Christian Culture — A Way of Life for All?
A lecture delivered by Phiroz Mehta at Attingham Park, Shropshire on 26th February 1956 as part of a conference on ‘Christianity and Politics’
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and might.”
“Love your neighbour as yourself.”
You, as Christians, will recognize this as the foundation stone of Christ’s teaching, indeed, as the very essence of the Christ nature. Whoso is the living embodiment of this is a Son of God. Whoso radiates this reality in his own daily life is a true Christian exemplifying the perfect meaning of Christian Culture.
The heart of the good news which Jesus proclaimed was that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. When he was asked where was the kingdom of God, he answered:
“The Kingdom of God is within you.”
The question, “How do you make yourself fit to enter the kingdom of heaven, to receive the kingdom of God?” is answered, largely, in one word: Repent. The creed of Christ is summed up in the Lord’s Prayer, and the heart of his code in the Beatitudes.
The Christian religion has grown out of the teachings and out of the life and example of Jesus Christ. Many cultural influences have played upon it, sometimes adding to its growth, sometimes changing it; and even today it is still growing, still changing. Thus Christian culture has seen changes in accordance with the influences that have played upon the Master’s original teachings, and with the different ways in which God and Christ, and Nature and Man have been interpreted. First and foremost is the influence of the Hebraic heritage. This bequeathed to Jesus himself the conception of the One God who was constantly concerned with human history, of God as father, the commandments to love God and one’s neighbour, and the Messianic idea. But whereas the Jewish Messianic expectation was that a son of David would come in power and glory and establish a dominion under himself as the king of the Jews, Jesus largely transformed this into the conception, and fact, that the kingdom of God is realized by being the suffering, sinless servant of God. In other words, not the material, political, self-asserting Messiah, but the spiritual, loving, self-effacing Messiah was the role which Jesus fulfilled, thus defeating the temptation of sovereignty throughout his life. Jesus, however, did not erase but actually lent support to the apocalyptic view of history, and of the history of the near future at that. Consequently, the new-born religion first flowed into the mould of apocalyptic Messianism. But when Jesus’ prediction remained unfulfilled even by the end of the first century, it broke its first mould. When the new religion moved into Europe, its affinity with Platonism could not be denied. St. Paul first formulated Christian doctrine, and the Pauline formulation is largely Platonic. St. John’s gospel develops Pauline Platonism. In the 3rd century a definite school of Christian Platonism flourished under Clement of Alexandria and Origen. The next great influence was that of Plotinus as evidenced by Gregory of Nyassa, Basil, and St. Augustine. Indeed, Rudolf Eucken considered that Plotinus exercised a greater influence than any other thinker upon Christian theology. Boethius, Scotus Erigena and the great Eckhart owed much to Plotinus.
Thus, as the early centuries rolled on, the original teachings of Jesus were being related to already existing religious and philosophical teachings, giving rise to a Christian philosophy or metaphysic and to Christian mysticism. Besides Hellenistic thought, Gnosticism, Philonism, Mithraism, and various Alexandrian schools contributed here. But Christian doctrine did not grow as a single doctrine. Dissident views emerged. Rome became full of churches, catering for Marcionites, Modalists, and Gnostics of various sects (Harnack, The Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries, Volume II, 1906, p. 385). The Catholics, however, were the most powerful, for Decius (according to Cyprian, Ep. 55, 9) said he would rather have a rival emperor at Rome than the Pope. The Christians were hated not especially by the educated and official classes but by the mob which disliked the position Christianity gave to slaves and women, and the condemnation which it pronounced upon the cruel amusements of the populace. The dislike of the mob slowly diminished after the middle of the 3rd century. The Church dispensed with much of its Jewish severity. Like contemporary society, it was developing a hierarchical organization, and was increasingly receiving support from all classes. Exercising a certain tolerance, it met paganism more than half-way by its local cults of saints and martyrs, by its sacramental doctrine, by its encouragement of relic and charms, and in other ways. Its annual festivals became more and more like the festi dies of the old worship. All this meant that more and more people joined the Church without understanding what Christianity really signified. But there were differences also between Christianity and the rival religions. In Christianity there was no blood sacrifice, no phallic element in worship; and because of its Semitic root it was opposed to Hellenistic polytheism to the degree of narrow-mindedness. Further, all Christians stood out against gladiatorial shows, slavery, and paying divine honour to the Roman Caesar.
