities or categories, and as we have also noted, this is necessary for it to be the point of origin for spirituality, since it is possible to posit upon it religious concepts which are not necessarily contradictory; a possibility that does not exist in the case of a conceptual God. It possesses no substance and has no value of Time. It is neither timeless nor eternal, since these are concepts; rather, we might say that it is atemporal. The idea of Time simply does not apply to it, yet, without it, Time would have no boundary and no meaning. Likewise, it occupies no space, yet, without it, space would have no boundary and no meaning. It is the non-being that makes being possible; the nothingness that makes existence possible; the emptiness that precedes, pervades and embraces all that is. It is what man means by God. And God is not.

We do not worship this emptiness, since there is nothing to worship. Rather, we worship the animating force, which is the source of life, and which we quite naturally anthropomorphize, and conceptualize as God. But the animating force is not what man means by God - it cannot be since it is the product of the dynamic relation between non-being and being. And though man worships this animating force, what he means by God is that which gives rise to it, precedes it and pervades it: emptiness.

The ultimate purpose of spiritual development, then, is to achieve a consciousness approximating this essential emptiness, and effect a union with it. This is what I believe the mystics have meant by the terms ‘enlightenment,’ and ‘direct experience,’ and 'union with the divine.’ It is why all mystical movement is in the direction of separation from being through self-denial, negation, and detachment from the material world. These are the motions through which one must go, the steps in the dance, as it were, in order to begin on the path to truth. For the ultimate truth is that the universe is essentially empty; that the search for that which is, is a search for that which is not; that all that exists essentially is, and contains, and is contained within, nothing. This includes not only man, matter, life and consciousness, but it includes God as well. For God is a concept projected out of man’s experience and awareness of the animating force within himself.

Emptiness is not God; God is not. But emptiness contains God, and so, the concept of God, like any other concept or form of the material world, is an impediment to the attainment of truth. That truth can never be reached by that which exists, but I believe that it can be approached. And once again we see the asymptotic nature of the quest, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has read thus far. Given the fact that the origin of spirituality must be free from any concepts or categories (like the barber to whom the concept of shaving does not apply), that point of origin can never be reached by any conceptual means. Thus, consciousness cannot attain truth, though it can approximate it. That is the purpose and wonder of human consciousness, which is the instrument which the animating force generates in order to know and express itself, and to point the way toward that which generated it.

Through what we have termed spiritual morality, man can heighten his consciousness toward the attainment of truth. He does this through a process of detaching himself from being, and purifying and focusing his consciousness, bringing it closer to the nature of the animating force, which is, as it were, the child of the essential emptiness toward which the soul is striving. That this can be done is, I think, clear from the history of humanity. Certain individual souls have achieved a very high degree of spiritual development, in which the consciousness is honed into a more and more effective and efficient tool for the attainment of truth.

We see this in the lives of the great mystics, and also in the lives of great artists. Surely Beethoven, in his last string quartets, demonstrates a heightened consciousness which enabled his soul to express an almost pure spiritual reality, and communicate it to other souls. Jesus of Nazareth, Francis of Assisi, Meister Eckhardt, and other Western mystics appear to have achieved this, as have mystics of the Eastern religious traditions, especially those of Buddhism and Hinduism.

It is in the nature of human consciousness to strive toward that which generated it. We see this in all of its highest and purest manifestations, such as art, intellection, mystical longings and those actions of the soul which we admire as being the noblest of man’s aspirations and achievements. In acts of great selflessness, in gestures of great beauty, in strivings of great courage, in moments of great joy, we experience the desire of the human soul to express itself fully and clearly. And in this we glimpse, too, something of the character of the animating force, which, we cannot help but feel, is not neutral, but positive in its inspiration of humankind.

I think we witness this most clearly in the nature of young children who, after all, are closest of all humans to pure spirit. I recall very distinctly when I took my elder son in my arms for the first time, having the powerful experience of being in the presence of pure spirit. It was, I realized with all the force and depth of my being, as close as I would ever come to touching spirit. And I told myself in that moment that if I kept my mind and heart open, I could learn from this pure being truths that no other force on earth could teach me. Children are creatures of wonder, they inhabit a world of awe and of joy. If allowed to be healthy and happy, they veritably glow with the spirit of life. In them, more clearly than in any other being, we sense that the force which animates us must be benevolent, at least in its effects.

