So you have a “Personal God“, do you? What if your “God” is nothing more than a feeble attempt of mankind to interpret what cannot be explained, and can only be experienced by humans from within an infinitesimally small degree of Cosmic Reality? That’s what the ancient Hindus and The Buddha thought.
1. Origin of the Hindu Sacred Texts
- Influence of the Shiva cults
- Influence of the Aryan civilization
2. Interpretation of the Vedas
- The Upanishads
- The Bhagavad Gita
3. Hindu and Buddhist Philosophy
- Brahman and Atman
- Karma and Reincarnation
4. Mystical Union
- Buddhist transcendental meditation
- Return of the isolated creature (man)
- Five distinguishing features
5. Aldous Huxley’s drug experiences
- Similarity with features of mystical union
- Similarity with Buddha’s “descriptions” of Nirvana
6. Huxley’s interpretation of those experiences
- “Eliminative Nature” of the human brain
- “Reducing Valve” effect preserves our sanity
- Inability of language to accurately explain the experience
7. Connection with the “Ultimate Absolute”
- Mankind’s need for a “deity”
- Mankind’s use of guilt to control individual action
8. Defining “God”
- Historical influence of mystical experiences
- Interpretation of the experience depends upon previous beliefs and social environment.
According to Dr. Eric Fromm, the deepest need of man is to overcome his sense of aloneness and separateness from nature – “to leave the prison of his aloneness” (Fromm 9). Throughout recorded history, mankind’s various religions have strived to answer this problem, with varying degrees of success (Fromm 10). From the earliest animal and idol worship, through the fertility cults, to the Greek and Roman worship of anthropomorphic gods, man has strived to understand and/or overcome his own mortality. As his religions evolved, so did man’s concept of “God.” Whereas fertility cults offered the unconditional love of a “Mother goddess,” the evolution of western religions now offers up a “Father-figure god” whose love is conditional and requires both obedience and fulfillment of his demands (Fromm 58-59). This calls for a system of reward and punishment with the corresponding concepts of Heaven and Hell. But what if there is no Heaven and Hell? What if there is no “Personal God”? What if you are trapped by your own mortality, and “God” is nothing more than a self-defined “potential” within each and every one of you; or an immense cosmic force of which we are all a part? What if we could tap into or actually become, part of that cosmic force? What if tapping into that force did not require the use of religious ritual – only knowledge and an acute awareness of its existence? These are the principles that contributed to the early development of the Hindu and Buddhist faiths of ancient India.
Early archaeological excavations (pre-1400 B.C.) of the Indus valley in northwest India revealed a sacrificial cult that worshipped the god Shiva, whom to this day is worshipped by some Hindus. The original cult involved both the ritualistic use of an intoxicating liquor made from the Soma plant, and intense contemplative concentration on the inner self (Hinduism 2). In approximately 1400 B.C., Aryans (the descendants of Indo-European invaders of India) compiled a series of hymns that collectively came to be known as the Vedas. These hymns were addressed to a variety of gods, some of which had counterparts in ancient Greek and Roman mythology (nature deities that represented earth, wind, fire, thunder, etc.). Although the Aryan religion was polytheistic, it had one important characteristic: each of the nature deities was considered to be only a different manifestation of the “One Divine Reality.” The original Vedic hymns were arranged in three collections to which a fourth was added later by the name of the Rg-Veda (“Royal Knowledge”). These literary works were followed by the Brahmans out of which grew the Upanishads (around 800 B.C.) A “fifth Veda,” the Bhagavad Gita, was added in approximately 200 B.C. (Hinduism 1).