Christianity was thus a rebellious and destructive force towards a pagan Rome. Naturally there was persecution, first officially organized by Decius (200–249–251) in the mid-third century, with the era of the great martyrs following under Diocletian from 303 onwards. But Constantine the Great recognized that, though rebellious and destructive to Rome, Christianity was a unifying and organizing force within its own communion. It was a growing force. It had already expanded its domains as far as Persia and Central Asia. It had, in fact, very early in its history, penetrated into India, the only country which, true to its ago-long traditions, received the new-born religion with open arms. Constantine saw that Christianity alone could organize the will of the people, and that it provided the only hope of moral solidarity in the prevailing welter of ideas and of self-seeking. He claimed that the God of the Christians had fought for him in his victory at the Milvian Bridge (312) in the battle for Rome. This put Christianity firmly on its feet for the first time in Rome. Constantine (b. 274, d. 337) afterwards began to see the fierce dissensions among Christian theologians. His effort at reconciliation led to the famous Council of Nicea in 325.What emerged from here, the Nicene Creed, in which the Trinitarian conception of Athanasius won the day against the Arian belief, marked the exact definition of Christian doctrine. From then on the Christian Church became a world force dominantly affecting European history. In later years, St. Augustine’s treatment in his book The City of God of the political ideas of worldly rule by the Church developed into definite political theory and practice. But the millennium in Europe from the fifth to the fifteenth centuries was the record of the failure of the idea of a divine world government to fulfil itself in practice (St. Augustine, 353–430).
The Christian doctrine which emerged from Nicea presented marked contrass to the teachings of that Jewish Rabbi who was called the Son of God. Jesus of Nazareth gave a prophetic teaching like his Jewish forerunners. He sent out his disciples as preachers of sermons, not as priests performing ceremonies in consecrated temples, or making sacrifices at altars. But fourth-century Christianity was a priestly religion which had taken over sacerdotal magic from other religions and had a complex organization of bishops, priests and deacons. Also, its doctrines took over much from other religions and added them to the teachings of the first and greatest Christian. Constantine, desiring to stamp out all controversy, independent thinking and opposition, by forcibly imposing a dogmatic creed upon all believers, injected into the Catholic Church the disposition to be authoritative and unquestioned in its teachings, autocratic and despotic in its practical dealings. After Constantine, Theodosius the Great (346–379–395) fostered this disposition.
In the 6th and 7th centuries Europe sank into social disorder. It had a slum morale. The social and economic structure of the Roman empire was in ruins. Slowly, Christianity tried to restore the lost sense of community. It taught men to rally around the idea of Christendom. In the work of reconstruction, the monastic orders which now began to rise up played an important part. St Benedict (480–544) discouraged solitary self torture, insisted upon hard work, and exercised a beneficial influence in politics. Pope Gregory the Great, a prominent follower of St Benedict, sent successful missions to the unconverted, particularly to the Anglo-Saxons, and imposed the whole Benedictine rule upon the whole of Latin monasticism. Cassiodorus (490–585), concerned by the widespread decay of education and the possible loss of all learning, directed his brethren to preserve and restore these things. He exercised a great influence in making monasticism a powerful instrument for recreating social order. The monasteries became great centres of cultivation, learning, useful arts, and of a way of life which could be distinctively called Christian culture. In time the early universities sprang up. Although one of the first European universities, Cordoba, was founded by the Moslem Umayyud dynasty ruling in Andalusia, the others, such as Padua, Bologna, Oxford and Cambridge are of Catholic foundation. They exercised an immeasurably far-reaching influence, not only upon European history, but upon the whole of Christian culture. And the learning was grounded in the theology of the Catholic Church.