As we age, of course, we lose this sense of wonder, and it is replaced with the lumbering structures of the super-ego. We learn the rules that run society, we internalize their effects, even if we do not fully understand their causes; we experience punishment and pain, disillusionment and loss, we inure ourselves to life’s most trying truths, and we watch our innocence slip away, if not with regret, then at least with a rueful curiosity.

Then, as we approach the end of our lives, we begin to feel the gravitational pull of that from which we came. Our innocence lost, wonder may be replaced with wisdom. Wisdom puts all things in perspective, sorting out the important from the unimportant, and assigning to them their proper weight and meaning. And while wonder looks backward to that origin from which we emerged as conscious beings, wisdom looks forward to that longing which we feel as conscious beings. Those who have experienced neither wonder nor wisdom are truly to be pitied, and their fate is very dubious.

It is to this question of the fate of the individual soul that I now will turn, following the lines of logic which have thus far been laid down, wherever they may lead.

IX. Survival of death

When I was in college, I chanced to find upon the library shelves a book entitled “Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death,” by F.W.H. Meyers. I do not recall much about the book (which is apparently a classic of psychic literature), but one idea promulgated by the author did strike me; namely, that death is a trauma analogous to other great life traumas, and that some people survive their deaths while others do not. Having been raised a Roman Catholic, I found this idea stunning, since all my religious training had simply taken for granted the idea that all humans survive death. Having thus survived, they are destined (some would say predestined) to an eternity of reward in paradise or punishment in hell.

I have already expressed my views on the matter of heaven and hell, and I will not repeat them now; but I will remark that Meyers’ idea intrigued me to the point that I have never entirely put it out of my mind. There are those, like the Christian believers, who are convinced that all humans survive death, and those, like the atheist non-believers, who are equally convinced that death is the end of human existence. But what if both are right in some measure? What if some people do survive death, while others do not? It is a question worth examining.

If it is true that some people survive death while others do not, then it must follow that some factor in human life determines the difference in one’s destiny. What might this factor be? For Meyers, as I recall, it was the extent to which an individual strengthened his personality, for Meyers was concerned chiefly with the ability of personality to survive death. He argued that the stronger the personality, the more likely it was to survive. And while I do not agree that personality is the determining factor, I am inclined to make a similar statement with regard to consciousness.

If what we have said about the need, and ability, of the individual consciousness to be heightened, and to achieve a purer, clearer, more focused condition, is true, then one could argue that the ability of consciousness to survive death depends on its degree of development. And this, I think, may be the case. I think it may be true that some people, who have achieved a high degree of spiritual development, may survive death, while for those who have not, death is the effective end of their lives.

I say this may be true for several reasons. First, it is my belief that all people do survive their deaths by at least a short period of time. Human personality, no matter how highly or loosely integrated, represents an aspect of being that does not simply come to a halt at the moment of death. This would seem to be indicated by the fact that people who have died through drowning, electrocution and other trauma, can be resuscitated within a short period. Personality, then, appears to be able to sustain itself after death, if only for a few minutes.

I dare say that most of us have experienced this phenomenon during the course of our lives. We suffer the loss of a loved one, and we have the irresistible sensation that that person remains with us if only for a short period after the death. His or her presence near us seems undeniable; indeed, so distinct is it that, often, it is almost palpable. This is more than wishful thinking, or a habit of association, in my view; I do not believe that it strains reason to assume that human personality, with all of its experiences, memories, thoughts, emotions, attachments and immediacy, retains sufficient integrity after death as to remain coherent at least for a short time. Beyond that, it appears to fade until the sense of presence is lost to us.

