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The Influence of Science upon Religious Conceptions

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By Phiroz Mehta

A talk given on 13th April 1957

From our earliest days, our sense impressions, our desires, thoughts and actions are categorized for us in that system of symbolical sounds called words. Our ordinary awareness of existence is formulated in words. All the ordinary objects and experiences of our daily life have their own specific forms. To distinguish each form, it is given a name or a verbal description. Discrete awareness or recognition is in terms of name-form. And so throughout our waking life there is a continuous flow of words, a flow made up of the audible speech of ordinary conversation, and, when we are not talking aloud, of the silent speech of thought-feeling. All discursive thought is simply a ceaseless flow of silent chatter. This flow is largely unbidden and uncontrollable, and constitutes the major part of mental life.

Speech-thought is the formal expression of our awareness of the process which is our daily life. All speech-thought has its roots in, and emerges out of, our experience of the substantial universe. The eternal that-which-is, in manifestation, as apprehended by us, is re-presented by speech-thought in different manner, at different times and in different places, by different people. Each person at any moment is a distinct, unique pattern. From the very beginning each person undergoes a conditioning which makes him different from every other person. At any moment, the sense-activities and discursive mind of each person form an image of that person’s world. In course of time, certain ideas abstracted out of these continuously passing images constitute that person’s conceptions of life or of the world. These conceptions, which also change with time, are a collection of silent word-patterns. When a man conveys these silent word-patterns, he speaks or writes. His instrument of communication is words, or symbolical sounds. Not only symbolical sounds, but also colours, shapes, gestures, psychical impressions and so on are used as media of communication, singly or in combination. But it is probably true to say that speech-thought is the main medium.

Each man forms conceptions in various contexts — religious, scientific, aesthetic, social, etc. He uses the same words in each context, with different shades of meaning where necessary.

Our religious conceptions are the product of our everyday life, of our science and art and all forms of mental activity, and of the attempt by the few to convey to their fellow men the experience of Superconsciousness, or in other words the supreme religious experience which we call the experience of God.

Probably the oldest of the revelations given to man are the uncompromisingly monotheistic tradition of the Hebrews and the apparently polytheistic or rather henotheistic tradition of the Rig-vedic Indians. Later on, about a millennium before the birth of Jesus, the religion of Greece is embodied in the poems of Homer and Hesiod. These poems, as well as the hymns of the Rig-veda, present religion in the form of poetry and mythology. Later on follow philosophy and science, when men begin to question the validity of revelation or to demand to know the plain meanings underlying the dogmatic statement of revealed religion.

The emergence of scientific speculation regarding the nature of the world is common to both Greece and India. But in the orgination and trend, and in the relationship of these scientific concepts to, and their influence upon, the spiritual world, Greece and India differ from each other. The Milesian philosophers like Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus, etc., and those who thought as they did, mark a branching away from Homeric mythology and Hesiodic theogony. Whereas Hesiod had presented Chaos, Gaia and Eros at the beginning of the drama of the origin of the earth, the Milesian school dispenses with Chaos and favours the idea of a root-matter as the origin of all things. Thus we have Thales presenting water, Anaximenes air, and Heraclitus fire as the primary stuff of the universe. Anaxagoras holds that matter is infinitely divisible; however small the particle, it was a mixture of all four elements, with one element predominating. Empedocles presents all four — fire, air, water and earth — as the primary elements from which all arose; and since Aristotle placed the seal of his approval upon this doctrine, it dominated the western world for nearly two millennia.