The common saying that European civilization is founded upon Greek culture and Christianity is, like all similar sayings, only a partial expression of the truth. Nevertheless, it is sufficient for us, in the broad, to accept this statement as a working basis. Now when we say Greek culture, we refer on the one hand to a Greece which consisted of several independent city-states, which rested its material greatness upon slavery, and which has a popular polytheism as the religion of the masses; and we also refer on the other hand to a Greece whose name is synonymous with some of the world’s most wonderful literature, sculpture and architecture, with games and athletics and the joy of living, and above all, with philosophy. In the context of our present considerations we must particularly note two men: Plato and Aristotle. With their names let us link the names of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, for the simple reason that the original Catholic orthodoxy was Augustinian Platonism, and this was practically superseded almost a millennium later by Thomistic Aristotelianism, which survives practically to this day as the dominant 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, and which 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 principle 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 — 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 propounded the male as good. Thus in orthodox western Christian religion, both Catholic and Protestant, the Divine is restored 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, at this stage, 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 conception of the nature of physical things and phenomena give rise to changes in philosophy. Amongst the Greeks, Democritus was the first 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 (a Greek equivalent 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.” (De Caelo, 303 a 21.)
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 Augustian 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 and 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. Augustian doctrine had identified God and the divinity of Christ with the un-sensed and unseen. This was a theoretic and philosophically postulated factor, not verifiable by direct observations by the senses. Hence to 12th century churchmen of the time, Abelard’s proposal to accept an Artistotelian basis was damned as the rankest heresy, for it seem 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 world 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, the word ‘soul’ meant the final form of the organism, form being conceived as a causal principle determining the growth, development and characteristics of the organism. And for him, as it also is 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. Good 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, that is, God, which human beings, through science with its reason, know only in part.
The birth of modern experimental science in the 16th century and its subsequent swift growth exposed the inadequacies of Artistotelian science. Descartes’ (1596–1650) doctrine of material and mental substances, and his follower Malebranche’s (1638–1715) theory of mind and matter as an occasion of the activity of God, had a great influence upon John Locke (1632–1704). Newton (1642–1727), following the scientific work of Galileo (1564–1642) and Huygens (1629–1695), provided in his Principia (1687) the mathematics and physics which formed the basis of Locke’s philosophy. According to Galileo and Newton’s physics, sensed colours, sounds, tastes, smells, and warmth do not characterize material objects, but are mere appearances projected back upon material objects by the observer. Newton went a step further when he said that sensed space and time are also appearances. So Newton propounded his absolute, true, mathematical space and time, in contrast to the relative, apparent, common space and time of personal experience. The former world is mathematically postulated by rational thought and verified by experimental science; the latter world of personal experience is the one aesthetically sensed by sight, sound, touch and so on. So the question arose, what is the nature of the observer who projects back sensed qualities upon material objects which in reality are devoid of the qualities, for what we sense as qualities are mere motion, are simply rates of vibration giving us the impression of colour when apprehended by our eyes, of sound by our ears, and so on.
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: in religion, toleration rather than the theocratic rule of a Presbyterian magistrate or the divine right of the king’s Church of England; in politics, popular democracy rather than Calvinistic theocracy or the divine right of kings defended by Filmer. As a consequence of the Lockean 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 the 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 foundations for the doctrine of complete religious toleration as a positive good, now taken so much for granted in several democratic societies.
Modern 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 wrote in his Origins of the American Revolution:
“If any one man can be said to have dominated the philosophy of the American Revolution it is John Locke.”