And so, while I think that personality – that is, the individuation of spirit in a particular person – does not survive death for any appreciable period of time, I do believe that consciousness can do so. Death brings an end to the individual personality, but it does not follow that it brings an end to human consciousness. That this may be so should be clear from my statements about the nature of consciousness, which I conceive as the product of the indwelling of the animating force in organic being. I believe that human consciousness, uniquely within the landscape of corporeal consciousness, possesses the power to perpetuate itself, if, in the course of life, it has achieved a degree of development sufficient to enable it to survive the trauma of death. Thus, in my view, the determining factor in the survival of death is the degree of development of consciousness.

This cannot be proven, of course, but I do think it a reasonable inference from what I have said previously. To schematize to this point: If emptiness is the essence of existence, and the dynamic interplay of non-being and being gives rise to the force that animates living creatures, and this, in turn generates consciousness, and, in humans this consciousness is capable of experiencing and expressing the animating force, then it is not unreasonable to assert that a high degree of integration may enable individual consciousness to survive death.

This is so because, while the individual consciousness exists within the boundaries of corporeal time (that is, the lifespan of humans), the animating force, which is pure consciousness, exists outside corporeal time. To the extent, then, that individual consciousness approximates pure consciousness, it may be able to transcend the limit of corporeal time. But this will be true if, and only if, individual consciousness, within corporeal time, has achieved a degree of integration which enables it to survive death.

What of consciousness that does not achieve this degree of integration? The logical conclusion would appear to be that, at death, it ceases to exist as an individuated entity. This is not to say that the animating force in such persons ceases to be; rather, it returns to that source from which it emerged, though it does so in a non-individuated form. It is for this reason that I say that, when individuals who have not attained spiritual development die, they die forever. Their individuality, their uniqueness, comes to an end.

A simple analogy for all of this is, once again, that of water. If we conceive of the animating force as an ocean, then the individual soul is that measure of water which is contained, temporarily, within a person. It ebbs and flows with the experiences of life, and is either purified and fortified through spiritual exercise, or it is allowed to stagnate and evaporate with its lack. When the person dies, the individual soul returns to the ocean of the animating force. If it is not too fanciful, I would argue thusly: The enlightened consciousness forms a bubble within that ocean, its fluid membrane having been formed through spiritual striving. The neglected consciousness simply flows back into the ocean undifferentiated and undefined.

It would be a mistake to take this analogy too literally, or to carry it too far. I am merely trying to provide an image though which the postmortem relation between the animating force and the individual soul may be understood. For, when I talk about individual consciousness, I am referring as well to the individual soul. However, it must be remembered that, while the soul is the portion of the animating force contained within a person, it is merely the ground of human consciousness. For just as the animating force is the potential for consciousness without, itself, being conscious, the soul is the potential for human consciousness without, itself, being conscious. It is the presence of the soul within the living body that generates human consciousness. Human consciousness, then, is grounded in the soul; the soul ‘carries’ consciousness, as it were. What I am suggesting is that, if consciousness is sufficiently integrated and developed, the soul may, at death, carry it back to the source from which it arose.

In this sense (and only in this sense) may a person be said to survive death. The individual’s personality, which is the aggregate of his genetic makeup, his character, consciousness, moral choices, experiences, emotions, intellect, values, hopes, dreams, and so on, ceases to be at death. For personality is entirely tied to corporeal life; when that life ceases, personality disappears. What may survive is human consciousness, which is that portion of personality the ground of which precedes and follows corporeal life. Personality is phenomenological; consciousness is essential. I am suggesting, then, that human consciousness may continue to exist beyond the dissolution of personality.

For this reason, I categorically reject any conception of life after death that posits the continuation of corporeal existence. The idea of the resurrection of the body, as taught by the majority of Christian churches, for example, strikes me as fatuous; nothing more than wishful thinking unsupported by any form of reasoning. Not even Thomas Aquinas, brilliant though he was, was able to fabricate a scenario for the resurrected body that does not read as comical. The idea that we will all be thirty years old, in perfect health, and in full possession of our faculties for all eternity will appear as nonsense to anyone who seriously considers the idea. Similarly, the suggestion that bodies which have lain corrupted in the earth for eons will miraculously be revived, and transported intact to some celestial realm is nothing but a childish fantasy.

