You should be careful about drawing conclusions until you are sure that you have established a common view, since what you hear is only surface language which, depending upon the individual, has different levels of meaning at various levels of consciousness.
I'm sure that aesthetic appreciation of art, which is creative (and thus spiritual), may come from the lips of anyone. Further, mystical language is not confined to mystics. In particular, I have heard humanists eulogise their philosophies in such fashion. They are perfectly entitled to do this, of course, for language is a common inheritance.
For humanists, the study of language is extremely important for its own sake. Some scholars have focussed in particular on Christian language in a subject called 'The Philosophy of Religion.' As an indication of how narrowly intellectual this pursuit has become, it is expected that to make original contributions, one ought to follow a long academic path (rather like that amongst Church of England clergy).
According to humanists, a book like this simply does not have a sufficient background - for them there cannot be any discussion of what is termed 'Comparative Religion' without suitable academic qualifications, of which I possess none. What you have been reading has, they might say, simply been made up out of my head. (They have nowhere else to look for a possible source!)
However, it is clear to me that words are really just surface phenomena and that religious philosophy should not consist of juggling contemporary constructs. I know that "one's mind is the big book".
In reality, I claim, there are no humanists who act in accordance with the definition of humanism in the previous chapter, for all have to some extent spiritual (and thus eternal) expressions in conduct. The problem is that with insufficient insight, many cannot see beyond the their transient existence on Earth.
On the other hand, many who do profess a religious faith in actuality display no more spirituality than humanists - the only thing that is different is that religious 'blind faith' is attached 1. The abandonment of the unquestioning stance of religious 'blind faith' I call the Leap of Reason. However, commitment to the spiritual path brings about a transformation which the humanist cannot explain or match - this is the Leap of Faith.
I summarise these ideas in the following presentation of three stages of a spiritual evolution:-
Humanists look at a surface of reality, a surface with deep spiritual foundations. They make valid observations, inferences and deductions, can even identify the higher aesthetics of humans, but do not locate the source of these. It is as though they wish to understand the oceans by remaining on the surface, ignoring the currents beneath the waves; hence the salvational purpose of life continues to elude them 2.
However, a genuine Leap of Faith is elusive because it is subtle; it is certainly no excuse for a false dualistic view (which I regard as 'throwing in the towel'). It needs an intelligent, deliberate and careful nurturing of whole mind to avoid being merely a humanist with blind faith appended. In seeking to know God, keep contemplating Anatta!
Before the 16th Century, science had not been developed systematically, and technology was not really science-based; rather, it was know-how and confined to common everyday living. During the past three to four hundred years, there have been rapid advances in science and science-based technology, as scientists have explored further and further afield in a rigorous systematic fashion. Among the early pioneers was Galileo who showed how the Earth orbits the sun.
It provided momentum for the Age of Reason (or 'the Enlightenment'), an era dominated by cerebral thinkers, many of whom were philosophers and not scientists. Unfortunately science became subsumed in this rationalist straight-jacket, and was used as a political baton with which to crush religion.
So it is hardly surprising that a chasm opened up between such science and the standpoints of religious institutions. An alarming dichotomy seemed to form, with boastful reason battling with blind dogmatism.
In this century, however, physicists have really started humbly appreciating the mystical aspects in the universe, and the Roman Catholic Church has eased up on its rash mistaken claims. It remains now for certain philosophers and sociologists to confess their ignorance.
As the Church acknowledges its shortcomings, can we speak of this as a major triumph for science over religion? No. Although science has served to bury some absurd doctrinal nonsense, it will never 'reveal the mind of God' as some optimistically enthuse. Science can only deal with existential reality, i.e. that which is, the conditioned; and then the resulting equations may only be approximations. The mind of God lies beyond beingness, in meta-existential reality; its essence is the dynamic potential of Ultra Being, in the realisation of Anatta.
It is possible that science will reveal how God has worked and can work in the physical universe, but no more; knowledge of God requires spiritual consciousness; God can be revealed on a surface such as matter, but never confined there. This view thus indicates science's relative unimportance, but is not a refutation of its verity.