But Lockean philosophy also has its inadequacies, such as the impossibility of prescribing social action for the good of the community, since each soul was a lonely 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 18th and 19th century Christendom saw laissez-faire as 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 was 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 the moulding of mediaeval merrie England. Aristocratic socially, regal politically, and Roman Catholic in religion was English culture, like mediaeval 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 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 Roman 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.
Liebnitz and Kant revealed the incapacity of either Locke’s or Hume’s philosophy to account for mathematics and mathematical physics. Kant transformed modern western Man’s conception of himself from a merely passive to a systematically active and creative being. Kant and his successors, Fichte and Hegel, and in contrast to them, Feuerbach and Marx, laid the foundation stones of German idealism and Kultur, and Russian Communism.
How now shall I, a simple man from India, speak of this great culture? Look at its achievements in the world of learning, knowledge, science, exploration, discovery and invention! Look at its great architectural monuments! Read its erudite philosophies and its incomparable literature and hear its music! Look at its industry and commerce, its vast enterprises and its giant activities! Look at its law and order, its education and reform, its immense striving and progress! Look at it as it stands today, rich and dominant in the world! See the complete polities and economies of the great Christian nations! Consider the humanitarian work in medicine and science, by individuals and societies and governments! Observe how some Christian nations uphold freedom, so that Telispero Garcia in Mexico could write in La Libertad in the latter part of the last century:
“In the country where positivism is rooted in the national character, where it enjoys its proper status, where the experimental method is applied to all the manifestations of life, in short, in England, there is the more security of liberty and the greater guarantee of right.”
…whereas countries such as:
“Germany, the cradle of the absolute idealisms; France, mother of all the absolute rights; Spain, Italy and the other nations which nursed themselves at the breast of those beauties which the Sr. Gabilando is afraid to see disappear from this land, have been the victims of every sort of tyranny.”
Is it easy then to speak of Christian culture? I might liken it to a marvellous cathedral: or to a woodland rich in the variety of its beautiful trees and its native flowers: or to an extraordinary human being possessed of wonderful abilities. Yet one thing there is to which I cannot liken Christendom: the heart of Jesus Christ. And if now it is asked whether Christian culture can be a way of life for all human beings in the world, and further if it is asked whether the exclusive claim of supremacy, of truth, of finality made by Christians on behalf of both Christ and Christianity is at all acceptable or would stand investigation, the unequivocal answer of the non-Christian world is a decided “No!”
Very early in this talk attention was drawn to the commandments in Deuteronomy and Leviticus to love God and our neighbour, which Jesus strongly emphasised in his own teaching. We do know the beautiful ways in which Christendom has exemplified, and today is fulfilling, this divine command, obedience to which spells true freedom. But we also know the wars, cruelties, intolerances, barbarities and hatreds of which Christendom cannot be acquitted. We know of Crusades, Inquisitions, the Thirty Years’ War, the Slave Trade, Racialism, political and economic self-aggrandisement by dominating other peoples, militant evangelism, the lawless and conscienceless robbery of other continents and the inhuman savaging of the cultures which flourished in those lands, the endless internecine strife between Christian nations and between the denominations of the Christian religion itself. We see no grounds for the assumption that no other religion taught love as Christianity does, and that no other teacher exemplified love as Jesus Christ did. Non-Christians request you to cease flaunting words like agape and charis. The Brahmaputras, or Sons of God, who taught in India for at least two millennia before the birth of Jesus, could not realize their son-ship without agape and charis. It may be gently suggested that you read the Vedas — but read with an enlightened mind or else it were useless to read —and see for yourselves whether even the earliest teachings on love were short of fullness. Read of Love as the all-encompassing, supreme Value expounded by Yājñavalkya in the Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad. Read the many teachings of the Buddha on Love. Read the wealth of teachings on Love in the Hindu scriptures and in the Chinese teachings, and see for yourselves, after cleansing the heart of prejudices and assumptions, whether they are short of the Christian teaching in content. See, too, for yourselves, the innumerable exemplifications of Love in other lands by other people, and see, with clear-seeing eyes, if they are not as wonderfully glowing as the heart of Jesus.