We must, I think, take a more mature approach to the question of life after death. What I have posited is the possibility that that portion of human personality which, by its nature, transcends corporeal time, may, in fact, survive corporeal death. This does not seem unimaginable to me. The soul gives rise to consciousness in humans; is it not then conceivable that the soul, having expressed itself and realized itself through consciousness, retains its relation to consciousness after the death of the personality, assuming that consciousness has strengthened itself sufficiently to survive death?

I think that this may be so; otherwise, one may legitimately ask: If consciousness ceases at death, then why should consciousness exist at all? What purpose does it serve? What is the meaning of consciousness if it emerges, develops, flourishes, achieves enlightenment, insight, inspiration beyond the scope of any individual life, if, indeed, it is capable of envisioning the infinite and the eternal, only to be snuffed out forever at death? Why should the animating force generate a consciousness capable of grasping the transcendent implications of its own existence, only to deny transcendence to that consciousness? Here, once again, we are faced with the bifurcation in our argument which we encountered in our consideration of the purpose of morality. At that time, we considered whether the essential emptiness of existence implied that existence is meaningless, or whether there is a purpose served by moral choice.

I argued then, and I will argue here, that such a meaning exists, both for corporeal life and for non-corporeal life. If we accept the idea that an animating force exists, that it gives rise to consciousness in living beings, and that this consciousness in humans is capable of realizing and expressing and exploring the source of its being, then it seems to me that it must follow that there is a purpose to this process. Indeed, why should consciousness arise at all if not to discover that purpose?

I would, therefore, argue that consciousness cannot arise without meaning. Being may arise without meaning, and non-being has no category of meaning or meaninglessness; but I simply cannot conceive the existence of human consciousness devoid of purpose. Its essence and uniqueness lie in its ability to comprehend its own existence, and to explore the myriad implications and possibilities posed by that existence. Intellect, imagination, creativity, inspiration all are products of human consciousness; they are its functions and methods. Yet these would be of no value nor enjoy any authentic life if they were to no purpose. Meaningfulness is in the nature of consciousness; indeed, it is not too much to say that the purpose of human consciousness is to discover meaning in life.

This, too, represents an argument for the continued existence of human consciousness after death. For if the meaning and purpose of consciousness are destroyed by death, then they are no such things at all. However, as we have said: that continued existence is not automatic; it is not in the nature of consciousness, but is directly related to conscious moral choice, both worldly and spiritual. What man does is as critical to survival as what man is; to the extent that man is corporeal, he will die, but to the extent that he is spiritual and conscious, he may live.

An important implication of this view is that the possibility of life after death depends upon the action of human consciousness during corporeal life. In other words: whether we survive death depends on us. This view conflicts directly, of course, with the Christian concept of salvation. That concept posits that the individual’s salvation was achieved by the suffering and death of Christ, and, thus, there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation, except to make ourselves worthy of it. This strikes me as dangerous nonsense, not only because it raises, inevitably, the contradiction inherent in the concept of predestination (about which I have written earlier), but it, in effect, removes from man the duty to determine the destiny of his own soul. The agency of the church, then, becomes the critical factor in salvation, and this, in turn, invests the church with absolute power over the souls of men. The contradiction of predestination makes the idea nonsense; the power it invests in the church as the sole purveyor of salvation makes it dangerous.

In my view, we must earn our continued existence by virtue of our actions, behaviors and choices during our lifetimes. Specifically, we must live a moral life in the worldly and spiritual sense, and undertake a program of spiritual exercise aimed at heightening and strengthening consciousness, if we are not to die forever. And since I have said at the outset of my consideration of morality that respect for life is the basis of all morality, it will be clear that, in order to achieve life after death, it is necessary to, in effect, choose life. This is why I have argued elsewhere in this site that when there is uncertainty in matters of life and death, it is imperative that we choose life. Our eternal destinies depend upon it.

Having come this far in our discussion, we must now enter a very tenuous and difficult realm. If it is true that heightened human consciousness may survive death, and may be ‘carried’ by the soul back to the source of life and consciousness, namely, the animating force, what then becomes of this surviving consciousness?