The Vedas?and particularly the Bhagavad Gita, went through several levels of interpretation during the evolution of the Hindu religion. The Brahmans record a period of Aryan settlement in which there was a preoccupation with religious ritual. Sacrificial rites were performed by an Aryan priestly class called the Brahmins. The Upanishads were written in an attempt to explain the spiritual meaning of these ritualistic rites, and the word Brahman came to mean: “the power sustaining the whole cosmos” (Hinduism 1). The Upanishads therefore, moved the religious worship of the Aryan conquerors from a polytheistic to a monistic (the metaphysical view that there is only one kind of substance or Ultimate Reality) religion. The pre-Aryan interest in contemplative introspection and the “Brahmanic tendency to equate the macrocosm with the microcosm,” (Hinduism 2) blended together to produce the “crux” of the Vedas: “That thou art.” In other words, “the eternal element within man is identical with Brahman, the sacred power pervading?and sustaining the cosmos” (Hinduism 2). Although the Upanishads upheld the existence of the various Vedic gods, they were subordinated to the concept of the “One Brahman” (Hinduism 2). The Bhagavad Gita (literally the “Song of the Lord”) contained two long epic poems and, in certain parts of the text actually strove to subordinate the Brahman to a supreme “personal” god: “For I am the abode of Brahman,” and “Abandoning all duties, come unto Me alone for shelter. Be not grieved, for I shall release you from all evils” (Hinduism 2). In the Bhagavad Gita, Brahman became a projection of a supreme Being and not a self-subsistent entity in itself. Although this introduced the concept of a “Personal” god, the divine Being was defined as “beyond good and evil, not tied down to any particular duties, for duties essentially arise from within society” (Hinduism 4). This concept of “God” took “Him” away from anthropomorphism, and placed “Him” again — outside the realm of human experience and understanding.
Hinduism arose out of these various interpretations of the Vedas. To this day there is no single belief system that can be defined as strict Hinduism, but there are basic concepts common to all sects (Guthrie 48). The first major concept is that of a single “One Divine Reality,” or Brahman. It is neither finite nor personal — it just is. Going hand in hand with Brahman is the concept of Atman, or each individual’s personal manifestation of Brahman. Karma and Reincarnation are based upon the concept of “cause and effect,” whereby one’s continual rebirth is affected by the deeds of each lifetime. Karma is the accumulation of those deeds (both good and bad) that are carried from one lifetime to another (Reincarnation). A person’s current status in life therefore, is determined by the Karma that he brings from his previous lives (Guthrie 48). Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama, 563-483 B.C.)(Buddhism 416) expanded on this principal, and claimed that through proper action, one could reach the exalted state of “Nirvana.” Buddha defined “Nirvana” as a “going out,” or “the extinguishing of a flame” (Nirvana, EOP 517). When asked to define the makeup or substance of the Nirvana, Buddha replied with mostly negative terms, such as : “cessation, the absence of craving, detachment, the absence of delusion,?the unconditioned” (Nirvana, EOR 448), and a timeless state that is “unborn, unmade, unbecome, and incomposite,” and therefore “unifying and unified” (Mystical Union 240). Buddha believed that the very existence of evil and suffering proved that there was no Supreme Creator. He strongly argued against any deity worship, and saw no reason for the need of religious ritual. Buddha was considered the embodiment of compassion and kindness. Original Buddhist thought (Hinayana sect) was non-genderic and non-erotic. Erotic feelings, as well as negative attitudes towards parents and significant others, were projected onto the gods, demons, and other supernatural beings that belonged to the Hindu Pantheon (Obeyesekere 236). There was no place for punishment in the Buddhist psyche and believers basically reaped what they sowed according to the natural laws of Karma and Reincarnation. While a Christian might give to a beggar out of guilt, a Buddhist would give simply out of “compassion,” not fear of retribution from a vengeful god (Obeyesekere 237).
One of the most important aspects of early Buddhist philosophy was the use of contemplative meditation to reach higher states of consciousness. This practice was inherited from the pre-Aryan religious sects. “Through the attainment of higher states of consciousness, the saint gains serenity and insight into the nature of reality” (Nirvana, EOP 517). “Since the Absolute constitutes the underlying nature of phenomena, Nirvana also constitutes that inner nature” (Nirvana, EOP 518). Transcendental meditation led Buddha to Nirvana and allowed him to become “one with the Absolute.” A modern term for this experience is mystical union. Mystical Union?is considered the supreme stage of mystical experience. It represents the return of the isolated creature to the unified and glorious “Absolute” (Mystical Union 239). Mystical union has five distinguishing features : Ineffability, or the incommunicable nature of the experience; a Noetic Quality, or direct intellectual comprehension with an all-encompassing sense of immersion; Passivity, or the experience’s gratuitous, undeserved nature; Transiency, or the non-permanence of the?experience; and lastly, Integration, or a complete surrendering of all opposition to absorption by the “Higher Reality” (Mysticism 246).