In contrast to Greece, Indian speculation derives matter from spirit. The Taittiriya Upanishad states that from Atman arose akasa, and from akasa, vayu; from vayu, fire; from fire, water; and so on. Kapila, the reputed founder of the Samkhya philosophy, and probably an elder contemporary of Thales, propounds a primordial nature or root-matter as the unborn, uncaused, undying force from which proceeds all evolution, material and psychical. He also postulates an infinite number of uncreated, eternal purushas, or spirits, and it is to serve their ends that universal evolution takes place. Like the Greeks, Indian philosophers produced atomic theories, but rather more elaborate than those of the Greeks; and they postulated an extra element — akasa — possessed of more remarkable properties than those distinguishing air, fire, water and earth. But whereas Indian scientific speculations did not lead to a materialist philosophy like that of Democritus or to a purely mechanistic view of the universe, with the exception of the Carvaka philosophy, and had little effect, if any, upon fundamental religious conceptions, Greek science had a marked effect upon the development of Greek and subsequently of European philosophy, and upon the Christian religion.

In tracing this effect, let us link the names of Plato and Aristotle with those of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, for the simple reason that the original Catholic orthodoxy was Augustiruan Platonism, and this was replaced almost a millennium later by Thomistic Aristoteliariism, which survives practically to this day as Catholic orthodoxy.

Plato presents two ground principles: the rational, which is the formal or mathematical and scientific, investigated in the Republic; and the emotional, the eros principle, which is the aesthetic, which Dr. Jowett translated as “frenzy” or “passion” or “love”, expounded in the Phaedrus and the Symposium. In the Timaeus, Plato brings together these two principles, and denominates the rational as the male and the emotional as the female principle in the nature of things. Therefore the intuitive and emotional or passionate person in Church symbolism is the female virgin, and the doctrinal, rational person is the male Christ, who represents the unseen, because only rationally known, that is, the theoretically deduced God the Father. For St. Augustine, who upheld the freedom of the human will, and whose theology is founded on Platonism and the teachings of Jesus, the good life consisted as much in the passionate love of God as in the rational knowledge of God. Plato, however, arbitrarily branded the female principle as evil, and presented the male as good. Thus in orthodox western Christian religion, both Catholic and Protestant, the Divine is restricted to the rational principle, God the Father. Hence when one attacks reason one is trying to destroy orthodox Christianity. For St. Thomas, the good life is the life completely controlled by reason, and man is saved by Divine Grace, not so much by feeling or passion as by the rational knowledge of God.

We must note here a point of great importance: art and philosophy and religion in any age are intimately related to the physical sciences and mathematics of that age. Changes in conceptions of the nature of physical things and phenomena give rise to changes in philosophy.

Democritus was the first Greek philosopher to present an atomic theory and formulate a particle physics somewhat like Newton’s. This physics could not satisfactorily account for incommensurable magnitudes. So it was superseded by the mathematical physics of Plato’s scientific Academy. This conceived of three-dimensional atoms as having the geometrical shapes of the five regular solids termed the Platonic bodies. A member of Plato’s Academy named Eudoxus who rigorously formulated what is known as the method of exhaustion (the Greek precursor of modern calculus) showed that for mathematical reasons Plato’s conception of nature was also untenable. As Aristotle said: “A view which asserts atomic bodies must needs come into conflict with the mathematical sciences.”

Now because atoms could not be seen directly, both Democritus and the Platonists introduced the very important distinction between the world as immediately sensed and the world as designated by mathematically formulated theories which could be experimentally verified by science. Hence Platonic and Augustinian doctrine laid down that the sensed world was not the real world. Thus too the sensed self of man is not his real self but merely the symbol of the real, immortal self. When Aristotle rejected the atomic theory, and therefore also the distinction between the sensed world and the real world, he was driven to say that the sensed world was the real world, and therefore all ideas in the intellect are first given through the senses. Augustinian doctrine had identified God and the divinity of Christ with the unsensed and unseen. This was a theoretic and philosophically postulated factor, not verifiable by direct sense observation. Hence to twelfth century Churchmen of the time, Abelard’s proposal to accept an Aristotelian basis was damned as the rankest heresy, for it seemed that such acceptance would utterly degrade God and Christ’s divinity. But Aristotle, in his mathematical and physical philosophy of prime matter and secondary matter, his continuous field theory in place of the atomic theory, and his doctrines of opposites, of positive form and form by privation, and of the fourfold theory of causes, replaced Platonic science with an acceptable and satisfying system. When European scholars like Albertus Magnus, through better acquaintance with Greek literature, saw that in Greek times Aristotelian science had indeed replaced Platonic science, Catholic doctors of learning and the Church itself came under the spell of Aristotle. St. Thomas Aquinas provided the theological structure on the Aristotelian basis. This has remained dominant up to date in Catholic orthodoxy. At the same time, however, the Platonic-Augustinian distinction between the sensed and real worlds still influences the entire thought of both Catholic and Protestant Christendom.