That is the question I will seek to address in the next section, and, I must admit, I am not entirely comfortable with the conclusions I have reached to this point in my thinking. Perhaps, by attempting to set them down here, I may be able to clarify or modify them. Such is, after all, the purpose of my having undertaken this exercise in the first place.

X. Spiritual destiny

I have argued that it is possible for heightened human consciousness to survive death, and that such consciousness merges with the soul into the animating force from which both sprang. Awareness of the true nature of spirit, and the ability of the individual to elevate his consciousness to approach spirit, may enable individual consciousness to sustain its integrity even after death. This is not to say that personality survives; this, I believe, ceases with death, or shortly thereafter. But to the extent that the person has succeeded in effecting a union of his consciousness with spirit, his consciousness may survive.

Only in this sense can the surviving soul be said to be individuated. I have stated that I reject the idea of the survival of personality, and the related concept of the resurrection of the body. In a similar fashion, I cannot accept the idea that individual souls are reincarnated in new bodies after death. This form of reincarnation posits such complete individuation of the surviving soul as to make it possible to discern the prior corporeal existence of the soul, and identify its presence in a new body. This seems to me to carry the idea of individuated survival of death too far. It links the soul to personality, and, in effect, posits the survival of personality, which I have argued cannot occur. As I have said: Personality is phenomenological. It is a product of the forces of temporal and corporeal existence, such as genetics, conscious and unconscious life experiences, intellection, relationships, emotions, ideas, dreams, and so on. These are tied to corporeal existence, and so, when that existence ceases, personality also ceases.

What continues is that which is not the product of such phenomena; that which, by its nature, exists outside of time and the body, that is, the soul. I have further argued that it is possible so to heighten human consciousness that it begins to merge with the soul in its awareness and expressiveness of the source of life, so that, at death, the soul may bear back with it that enlightened consciousness to its original condition. I have suggested that we can imagine this postmortem consciousness as a bubble in the ocean of pure spirit, or, to borrow the beautiful phrase of the German mystic, Hildegard von Bingen, as ‘a feather on the breath of God.’ Thus, I think that Kazantzakis was correct when he said that the purpose of life is to transform flesh into spirit. Indeed, unless we do, our lives end at death, and we die forever.

This is, I suppose, the fate of most human beings. Their lives are confined to the scores of years allotted to them on the Earth, and when they die, nothing remains of their individuality. Their souls return to that source from which they came, like droplets falling back into the ocean, and they exist individually no more. I have said that I believe that personality can survive death for a short period of time, but that it then disappears. If consciousness has not been fortified to continue, it, too, ceases to be. For people of whom this is true, death is final. It is my belief that most people fall into this category.

But for those souls that retain human consciousness, death is not the end. The question then becomes: What happens to these souls? At this point in my thinking, I have no clear answer to this question. Logic would seem to indicate either that these soul/consciousness entities, as we might call them, remain a permanent part of the animating force, or that they reappear in corporeal form once more.

The former answer strikes me as unsatisfactory for two reasons. First, the presence of such entities would be bound to alter the nature of the animating force, and this does not seem to me to be possible. The animating force, as pure spirit, cannot possess two aspects, or characters. Second, if this is to be the ultimate fate of heightened consciousness, what purpose could it then be said to have served? Conscious union with the animating force would be the terminal point of human existence; but what meaning would this have? It strikes me as a pointless form of existence.

The second possibility carries more weight, and seems pregnant with greater possibilities. Yet it does raise the problem of reincarnation. I have said that I cannot accept an individuated transference of consciousness which would enable recognition by the self or others of the presence of a prior-existing soul. However, I must consider the possibility of the transference of consciousness to another corporeal existence. In this case, the living individual would possess the surviving consciousness as ‘raw material,’ as it were, for continued spiritual development. Whether or not he takes advantage of this gift, and pursues the process of enlightenment is, of course, a matter of his own choosing. Such a person, however, would have a distinct advantage in the process of achieving enlightenment, by virtue of the heightened consciousness to which he has access.