Jesus triumphed over the temptation of sovereignty. He lived the life of poverty. But the Church assumed unbestowed power and became a self-authorised sovereign body. It has exercised and continues to exercise sovereignty. It possesses and administers wealth, even worldly wealth. Jesus had no vested interest whatsoever — thus only was it possible for him to be the unresisting instrument of God’s Will, and teach God’s Word by living the godly life. Can the same be said of Christendom? Has not Christendom displayed, far more successfully than any non-Christian culture, how the worldly pursuit of wealth and power has been the dominant drive animating most of the activities of Christian peoples? We do not see how this is in harmony with entering the kingdom of heaven by means of repentance, and by following the example of the Master and his apostles. Remember, Jesus did suggest it was slightly inconvenient for the rich to attempt entry into heaven. Yājñavalkya taught in India many centuries before Jesus that there was no hope of immortality through wealth; and the Buddha made absolute poverty — complete non-possession in every sense — one of the rules for the members of his Order. Wealth, goods, pleasures, achievements are all part of the determinate and therefore mortal aspect of things. Attachment to them means bondage to mortality, to suffering and anxiety, and to a state of sin, which means that state of awareness which is insensible to the ever present reality of God; insensible because you have been seduced by the glamour of temporal things, the vain trinkets of the Lord of Death. Where is the repentance if we do not turn away from attachment to the ephemeral?
Jesus never propounded a philosophy nor laid down any dogmatic doctrines. Instead, He gave authoritative teachings, as in his beatitudes, of the Way which led to the realization of the Kingdom of Heaven. He spoke, in the Jewish way, of God who is the father in heaven. But St. Paul clothed the naked word made flesh of Jesus’ teaching partly in the garments of Platonic philosophy. He introduced the idea of a sacrificial person, offered up to God as an atonement for sin. The man Jesus replaced the bull of Mithras. In time, the Christian Trinity because the analogue of the older, and in some respects more complete Hindu Trinity of Brahmā, Viṣṇu, Śiva. The other Trinity of God, the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ was the analogue of the Alexandrine Serapis-Isis-Horus.
Whereas with Jesus God has to be the experience of immediate realization here-now, Christian doctrine laid down that Jesus Christ and the Church were indispensable intermediaries between man and God for a fulfilment not possible here and now but only in a spiritual world after death. Theologians and doctrinaires quote the Bible to the effect that no man hath seen God, or that no man can see God and live. But Jesus himself taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” He also taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” Who is he, here or elsewhere, who will sit in judgement and say, “This one or that one is not sinless, has not made the peace?” For which man can dare to judge unless he himself be sinless and have made peace, and therefore be qualified to judge? And if he be one who is indeed sinless and has made peace, he, I assure you, will not sit in judgement on his brother.
Please permit me a short digression here. My critical remarks have no sting to them. We do not sit in judgement upon you, for it would be sinful to do so. Who are we? We are as yourselves: human beings, fellow pilgrims on various paths leading to the single summit of the supreme fulfilment. From that summit we all see only one view, however different the narrower views may be from different points on the various paths. Let us meet together in living fraternity on the summit. And in order to meet thus, let us ponder in our hearts over what each of us brings as the treasured essence of his own realization for cheering and helping all others.