In the Aristotelian-Thomistic scheme, the soul of man is identified with the rational form of the living body, and God with the rational form of the universe. For Aristotle, “soul” meant the final form of the organism conceived as a causal principle determining its growth, development and characteristics. And for him, as it is also for the Thomistic Catholics today, the individual person was one substance, body and soul being its material and formal components. Aristotelian science shows also that the formal and final causes of all individual things fit together organically into a hierarchic unity and pattern. Goad conduct, “practical wisdom” as Aristotle called it, occurs only when man acts upon the basis of the scientifically verified hierarchical conception of his own nature. Since man, being limited, has only partly verified this conception, St. Thomas and his followers were able to express the distinction between reason and revelation in completely Aristotelian scientific terms. It is the function of revelation to make us continuously aware of the existence in perfection of the whole rational system or final cause of nature, which human beings, through science with its reason, know only in part.

We can now appreciate how the rational principle rises to dominance, in such a manner and to such an extent, that theology and philosophy and physical science, and the ordering of man’s everyday life come under its sway. To depart from the rule of Reason would almost be tantamount to treason against God. In Christendom, reason is exalted as man’s highest faculty, as the spiritual part of him, reflecting in some measure or other the Divine Mind. This contrasts with Indian teaching which postulates Spirit as something quite beyond the deep levels of the mind, something altogether over and beyond reason.

Modern science dethrones Aristotle. Copernicus, Galileo, Bacon, Descartes, and above all Newton found the new science. An atomic theory is once again propounded and Aristotle repudiated. According to the new science, sensed qualities like heat, colour and sound are the interpretations by the observer of different rates of vibration and do not reside in the external abject. So the question arises, what is the nature of the observer who projects back sensed qualities upon material objects, which in reality are devoid of these qualities? John Locke answered that the observer is an entity such that when the material objects in Newton’s mathematically defined space and time act upon it, it is conscious of colours, sounds, pains, pleasures and so on, in sensed space and time as appearances. This is precisely what Locke meant by a mental substance. It is a substance capable of consciousness which, when material substances affect it, is aware of qualities in sensed space and time as appearances. Thus reason in science and the philosophy of science provided Locke with “a new state of nature” and a new content for “the law of reason.” This prescribed a new idea of the good in religion and politics: namely, toleration rather than the theocratic rule of a Presbyterian magistrate or the divine right of the King’s Church of England, and popular democracy rather than Calvinistic theocracy or the divine right of kings defended by Filmer. As a consequence of the Lockean philosophical formulation of Newton’s mathematical science, the soul of man and the political person were identified with a single mental substance. The person’s body was, on the other hand, an aggregate of material substances or atoms moving in accordance with the mechanistic laws of Newton’s science. The person in his moral, religious and political aspects, and as the observer of nature, was the single mental substance. His body was his “property”, just as a house, similarly composed of material atoms, was his property.

Locke postulated each individual mental substance as being completely self-sufficient and independent. Hence each man, consulting his own soul introspectively, was the only judge of the correctness of his religion, and could not be shown to be incorrect by appeal to another man’s doctrine. Thereby Locke laid the philosophical foundation for the doctrine of complete religious toleration as a positive good, now taken so much for granted in several democratic societies.