Building on this foundation, then, he may progress farther in the direction of spiritual development, strengthening his consciousness to the point where death holds no perils at all. It may even be possible for such a soul to sustain self-awareness after death; but this is mere speculation. The point is that consciousness, if it survives death and is carried by the soul to union with the animating force, may be able to be transferred to new life. And in this way, the process of spiritual development continues from one life to the next. Thus, while I reject the idea that personality may be reincarnated, I am forced to acknowledge some form of the transmigration of souls, in the survival and transference of consciousness from one lifetime to another.

This, in turn, will raise the question of the ultimate purpose of the survival of consciousness. Whither is it bound? What is the point of heightening consciousness and surviving death? What does it survival of consciousness mean?

I am aware that my thinking is quite Buddhist in nature. However, I depart from Buddhism on two important points. First, I do not accept the idea that corporeal existence is an illusion, as some schools of Buddhism posit. And second, I do not conceive of life as a valley of suffering, as all schools appear to teach. Corporeal existence is a reality, not an illusion, and life is much more than pain.

To argue that existence on Earth is illusory is to deny virtually all that we know, and have learned, and have created as a species on this planet. It is simply not reasonable to argue that the vast and wonderful complex of life has no objective existence, but is merely a projection of the mind. We have probed too deeply, calculated too precisely, created too profusely, suffered too poignantly and loved too dearly to have been deceived all these generations. The potential for meaning in life is contained precisely in its reality, not in its unreality. And an integral part of that reality is spiritual. Therefore, we may ask: If life is an illusion, how does the animating force generate it? In what does the soul dwell if there is no substance to existence? And how can human consciousness express and effect union with spirit if there is no platform of being upon which to stand in its strivings? No, I do not accept the idea that life is an illusion.

Likewise, I cannot agree that existence is suffering. Life is much richer and more complex than any one human experience can express or contain. Suffering is a part of life, of course, and not always a negative part of it. Suffering can often be purifying, uplifting, and a source of great wisdom. It is a necessary aspect of life, but not its essential character. There is also joy, fear, hope, longing, loneliness, love, inspiration, despair, triumph, and a host of other emotions and experiences. Any one of these might equally be singled out as the essential nature of life, and it would be equally wrong to do so. Life is a complex gift; it is an opportunity to achieve great enlightenment, and suffering is an important part of it, but only one part.

Given this, I cannot follow the Buddhists into the teaching that the goal of spiritual development is to free the soul from the illusion of life and from its suffering. I dare say that, presented with the choice, most people would prefer to go on living rather than be freed forever from existence. The irony is that most people live their lives in such a way as to guarantee their deaths. Choosing death, they assure that they will die, whereas, choosing life may make it possible for them to survive death. But survive death to what end?

I will address this question in the next posting.

We have said that life has meaning, and that that meaning informs the process of spiritual development. We have further said that the process of spiritual development is also meaningful – it exists to a purpose. Now we must address the questions of the ultimate purpose of spiritual development.

We noted very early on in this discussion that the essential gesture of spiritual development is detachment from being. I know of no school of thought on the subject which does not take this as a central idea. And we have observed that this is as it should be, since the direction of spiritual development is always toward that which is non-material. In the first instance, it is a movement toward heightened consciousness, which can effect something like a union with the source of all life and consciousness – the animating force. We have further argued that, to the extent that an individual’s consciousness can be developed or strengthened – that is, to the extent that it approaches to, or approximates the nature of, the animating force – it may survive death. We have explored (though uncertainly) the condition of this surviving consciousness, as it is borne by the soul to its source, and have suggested that it is conceivable that postmortem consciousness migrates to new human life.

From that point on, the surviving consciousness may be further developed, until the barrier between consciousness and the soul disappears. That is to say: consciousness may reach a degree of reification where it has effected a union with spirit. It is not that consciousness becomes spirit, since consciousness is a product of spirit; but, rather, that it achieves oneness with spirit.

At this point, we face a conundrum. If it is conceivable that the barrier between consciousness and the soul disappears, and consciousness becomes one with spirit, is that not the same thing as saying that consciousness returns to its source in the animating force?

The answer, I think, is no. If consciousness becomes one with spirit, then it has, in effect, transcended the animating force, not returned to it. This must be so since the union of consciousness and spirit would not produce spirit, but a new entity which reflects both of them. The creation of that new entity is what I conceive of as the purpose, or meaning, of man’s spiritual development.