To illustrate a non-conflicting role of science, I wish to examine the notion of a 'miracle', which may be defined as 'a supernatural event'; 'supernatural' being whose source is above or beyond nature (the Law of Conditionality)'. This definition is thus crucially different from that in e.g. Chambers 20th Century Dictionary (1983 edition) which omits the italics.
I believe in miracles, but at the same time whatever is perceived to happen within the conditioned environment (on the physical plain, say) can, in theory, be given a rational explanation or a physical equation. For instance, levitation, 'spiritual healing', raising someone from the dead may all be considered miracles in defiance of current scientific knowledge, but I'm sure that it is within the realms of possibility that there may be discovered in due course equations which describe their viability in terms of transmissions of energy. No miracle, however minute its likelihood, defies nature. Remember that the Enlightened person does not ignore the Law of Conditionality.
However, already in my mind there appears to be a potential problem of compatibility with the outward material poverty of Christ. In the 2000 years after his life on Earth, many followers of Christ have actively sought such poverty, some even after becoming indifferent to riches or impecunity (e.g. St. Ignatius). Also, Buddhist monks have to rely every day on donations of food from the lay community.
Why do these religious folk opt for this? I am aware of the following motives: first, as a sign of embracing a higher state of spiritual existence and, subsequently, a renunciation of worldly existence; second, to a lesser extent, as an example to others to change the misguided priorities of a disoriented population.
Regarding the latter motive, can the example of such humble living win over the hearts of all humans and encourage them to a simple, peaceful and spiritually nourishing existence?
I feel that this is at present a pipe dream. Most cannot simply abandon technology and the incumbent materialism in one step. It is actually not necessary to do so (though still perhaps preferable); it must be embraced and considered as a set of tools to help one on the spiritual path.
At a basic level within the sphere of society, modern scientific technology such as computers and telecommunications help in the dissemination of material and the running of religious organisations. This is a reasonable contribution, but there is a much greater potential, I feel. Already, it is recognised that there is a sense of the world getting smaller through increased communication and contact. The internet, the global network of networks, achieves this to a heightened degree and may well prompt something else ... perhaps when a critical mass is achieved, I think it may be a means to stimulate widespread telepathy. (Note that it is not like TV which is broadcast from one controlling point, but instead a peer level communication)
I've already pointed out how attached most people are, particularly to their bodies and especially to their brain - a number of scientists were eager to dissect the dead brain of Einstein, secretly hoping to uncover his genius mind. From my own experience, my consciousness and subconscious usually echo first in the brain, but I suspect also that twitches etc. are similar echoes; in the Exercise on Meditation, I mentioned how thoughts were activated at each pulse to the brain - now I no longer need such systematic means to watch and realise that these thoughts are mainly of a stimulus-response variety from my subconscious mind.
Behind each such reactive thought there lies a subconscious blockage, something stifling a continuous stream of open creative potential. Through one's attachment, each such psychological embedding, if it enters the level of thought, will produce a physical response. This response is monitorable, I think, by modern electronic equipment. Further, such equipment may register a lot more than that of which one is conscious.
To take advantage of the identification of 'subconscious emissions' needs a method of focusing on the source of the emission, a method of delving deeper into subconscious mind with the conscious mind's eye. How can one do this? I believe the key may lie in regression therapy 3. The technique for homing in must be sound, but can be varied - meditation, prayer, holism, whatever really gets to the nub of the mental illness. In all cases there must be a skilled counsellor who needs to remain strong and the counselled person should retain full awareness: this is often an energy-sapping and dangerous exercise.
With the electronic apparatus, the counsellor is 'reading a soul' through the use of modern technology. No such technology was available until this century, so it would be wrong to say that either Christ or the Buddha would reject it. In view of the emphasis on effective systematic methods, I think that the Buddha would certainly consider it.
More important, the ability to tackle the mental illness depends both on the wisdom and insight of the counsellor who has to know what to do, and on the patient retaining awareness/concentration. How much concentration is required to eradicate the root cause of suffering?
Finally, there are people who could make such a technology- dependent methodology look rather clumsy, people who don't need such paraphernalia to read souls. Some can scan a person's many previous lives in next to no time at all, identifying sources of mental disorder.
However there are precious few such visionaries, so such electronics may well have a valid role.