Modem American democracy stems largely from John Locke. The celebrated author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, had scant respect for Aristotle’s political writings. J.C. Miller, in his Origins of the American Revolution, wrote, “If any one man can be said to have dominated the philosophy of the American Revolution, it is John Locke.” But Lockean philosophy also had its inadequacies, such as the impossibility of prescribing social. action for the good of the community, since each soul was a lonely mental atom quite unrelated to any other mental atom. Moreover, the philosophy had several other weak points. Locke and his successors — Hume, Berkeley, and the physiocrats Adam Smith, Ricardo, Bentham, Mill and Jevons — all influenced the shape and trend of Anglo-American culture in the direction of believing, and acting upon the belief, that good conduct, both for the individual and for the political and economic order, was free and independent individual activity, governed by the law of free competition. The ideas of Malthus and Darwin supported this view. Thus eighteenth and nineteenth century Christendom saw laissez-faire as perhaps never before or since in world history. America had no counter-influence derived from an ancient past. The only tradition governing the United States almost up to our own day is non-conformist Protestantism, and the Lockean and Humean laissez-faire assumptions of modern political and economic theory.

The contrast with Britain is stark. Graeco-Roman, Celtic and Teutonic influences, and both Augustinian-Platonic and Thomistic-Aristotelian Christian doctrine together with the rigidly authoritarian and hierarchic influence of the Church of Rome, went into moulding medieval “Merrie England.” Aristocratic socially, regal politically, and Roman Catholic in religion was English culture, like medieval culture generally. Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy in 1535 was intended to make the English people identify their religious loyalty with England; and with the inception of a Church of England with the sovereign as the Defender of the Faith, the severance from the Pope and the Church of Rome was sharply defined. But the attitude to religion as a whole — and this is the important point — was that a middle course should be steered between extreme Catholicism and extreme Protestantism. Edward VI’s reign exemplified the evils of extreme Protestantism, and that of his successor, Mary, of extreme Catholicism. But from the time of the great Elizabeth I, something like a tolerant, impartial attitude has prevailed, with a few exceptions here and there, during the last four centuries. And in Elizabeth’s reign, what was previously done for Catholicism by St. Thomas Aquinas with his Summa Theologica was done for Anglicanism by Richard Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity. This polity was anti-laissez-faire, and was organic and hierarchical; and though based on Aristotle, it also drew freely upon Greek and Roman classics, and Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Thus Hooker’s formulation was less rigid and more latitudinarian than St. Thomas’s, thereby marking the main difference between Catholicism and Anglicanism. The original ancestor in England of a Conservative was the Englishman who was a good patriot and a good Anglican, and who had a strong sense of responsibility for the welfare of all those who came under his wing. In fact, he contrasted somewhat with the Tory of later days.

Here we can appreciate the contrast between British democracy and American democracy. The culture of the United States, based so broadly on the Lockean idea of the equality of all men, tends to accentuate individual conformity and equality, and to regard government as a necessary evil. In Britain, partly due to Mill’s protagonism of individual uniqueness as being good, English culture fosters individual independence and differences, and regards government as a positive good, for it is the instrument for peacefully introducing and firmly establishing changes for the benefit of society.

Despite the changes affected by the advance of science upon political and economic conceptions, and upon social relations, hardly any change was made in religious beliefs in so far as belief in the Bible was concerned. Of course there had been changes in belief accompanying the theological changes marking the history of the Christian Churches. But it was not till the mid-nineteenth century that Darwin’s Origin of Species seriously shook belief in the literal truth of such matters as the Creation of the world as stated in Genesis. The materialist scientific attitude steadily gained ground, together with an ill-founded optimism that the mysteries of life would be unravelled in no long time, and the triumph of human reason would be absolute. Also, men’s confidence grew in what they called progress, a progress which would soon establish the millennium of happiness and peace and well-being.