In 1954, Aldous Huxley, the acclaimed author of Brave New World, wrote another book entitled The Doors of Perception (Ferns 193). Mr. Huxley’s descriptions of his first experience with the psychedelic drug Mescaline, closely resemble some of the distinguishing features of Mystical Union. On describing a vase in his house that contained three flowers, Aldous exclaimed, “I was not looking now at an unusual flower arrangement. I was seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation – the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence” (qtd. in Ferns 194). When asked by someone present if he found the experience agreeable, he replied, “Neither agreeable nor disagreeable…it just is” (very ‘Buddhist’ and qtd. in Ferns 194). Upon gazing at a chair, Aldous remarked that he was “not merely gazing at those bamboo legs,” but was “actually being them” (qtd. in Ferns 194). He became “Not Self, but simply an existence among and on par with other existences, whether animate or inanimate. From being an observer of the world, he had become an integral part of it, too absorbed in the experience of being, to be aware of himself as a separate entity” (qtd. in Ferns 195). The experience was so inexpressibly overwhelming that he found himself on the brink of panic, and became afraid of “disintegrating under a pressure of a reality, greater than a mind accustomed to living most of the time in a cozy world of symbols could possibly bear” (qtd. in Ferns 196).?Because of this experience (and others to follow), Aldous Huxley came to believe that the function of man’s mind is mainly “Eliminative…the function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge – leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful” (Ferns 198). Huxley thought that psychedelic drugs impaired the “reducing valve” of our mind, enabling us to perceive aspects of reality which our minds normally exclude (Ferns 198). Those who “trip out” are “ushered into a world with which our language systems are unequipped to cope – and whose?manifestations cannot be rationalized or explained: as Mind at Large (Brahman?) seeps past the no longer watertight valve, all kinds of biologically useless things start to happen. In the final stages of Ego-lessness, there is an ‘obscure knowledge’ that All is in All and that All is actually Each” (again very Buddhist, qtd. in Ferns 199).
During the last ten years of his life, Aldous Huxley continued to experiment with psychedelic drugs (mescaline, psilocybin, and LSD). On his deathbed, he asked for and received (from his wife), an injection of LSD (Ferns 193). He believed that even in the throes of death, he could be in contact with the “One Ultimate Reality.” That “connection” did not involve a priest or any religious ritual; only a “reducing valve inhibitor”, and the guiding and soothing voice of his loving wife. So, does mankind really need religious ritual and a “Personal God”? If ancient Buddhist philosophers used “deities” only to project their human frailties away from themselves (Obeyesekere 236); and if Buddha (the Enlightened One) saw no need for a deity at all (Buddhism 417), then why should we? In the past several decades, there has been an resurging belief in the concept of evil and its purveyor — the Devil (or Satan). Could part of this belief be a feeble effort to impose guilt upon the perpetrators of the growing violence that afflicts our global society (Hell’s comeback 56)? Isn’t this effort just a reenactment of centuries of human thought control, concocted to rein in human behavior (Revisiting the abyss 63)? Would not a better approach to crime control be swift and severe punishment based upon the concept of “Reap What You Sow”?
Webster’s New World Dictionary defines mysticism as “the belief in the possibility of attaining direct communion with ‘God,’ or knowledge of great spiritual truths” (page 284). Most current religions (that have a historical founder) all started with some sort of powerful personal experience and perceived contact with that founder’s particular “God” (Mysticism 247). Any form of religious mysticism claims a direct contact with an “Absolute.” How it defines that “Absolute” depends on its particular outlook and theology. Christianity and Judaism are religions of definition and ritual, while original Buddhism was a philosophy of silence that renounced all ways of defining or naming the?”Absolute” (Mysticism 250). If man’s greatest need is to overcome his sense of aloneness and separateness from nature (“to leave the prison of his aloneness”) doesn’t it make sense to “Return to the Absolute” periodically, during each person’s lifetime through Mystical Unions in order to re-establish his/her connection with nature? Couldn’t Buddha’s attainment of Nirvana and Aldous Huxley’s mystical drug experiences be the same phenomenon? Isn’t a Christian’s “Soul” nothing more than a different interpretation of a Hindu’s “Atman”? Isn’t the Christian’s concept of “God” nothing more than a rational attempt to personify what cannot be explained (Brahman) through the use of human language systems? Eric Fromm thought that mankind’s concept of “God” was basically a “historically conditioned one” (Fromm 65) derived from the society in which he lived. I believe that humans do not need a “Personal God”. Human life is a gift, and is best lived through practiced self-control and kindness towards others.
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