We have said that the animating force is not conscious, but rather, the potential for consciousness. Through its indwelling in man, then, it is possible for the animating force, in the form of an individual soul, to undergo a transformation, by virtue of the heightening of consciousness. What emerges is that which I have called a new entity, reflecting both pure spirit and human consciousness. This entity, which we might call supra-consciousness, for lack of a better term, transcends pure spirit, incorporating as it does consciousness rarefied and purified through the efforts of spiritual development.

Now, it is impossible to imagine that this level of consciousness, and this synthesis of consciousness and spirit, could be accomplished in a single human lifetime. However, it may be possible that it can be achieved in the course of several lifetimes. This idea reinforces our suggestion that surviving soul/consciousness migrates to new lives, in which it may be further distilled and refined. It would thus be an accretion of spiritual development that creates supra-consciousness. Such historical figures as the Buddha and Jesus of Nazareth, then, may represent the last in long lines of lives through which consciousness has merged into spirit (that is, become one with the soul), resulting in something like supra-consciousness expressed even in their lifetimes. But what happens to such souls when the person dies?

(Conventional religion, of course, argues that neither Jesus nor the Buddha has died, but that they continue to live even as they did on Earth. This is nonsense, as we have noted, since neither the personality nor the physical body survives death. The insistence that these figures continue to live after their deaths is nothing more than the unwillingness of their followers to accept their deaths, and their cultic desire to perpetuate their earthly existence through time forever. Unable to conceive of any authentic existence which is not corporeal, they claim, irrationally, almost hysterically, that the founder did not die. Yet the historical Jesus and Buddha are long since defunct, and the fact, to my mind, makes no difference to the degree of their spiritual development, or to the truthfulness of their teaching. And so, the question remains: What happens to the souls of such persons when they die?)

To answer this question, I think it is necessary to ask: Of what is supra-consciousness conscious? We have suggested, albeit in passing, that surviving consciousness may be refined to the point where it may achieve self-awareness; that is, it may become conscious of its own survival. Supra-consciousness would perceive a far greater truth than this. It seems to me that if such a phenomenon can exist, then it would transcend pure consciousness, and become a conscious awareness of the ultimate truth of existence. And this, we have said, is emptiness.

Supra-consciousness, then, is the incorporeal awareness of the truth of the essential emptiness of existence. This is the ultimate goal and purpose of the spiritual development of human consciousness. The consciousness of nothingness is a destiny achievable only by man, whose consciousness is uniquely suited to achieve it. It is consciousness in face of emptiness; the highest rendering of human life in the presence of non-being. It is the merging of the individual human soul with the source of all existence, both material and non-material, both being and non-being. It is, in effect, the liberation of the human spirit.

We have said that being cannot transform into non-being, and that emptiness cannot be conceptualized. How, then, can supra-consciousness meld with emptiness? The answer is: It does not. What I am describing is neither a transformation of consciousness into nothingness, nor a grasping by consciousness of nothingness. It is, rather, a confrontation by consciousness with nothingness, through which consciousness, having freed itself from concepts, and having detached itself from material being, assimilates into itself the truth of non-existence. Consciousness has almost become that which is not; it exists in its own dynamic relation to non-being. Thus, man – fragile, temporal, creative, spiritual man – may become that which the universe itself is: the essential emptiness that lives in dynamic consort with existence.

This is what the Buddhists mean when they say that anyone can attain Buddha-hood. I believe that it is also what Jesus of Nazareth meant when he said to his followers: You shall be as God. For God, in his world view, was the Jehovah who had declared of himself: I am who am. Or, in other words: I am that which is; that which gives rise to being, but is not, itself, in being. If I am correct, then man, through a long process of spiritual development, can attain this truth. This is, I think, the spiritual destiny to which of each of us is called.

XI. Final thoughts

This, in brief, is my current thinking on the subject of religion and spirituality. I say ‘brief’ despite its length, because much more could, and should, be said on each one of these topics. Perhaps I will expand upon them in the days to come. But certainly I will continue to develop my thinking, in order not only to clarify what I have said, but to correct errors and inconsistencies, and to endeavor to expand and deepen my view.