The end of the nineteenth century gave man his first peepinto the new world of the atom, though alas! folding up the sky of this new world has been tantamount in some respects to lifting the lid of Pandora’s box. In the twentieth century there is Einstein’s Relativity Theory and his faith in the principle of causality, and there is Heisenberg’s Principle of Indeterminacy. Thus it appears that, whilst causality and predictability hold in the sphere of molar or macroscopic physics, indeterminacy and unpredictability hold in the sphere of microscopic physics. This does not mean that the world of the atom is a lawless world — it has its own mathematics, and mathematics lies under the sway of reason — but it does mean that the strict mechanical causality which we associate with the realm of molar physics cannot be associated in the same way with the atomic world.

Thus modern science has led men like Bergson, Lloyd Morgan, Alexander and others to present conceptions of God very different from the religious conceptions which have prevailed over the centuries. For instance, Alexander has postulated “space-time” as the matrix out of which the universe has evolved. Life, mind and consciousness “emerge” out of this matrix. Alexander endows them all with spatio-temporal qualities, thus preserving the continuity of “point-instants”. Finally, God is a creature of the space-time matrix, not a creator of the world, not a finished being but an eternal becoming. He is the crown and fulfilment of emergent evolution. And yet Alexander cannot do without postulating Deity as the driving force behind this emergent world-process. And also, when he deals with values, he cannot fully objectify them, but suggests that they arise out of the relation of mind to its objects, and that they depend, not so much upon the individual, as upon collective consciousness, that is, they emerge out of mind through the socialization of individual consciousness. It seems as if Alexander, as also Lloyd Morgan, tends to move up to Bergson’s Creative Evolution.

Now let us consider that third source mentioned earlier from which our religious conceptions derive, namely the attempt to convey to others the experience of superconsciousness, which is the experience of God.

At all periods during the last six or seven thousand years, there has been a small number of persons whose main interest and pursuit was to discover the meaning of life, its purpose and its goal, the way to reach that goal, and thus find a permanent serenity and satisfaction. They longed to triumph over sin and evil, sorrow and pain, and above all over death. Unless they could do this, existence was one long suffering. For suffering comes in a multitude of ways. It comes through disease and accident, hunger and cold, anxiety and fear; through not having one’s proper place in society, through not being appreciated, through lack of friendship, through the unendurable laceration of unrequited love. Suffering comes when man starts making distinctions on the basis of sense-observation and discursive thought, denominating this as good, and that as bad — in other words, eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Suffering comes when man starts asking questions and is unable to find satisfactory answers; or when he finds that what satisfies in one context breaks down under different circumstances, or is in conflict with the rest of his psycho-physical being, or cannot be harmonized with those invincible intimations of truth which strike him like beams of quenchless light from the deathless immortal.

Further, the pleasure-pain mechanism of man’s bodily being makes him acutely aware of the overwhelming tide of sensational existence throughout his daily life, a tide made up of an endless number of beginnings and endings, of births and deaths, which have but petty meanings, if any at all, in the context of fulfilment. Look where he may, he sees the grin of the Lord of Death spread over the spatio-temporal universe. All his pleasures and hopes and joys and successes, his moods of exaltation, his vision of things beautiful, in short his entire range of mortal experience, is only a kaleidoscopic deathful procession. For a single ghostly moment, he approaches near the Eternal, and feels a touch of the supreme Godhead, only to fall back into this glamorous darkness of laughter and tears, of yea and nay, of the ecstasy of love, and the crushing doom of frustrated longing.

And so through the ages some men felt that if only they could break the thorny bounds of ignorance, fling away the fetters of mortality and triumph over the Lord of Death, they would assuredly win the beatific experience of the immortal, and realise here-now that freedom and serenity which is ineffable bliss.

Listen to that beautiful hymn in the Rig-veda sung by that inspired poet-seer, Kasyapa the son of Marichi: “O Pavamana, place me in that deathless, undecaying realm, wherein the light of heaven is set and everlasting lustre shines … Make me immortal in that realm where dwells the King, Vivasvan’s son … where (there) is the secret shrine of heaven … Make me immortal in that realm where they move even as they list, in the third sphere of inmost heaven where lucid worlds are full of light”.