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; to find a happiness and peace, a satisfaction that would last always; to triumph over sin and evil, sorrow and pain; to realize immortality. Far back in time, some of these persons discovered that by pacifying the superficial and chaotic activity of the senses, by purifying the mind of all bias, prejudices, preconceptions and assumptions, and by becoming free of all desire or lust and of all egoism, they became aware of existence in a different way. What is this different way? Our normal awareness functions in the mode of mortality. That is to say, we do not have, excepting in rare moments, a full consciousness of the eternal as underlying, permeating and transcending the temporal. Our consciousness flits from event to event, mood to mood, thought to thought, wholly wrapped up in this ephemeral, deterministic and inevitably mortal becoming-process which is universal manifestation. Thus we are aware in endless succession of pleasures, pains, hopes, fears, anxieties, successes, failures, joys, griefs, depressions, elations, in short of the entire range of the infinitude of mortal experience. Over all of it, Death is Lord. Even our worship, our adoration of what we call Immortal God, is but a temporary thought and a transient emotion, to be replaced soon, all too soon, by the kaleidoscopic, deathful procession. You approach near to the eternal for one phantasmal instant, you experience a flash of the Light of the Godhead for a single ghostly moment, only to fall back into this glamorous darkness of laughter and tears, of yea and nay, of the rose and the thorn, of the ecstasy of love and the unendurable laceration of frustrated longing, all, all, the sphere of the Lord of Death, the womb and also the world of suffering, the suffering which measures our painful distance from the supreme Reality, from blissful immortality.
But those who trod the Way I briefly mentioned a moment ago — and each of several paths is that self-same Way — went all through this world of experience; they plunged into the fires of hell; they ascended the heights of heaven and roamed through those realms which, with charming symbolism, are named the easeful home of angelic hosts; and slowly they who trod the Way became free of this world, of the underworld and also of the heavenly world. They discovered that all these spring from the activity of the discursive mind, the activity of speech-thought; and as such, back into the mind they sink, ephemeral, deathful. Thus all the seductive patterns of speech and thought and described feelings, whether presented as profound theology, sublime philosophy, ravishing art, wonderful science, noble deeds of loving service and all the rest of them, beautiful and necessary as they are, are but mortal man’s temporal creations, useful for a time, but which must be transcended if immortality you seek.
A few of those men and women who trod the Way realized that immortality. They became enlightened and experienced the significance of Supreme Godhead — not merely determinate, theoretically deduced, rationally postulated God, but the unspeakable Godhead, the Nameless One in which God, Christian or Moslem, Trinity or Single Being, is subsumed. Those few persons, by treading the Way to the end, were able, here-now, to become aware of existence in a different way. They were able to still the flow of discursive thought in full waking consciousness. In other words, they transcended the temporal succession of uprising-proceeding-ending, that is, of the endless round of births and deaths in their own moment-to-moment consciousness. Thus consciousness was transformed into super-consciousness, which functions in the mode of immortality. In super-consciousness, you are aware of existence in its wholeness, its full integration, and not as a collection of bits and pieces, not as a unidirectional succession of events, not as a recapitulation of the past by means of memory nor a function of the future through anticipation. In super-consciousness, your awareness is at one with the ceaseless creativity of all existence — this is a true meaning of omnipotence, negating the immature conception of a determinate God being able to do what he pleases; your awareness is at one with the as-it-is-in-itself-ness of the totality of existence — this is a true meaning of omnipotence, negating the absurd idea of a universal, encyclopaedic factual knowledge of a determined course and plan of things and of all determinate subjects and objects of sense perception and discursive thought; your awareness is a completely accepting awareness of the whole “as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be” — this is a true meaning of the teaching that God is Love, for out of such acceptance alone you can transform and redeem, re-create and create.
It was this immortal super-consciousness of eternal existence which was realized here-now by the great Teachers in India, such as Kasyapa, Bṛhaddiva, Surya (a woman), Satyakama Jabala, Nachiketā, Ajātaśatru, Śaṇḍilya, Vamadeva, Prajapati Paramesthin and Yājñavalkya — to mention only a few of the less well-known names — by Gotama the Buddha and a great number of his disciples, by Śri Kṛṣṇa and several others. It was realized in other lands by Zarathushtra, Lao Tze, Enoch, Elijah, Jesus the Christ, Plotinus and others. These men were the Holy Ones, rightly termed the Sons of God. Since this supreme realization is the final step which has to be taken in meditation, or silent prayer as Jesus called it, by oneself alone, Plotinus called it the flight of the alone to the Alone, by which, the Son of Man becomes the Son of God, and is called the Alone-Begotten of God. And also, because this realization can the achieved only after man is free of all desire, of all sin, the transformation of the adult, human Son of Man into the full-fledged Son of God is described symbolically as the Immaculate Conception leading through a Virgin Birth to the living manifestation here and now of the Son of God.