There are still many scientists who would have us believe that one day there will be intelligent conscious androids and other computer- based machines (called the 'strong AI' hypothesis). However, as consciousness and intelligence have their source ultimately beyond the Law of Conditionality (in Anatta), nothing born solely of conditioning may be conscious or intelligent. So though robots may be built which emulate humans and outperform them in a given task and which may even behave unpredictably, their creativity is zero - that all lies with the original programmer.
In this striving for what may be termed 'technological utopia', one may encounter today's mythology - Science Fiction.
Do you think that the 'Star Trek' sagas and other space epics are too fantastic? If so, then reflect on the fact that much of today's technology was the fantasy of the past. This mythology, in its highly mechanical bias, is, I'm sure, realisable as fact some day hence.
Despite a limited encounter with Science Fiction, I have noticed a couple of recurring themes which I'd like to discuss here.
The first is in the area of physiological surgery, where human beings are given biological transplants or artificial implants. Already a large number of bodily parts can be replaced by natural and manufactured substitutes. After a while the patient comes to terms with the changes, the mind being generally unaffected, at least on the surface, though unforeseen side effects may occur. To what extent will this remain true as we move in on the brain?
Through our exceedingly strong attachment to cerebral matter, an external modification or replacement of brain tissues/nerve cells will send vibrations into the subconscious. Who knows what subconscious conditionings are formed by such manipulation? I express my reservations thus: I would not want to be a brain surgeon.
The conquest for knowledge and subsequent enhancement of the brain will doubtless continue; in theory a biologically compatible micro- processor could be implanted to boost a whole host of abilities. If present developments maintain their pace then this will be possible, albeit centuries from now.
"Beam me up, Scottie!", that famous phrase which was never said by Capt. James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise, begs the question: will there one day be a matter transfer device? Why not? All we can say is that current science has not found a way of performing such an operation. It may well happen, but then would the whole person be transported?!
It is going to be a race against time to acquire wisdom and heal the human mind before technology overtakes us and is abused.
In many general discussions about TV, it is usually recognised that this medium has a great influence. I'm sure you'd readily agree with me when I say that young children quickly become conditioned to acting out the roles of various TV characters - have you been zapped yet by a space-age cartoon character?! Children are evidently influenced. How about adults? Ask the advertisers!
There appears to be nothing particularly harmful in what I've described above, but beware! We know, but seldom pay much attention to, the following common sense advice. Before switching on the goggle box, check to see if there is anything from which we may benefit by watching. If not, then don't! When it has been switched on, watch it; if you just want background noise, you can listen to the external environs.
Why is it that we don't adhere to such simple guidelines? It is because our minds are scattered. TV makes this worse. When one's attention wanders, visual and aural pollution enter our subconscious without being filtered; at a minor level these cloud our mind - there is so much junk whirling inside that we are unable to think clearly. At a major level they may sow degenerate predispositions, decrease sensitivity, lower our resistance to carrying out unskilful karma, and generally effect spiritual degeneration.
Even if I watch carefully, after several consecutive hours of TV, I can feel quite depleted, for my consciousness has been confined to a small flickering square for too long.
Further, TV can become a drug; one feels lost without its chirpy images, so one takes a dosage. On entering the room, the slot machine principle operates once again as one automatically walks over to the wall socket to switch on. It is even easier with the remote control unit. All of this induces a vegetative state of mind.
If you don't think that TV is a drug, then try the following. Select your favourite regular programme (perhaps a soap opera). Every time you are due to watch it, roll a die. If it turns up '6' then do something else (no excuses!), otherwise you may switch on.
To what extent all the TV images affect one's psychological conditioning I can only speculate. I hope thorough research is being carried out on this, since it is relevant to so many people.
Fortunately, TV is also potentially a great source of spiritual encouragement, most notably in the promotion of unity. It can open our eyes to other cultures; if a documentary about a foreign people is produced skilfully, then we may slip ourselves easily into their shoes and our ignorance is reduced. TV can bring everyone together to participate in spirit in a global event, to share the experience of peace; and what better means to do this than those of contemplation, meditation and prayer? 4
And this is, of course, not just an inter-cultural dialogue, it is the dialogue of Inter-Faith ...
- © Paul Trafford 1996,97