A few of those who sought succeeded in making their way into this “third sphere of inmost heaven”, and realized immortality here-now. Thus they transcended the sorrowful round of births and deaths, or in Orphic-Pythagorean terms, escaped from this “burdensome circle of lamentation”.

What precisely does all this mean?

Throughout our life, our ordinary awareness is characterized by succession. In the usual way, we are aware of every experience, thought or mood as something which begins, proceeds and comes to an end. Uprising-proceeding-ending, or birth-death, in constant succession, distinguishes the nature of our ordinary awareness of our whole existence. In other words, as we are at present, we are usually conscious in the mode of mortality of a space-time world. This constant, unbidden uprising-proceeding-ending, this endless, uncontrollable stream of births and deaths which flows on as our own moment-to-moment consciousness during the single lifetime of our own psycho-physical organism, is a real meaning of the doctrine of rebirth, a doctrine so misunderstood all over the world. The Maitri Upanishad says: “Samsara is just one’s own thought”. The Sandilya Upanishad says: “When the fluctuations of the mind cease, this cycle of births and deaths comes to an end”. As long as all that makes up our existence is apprehended by us in the mode of mortality, we regard the whole process as samsara. Every entity, every speech-thought structure, is an item of our mortality.

How do we release ourselves out of this prison-house of mortality? The broad elements of the way to liberation consist in moral and intellectual discipline, and in developing the power to pay attention. The moral discipline means virtue, active virtue. Above all it means freeing ourselves from egoism, and from craving for any and every form of sensational existence, that is, from craving for sense satisfactions, for power, for possessions, for becoming a particular kind of person, for knowledge and wisdom, and for saintship or for union with God. For craving is our most powerful binder to the condition of mortality. Hence it is necessary to become disinterested in all worldliness, that is, disinterested not in the world and in the daily business of living rightly, but in our cravings in relation to the world. This is the true mortification.

The essential part of the intellectual discipline is the process of becoming free of all bias and prejudices, all preconceptions and assumptions. The moral as well as the intellectual discipline is effected by continuous and dispassionate observation of one’s own thoughts and actions, feelings and desires. Such observation was termed perfect mindfulness, samma sati, by the Buddha. Jesus taught: “Watch, therefore”. This observation, without censure or praise, enables us to know ourselves, to know human nature, to understand the entire psychological process that goes on in our own minds. It enables us to become free of repression and resentments, psychoses and neuroses; of complexes, misperceptions, misinterpretations and misuses by the mind. In short, the mind and heart — or if you prefer the term, the soul — is completely healed, purified, made strong, made perfectly clear-seeing. It is no longer subject to fantasies when awake, or to dreams when asleep. It can no longer be trapped in the cobwebs of attractive theories; it will no longer be rigidly bound to any hypothesis. It will have become free, pure, healthy, poised, awake and capable. A person possessed of such a mind is the manasaputra, the Son of Mind — in Christian terminology, the Son of Man. “Watch therefore; for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh”. A person possessed of this pure mind — the Vohu Mano or Good Mind as Zarathushtra taught — is the one who has again become as a little child, fit to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

With the mind thus purified and prepared, the yogi pays attention. Attention to what? To nothing in particular, nothing in general. For all things, whether things of matter or things of mind, are all limited entities, subject to the Lord of Death. But the mystic seeks the Transcendent, the beyond-thing, which is the realization of the Immortal. He seeks it through meditation, prayer, samadhi, communion, call it what you will.

Let us consider only the final step, for we have insufficient time at our disposal for an exposition of the intermediate steps.