This immediacy of realization is experienced by you yourself, uniquely and individually, if and when you can stay the course in God-fearing to the very end. Such is man’s divine destiny.
Naturally, then, we reject any claim of the indispensable intermediacy of any teacher; and ten times more easily do we reject the claim of any Church to indispensability, and to being the sole fount of truth, guidance and authority. We see that such claims, as well as activities like militant evangelism, are clear evidence of the egoism and of the lust for spiritual merit of those who make them. We grieve on account of the attitude of the bigot or the zealot, an immature soul, who decried faiths other than his own. We grieve that the scholar who investigates non-Christian religions is the victim of his conceit that his is the Olympian point of vantage from which all else, necessarily inferior, must be judged. We regret most of all that the scholar has quite failed to grasp, or even to deeply understand, the fact of super-consciousness, and to see that the Vedas and the Upaniṣads and the Gita, like the Gathas and Pitakas are fundamentally teachings about different states of consciousness leading to super-consciousness. When your great scholars refer, for example, to the Buddha as ‘the wisest of the Hindus’ (Rhys Davids), and still worse, as ‘this Oriental John Wesley’ (Dr. A. C. Bouquet), they betray their woeful ignorance of the Spirit, and especially of the nature of the supreme religious experience. And when not one of them has given clear indication that he nicely appreciates the fact that the Great Teachers had realized immortality here-now in full super-consciousness, we must necessarily reject your findings and your pronouncements where the heart of all religion is concerned, however much we esteem your admirable achievements in lesser contexts. I would like to mention here that Religion in its supreme sense may well be regarded as the way the great Brahmaputras, the Sons of God, live their lives. And because the innermost heart of Religion is of a quality and state which utterly transcends our mortal, dualistic, ordinary life and experience, it is both inappropriate and meaningless to introduce comparison in this realm. It is the foolish and the mischievous who think and act in terms of the superiority of one Teacher and his teachings as compared with all others. In this matter, monotheists — Christian, Moslem and others — have blundered more sadly than Hindus or Buddhists or Taoists.
I would like to see some evidence forthcoming that it is understood that Jesus, Śri Kṛṣṇa, Zarathushtra, the Buddha, and some others, manifested in their own persons an evenly balanced combination of the mystic and the yogi. In them, therefore, love and wisdom, the intuitive and the rational, action and restraint, were beautifully poised. I would like to see authors of lives of Christ clearly expound, or even mention adequately, the more important signs which characterize him who has realized super-consciousness. I who am not nominally a Christian feel that you have not done justice to Jesus Christ, at least in connection with the supreme religious experience. In your portrayal of him, you have presented someone much less than the Perfected Man who is a Son of God. Further, I have been disappointed to see that the orthodox doctrinal, Christian conception of God, though solacing in its humanity, comforting in its hopefulness, exalting in its promise, admirable in its apotheosis of man’s virtues, powers and capacity, nonetheless falls short where the reality and significance of Divinity itself is concerned. And this is so because you have limited yourselves to a theoretically deduced, rationally postulated God, and sometimes confused this with the Nameless Reality Itself; you have arbitrarily laid down that God is a Transcendent Being wholly other than the creature, man, and as such cannot be other than what you have laid down; and above all, you have failed to see that all the teachings embodied in words like God, and in phrases like the Kingdom of Heaven, have emerged out of man’s experience of super-consciousness, out of man’s realization of immortality here-now. I make an exception in the case of the greatest of the Christian mystics. But theirs is not the orthodox, sanctioned doctrine. If it only were, the rigid barriers placed by the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Church between man and Christ, and between man and the Supreme Reality would not exist.