It will be clear to my readers that I have moved very far from the religious training of my youth, which was that of orthodox Roman Catholicism, and, indeed, I have departed almost entirely from Christianity in general. As I refresh my recollection of my college-age study of Buddhism, I am struck by how closely my current views approximate it, though with some important differences. But the truth appears to be that, working from such religious education, personal experience, and reflection as I have had, I have discovered in my own way the basic insights of the teaching of the Buddha. I did not intend to do this. In fact, it did not occur to me that this was so until I had nearly finished my postings. And so, now, I am forced to conclude that, while Christianity contains many truths, it does not represent the Truth. This lies elsewhere, at least in my view; and precisely in what it consists, I have striven as honestly as I could to describe.

I will not become a Buddhist, however; of that I can assure you. It is neither in my nature, nor do I believe it is necessary, to subscribe to a religion. And while, as I have said, I think it is necessary and good for most people to do so, since, on balance, this promotes behavior more moral than would otherwise be the case, I am convinced that adherence to any conventional religion is an obstacle to the attainment of truth.

That my ideas are incomplete and, in places, inconsistent, I readily admit. But this is the first time in my life I have attempted to systematize my religious thinking, which is still very much evolving. Among the matters which I realize I must explore further and more deeply are such questions as: How may one more fully support the idea that life has meaning against the facile claim that it does not? How does the soul ‘carry’ consciousness to its source, as I have suggested? What about punishment for evil behavior in the afterlife, which would appear to be necessary if morality is to have force, and if there is to be a sense of justice in life? Can my idea of supra-consciousness be supported more fully, or is it merely an extrapolation from my previous ideas, without any reasonable foundation? And how can the achievement of supra-consciousness be said to confer meaning and purpose on life if it is not attainable within one’s lifetime, and it lacks individuated self-awareness? In other words, can such survival be said to be a meaningful condition if one is not aware of it?

There are others questions, no doubt; but it is these that come to the fore as I reflect back on the process of writing these thoughts. It has been a challenging, but, on the whole, enjoyable experience, and I recommend it to anyone who takes matters of religion and spirituality seriously. For there are fundamental questions about life and truth which must be answered before death, if one is to have any hope of finding meaning in life, and of surviving death. I am aware, of course, that there are those who entertain no such hope, and feel none the poorer for it. But about such people, I cannot help but feel that they are missing one of the most important aspects of living; that they lack an entire dimension of life, namely, the spiritual dimension.

That a spiritual dimension exists to life I do not, and cannot doubt. Its force, both logical and visceral, is irresistible to me. It is as clear to my mind that man is a spiritual being as it is that he has intellect and emotion and appetites. To doubt it simply because spirit cannot be observed or measured is as foolish as doubting the existence of love, or of the imagination, or of the perfume of a rare orchid that you have never seen. Given this, it seems to me inescapable that to live without regard for one’s spiritual nature is like going on a scenic cruise and keeping the curtains of one’s cabin closed, or attending a symphony with earplugs, or trying to run a race while holding one’s breath. I simply cannot imagine living this way, and I feel genuine sorrow for those who do so. They are missing the highest joys and deepest mysteries of life; they have cut themselves off from their essence, and, having done so, must busy themselves with diversions and quotidian cares in an instinctual effort to stave off the despair that must follow.

Man is a marvel, as Hamlet said. But the most amazing aspect of his nature transcends the sum of his parts. Spirit is much more than an essence; it is an adventure – a wondrous summons to fulfill our loftiest ambitions and realize our profoundest potential. But without spirit, man is no more than a concatenation of vapors, a quintessence of dust, a fortuitous convocation of chemicals, that eats and dreams and has a moment of being, and then is gone forever. Anyone who succumbs to such an understanding of life has stripped himself of his birthright, and deserves no more than death confers on him.

But to those who feel the gravitational pull of spirit, who respond to its presence and find the courage to answer its call, an infinity of potential opens, and the possibility, misty and deferred though it may be, of living forever, may become their Truth.