Just as Adam falls from grace according to the Judaeo-Christian tradition, so too Yima falls according to the Iranian tradition. Adam’s fall is redeemed, successively, by Enoch, Elijah and Jesus, Yima’s fall by Zarathushtra. But in the Rig-vedic tradition about Yama, there is no fall. Yama, it is taught, chooses death, abandons his body and passes to the inner world, and is given lordship over the highest of the three heavens. Yama becomes the Master of Death, not to be confused with Mrityu or Mara, the death-dealer. Yama chooses death — that is, he frees himself from all bondage to the sense-life and worldly values. He grows to understand that the cycle of births and deaths is the stream of samsara in his own moment-to-moment consciousness, the stream which flows unbidden. He learns through discipline to master the unbidden flow of discursive thought, and to enter and abide in the profounder states of consciousness. At last he is able, in full self-possession, to die altogether to mortal consciousness, that is, whilst fully awake, to completely stop the flow of feeling and discursive thought. In other words, he completely transcends the awareness of existence in terms of entity, which is limitation and mortality. This is the meaning of Yama abandoning his body and passing to the inner world. This inner world is not the world of exalted feelings, nor of discursive thought however profound, nor of trances, nor of any of the visions and ecstasies of the saints. All these latter belong to the sphere of mortality, for in all of them one is aware in the mode of uprising-proceeding-dying. But when, fully awake, the flow of discursive thought is deliberately stopped, then there is no uprising-proceeding-dying in one’s consciousness. This is the full asamprajnata samadhi of the Hindu, the Eighth or Final Deliverance of the Buddha. It is the actual condition of Revelation. It is Superconsciousness, the transcendent awareness in terms of “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be”, all in simultaneity, in wholeness. And this, wherein all discursive thought is completely stilled, and all birth and death is overleaped, is the full experience and meaning of immortality. Time and space, the precondition for bodily being, pain and pleasure or stimulus-response, the touchstone of our psycho-physical life, and good and evil as we know them here, are all transcended, and you eat the fruit of the Tree of Life which stands in the self-same garden in which stands the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And that garden of Eden is your own bodily being.

This attainment of Superconsciousness is the meaning of Yama being granted lordship over the highest of the three heavens, and of his becoming the Master of Death.

When you realize Superconsciousness, you have made real the Silence, for all the noise of the mental chatter which is the expression of your mortal awareness of an entity universe is stilled. Now you are the fully Self-awakened One, the Enlightened One, the Anointed One. You have transformed your mortal awareness of a space-time world into the immortal Superconsciousness of eternal existence. Well may you triumphantly cry “O death, where is they sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” This entry into Superconsciousness is the meaning of “And Enoch walked with God; and Enoch was not, for God took him” before the death of the person called Enoch; the meaning of Elijah being transported to heaven in a chariot of fire; the meaning of “Be still and know that I am God.” The entry into Superconsciousness is the meaning of both the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus; the meaning of his words “And now I am no more in the world … and I come to Thee”, and of his great affirmation “I and my Father are One”, which the Hindus before him expressed as “Pratyagatman and Paramatman are One.” This Superconsciousness is the meaning of that sentence in the Rig-veda, “We have drunk Soma and become immortal”; the meaning of those phrases in the Upanishads, realizing the Atman, knowing Brahman, becoming Brahman. It is the meaning of the words in the Aitareya Upanishad of the 8th century B . C . that “Vamadeva having said this ascended aloft and became immortal” — the Ascension is indeed a very ancient symbolical doctrine. This Superconsciousness was known to the Egyptian initiates; it was the supreme mystery which was kept secret in the Mystery cults of ancient civilizations; it was experienced four times by Plotinus and once by Porphyry. This Superconsciousness is the very heart of the Enlightenment of the Buddha; it is the true meaning of Nirvana here-now; it is the Kingdom of Heaven within you. This is the meaning of Eternal Life, the meaning of immortality, the meaning of God-realization or of union with God. It is the supreme religious experience.

In that Superconsciousness, all that our sublimest thought and our most profound intuitions have grasped are as nought. There is no God there, the God of our conceptions; there is no time, no space. You by virtue of having become the Absolute Good are united with the ceaseless creativeness of all existence with the as-it-is-in-itselfness of existence. You, the within-the-self Infinite, are one with the Infinite which is the Universal Transcendent.