But for all that, not for a moment will I say that we of other faiths, or of a nameless faith, have something superior or better, because superior and better are terms which have meaning only in the dualistic world of mortality; and so I discard them altogether in the context of the immortal. Not for a moment will I say that our Way of Life, as in contradistinction to yours, could, or should, be a Way of Life for all men. Our various ways of life, which are individual strivings in unique ways to transcend sin and sorrow and mortality, and so to realize Eternal God, are all tainted with our own failings, and at the same time are all joyously expressive of God Immanent in us. Our various ways of life appropriately express what we are at the moment. They are all needed by the different peoples who live in the different parts of the world; hence the aggressive totalitarianism embodied in any and every effort to convert all mankind to one faith and to one way of life is deplorable.
Christian culture, like all strictly monotheistic cultures, is necessary for the discovery and fulfilment of true individuality. But rampant egoism and aggressiveness have bedevilled these cultures. Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist cultures on the other hand lead to a revelation of the true meaning of ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ and of loving your neighbour as yourself. The fundamental peace which has to be made is the peace within oneself between Spirit and organism, a peace which becomes unbroken and holy when you have trod the Way to the end. And when you have indeed trod the way to the end, and experienced immortality in full super-consciousness, you have shattered the massive but brittle circle of sin which keeps you separate from the Eternal. Then you know once and for all that you are not exclusively yourself but that you are in all things, living and non-living, and that you and the Eternal are in indissoluble union. Then you can truly live the unitive life. Then you experience here-now what is called the blessed felicity of everlasting fellowship with God. Therein you are yourself as well as the so-called other person; you are yourself as well as one with God. And in this unspeakable communion of Love, this two-in-oneness or the multitude-in-oneness, you fully experience the reality of loving your neighbour as yourself, and simultaneously of loving God with all your heart and soul and might.
Saying these things, I have but spoken practical counsel for sound polity and economy, for just and humane society. For the unfolding panorama of the life of our community is the expression of what we are ourselves interacting with our environment. Unhappily, like people in a bad dream, you waste your opportunities by expending too much energy in dealing with conditions, objects, systems and methods. You strive and struggle with the external world driven by the torment of frustrated desire and repressed ego. And so you are always at war with your gracious mother, Nature; always, she is brutally ravished by the self-glorifying achievements of her own sons and daughters. And also, you are always at war with your neighbour, forgetting that whether you call him friend or foe he is undeniably your fellow man, and that you and he are under bond of brotherly love to one another, and of self-surrender to the Universal Mother and to the Transcendent Father. I say, therefore, that our most important practical concern is to change ourselves by treading the Way. Our greatest problem is our own misconceived self, our ego, and not our environment or political or economic or social condition. You turn in vain to some other person for wise counsel. You look in vain to some external power for good government. The truth is that wise counsel and good government have to come out of your own self — that is the inescapable responsibility of individuality. You yourself have to be the Wise Counsellor; and on your own shoulders, fairly and squarely, lies the government of the world. The world is none other than you, the individual. The world is epitomized in that fathom-long organism which is you. If you grow into the likeness of your God, you will inevitably tackle external problems in the good way.
Therefore I say that the New World of heart’s desire is none other than the New Man himself. Hand in hand, let Hindu and Buddhist, Moslem and Christian, let each and every man in the world tread the well-loved path of his own choice, that path that suits him best, constitutionally and temperamentally. Fling away all fears and false conceits, vain beliefs, vain hopes and anxieties. Wear away the prison bars of the petty self, meet the Supreme seated in your heart, and experience the peace of that perpetual miracle — immortal God dwelling in mortal self, dwelling unstained, in radiance that had no beginning and will never know an ending. Realize these things within yourselves. So shall the rose of your salvation bloom here-now in the light of heaven itself.