Whosoever realizes Superconsciousness is the embodied Revelation, the fount and source of religion. The attainment of Superconsciousness, which is the experience of the Silence, the Void, the Plenum, the Infinite, the Absolute, is the source-experience from which have emerged the deep teachings embodied in words like Atman and Brahman, Godhead and God, Eternity and Immortality, the Kingdom of Heaven and Nirvana, soul and spirit, and all other similar words which are current specie on the counters of theology and philosophy.

Now we can see that the inspired utterances of the great teachers are the first translations of the experience of Superconsciousness from the infinite realm of the immortal into the limited sphere of the mortal. They are the attempt to infuse the transcendent reality of unitary, eternal being into the common reality of multitudinous, transient entities. As pointed out earlier, speech-thought is the means for re-presenting our awareness of existence in terms of name-form. Thus these religious truths which are formulated for our guidance to salvation are like crucified fragments of Divine Ideation. Nevertheless, these fragments which fall from the lips of the great teachers, our most precious heritage through all time, are glowing pointers of light brightening the path we should tread, if indeed we seek the realization of eternal life. But there are always those men — and they are legion — who wish to relate the heart of religion to the knowledge which is the fruit of searching for what is other than man’s spiritual fulfilment. Let us then clearly understand the nice distinction between the heart of religion on the one hand, and science, philosophy and theology on the other. Functioning within the sphere of sense-activity and discursive thought, restless, probing intellect poses many questions. These questions as well as their answers lie within the realm of speech-thought. All philosophy and science is a speech-thought product of the effort by man as he is, viz. a person capable of being conscious in the mode of mortality only, to comprehend what he wishes to comprehend. In contrast to this, the heart of religion is concerned with changing the comprehender. It is concerned with perfecting his character, so that he plumbs the depth of selflessness and stands on the height of sinlessness. It is concerned with enabling him to realize God-communion, union with Brahman. And so, the heart of religion enables a man to transform his mortal awareness of a space-time world into the immortal Superconsciousness of eternal existence.

Now, because there are those who wish to make and possess a philosophic system, a verbal system, answering questions about the heart of religion in a manner satisfying the discursive intellect, and formulated in the context of the limited and the particular, a theology comes into being. A theology is an exposition of religious conceptions; and we have already seen, earlier, in this talk, how scientific thought affects the formulation of a theology.

Modern science is presenting new world-views, and these views compel a reformation of religious conceptions. A new and suitable theological formulation will have to arise. Only forward steps can be taken, or else there is decay and death. Catholic orthodoxy, for example, cannot go back, as it is trying to do in some quarters, to Thomistic Aristotelianism in the face of modern science. All forward movement entails sacrifices — but remember that pure and holy sacrifices are gains, not losses, growth, not stultification. Let me mention only one of the sacrifices necessary today: it is the sacrifice of exclusiveness, and all that is implied in it.

Spiritual and religious tension today is greater than ever before in the world’s history because our progress has pushed us to the very frontiers in several ways. The globe is known, space is by-passed, time is foreshortened, matter is transformed into immaterial but harnessable energy, and strange new realms of the mind are being explored. Today is the fateful moment of opportunity. No new religious formulation which is merely a construct of the discursive mind will prove to be the spring waters of the spirit. That way will lie only frustration and suffering. Mankind fundamentally needs to be reminded that the heart of religion is concerned with the realization of Superconsciousness. This means the stopping of the flow of discursive thought; it means a ceasing to churn up the oceans of words and to produce philosophies and theologies which have forgotten the real meanings of immortality and eternal life. When proper account is taken of this truth, and when each one of us individually lives the good life and successfully reaches the end of the road, we ourselves shall realize here-now that ineffable felicity which is ‘the transcendental consummation of our human existence. And this is the most powerful, the most swift and the most practical way in which we can promote the greatest good of all mankind.

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