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Religion can mean diverse things to different people. This chapter will not be discussing the traditional religions of the world nor even many of the traditional aspects of those religions. Rather I would like to explore the spiritual principles of how spiritual awareness and union with God can be attained. Although religions as social organizations have their political, economic, and social aspects, the approach here is to attempt to discover the universal principles that lead to mystical experience and spiritual liberation regardless of what culture or religion a person may happen to have.
As social institutions religious groups no doubt offer many people comfort and psychological security as well as friendship and gregariousness. Rituals often play a major role in allowing people an opportunity to worship and confirm their beliefs and pass through major rites of passage such as marriage and the death of loved ones. Yet these rituals and beliefs vary from religion to religion, and who is to say that one set of rituals and beliefs is the only way to achieve greater spiritual awareness or even ultimate salvation? In my opinion one of the greatest problems of religion has been this self-righteous attitude that one’s own religion has the keys to the only way to heaven. Thus religions have often done more to divide humanity than to unite us. As the world becomes more interdependent and unified, it is essential that we have more tolerance for the diverse cultures and beliefs that people choose as long as they are not hurting other people. As our awareness expands, I believe that more people will realize that this acceptance of other people’s cultural conditionings, beliefs, and life-styles is not only important for global understanding but also a sign of a person’s spiritual awareness.
Many religions and spiritual groups tend to follow the authority of their founders, scriptures, and current leaders. As a process of teaching, these can help people to be exposed to new ideas and spiritual doctrines. Yet often people get caught up in loyalty to particular dogmas or rigid belief systems that are not supposed to be challenged. Too often religious leaders ask people to accept things on faith alone, rather than encouraging an open process of questioning and philosophical exploration. Ultimately each person must decide what to do and think. Those who follow along blindly are responsible for where they are led. I recommend that people check very carefully the teachings they are following and always look to their conscience when something is questionable. These leaders may be claiming that they can interpret the scriptures that are the word of God, or they may say that they have direct revelation from God themselves or that they are in contact with an “ascended master” or other entity through spiritualism. Any teaching that comes to a human being always has the risk of human fallibility. In any case our responsibility is to decide what teachings we want to put into practice. If God can speak through one person, then God can speak through anyone. I recommend that we each do our best to contact God for ourselves, rather than relying on someone or something outside of ourselves. Likewise we can also allow other people this same freedom without trying to tell them what to do. I suggest that the divine principles can be useful guidelines. Of course individuals are at different stages of spiritual evolution so that it is possible to learn from others who may be more advanced than we are in certain areas. Thus we can achieve a balance between being open to the teachings of others and taking personal responsibility for our own actions.
Although as souls we are divine, come from God, and eventually return to God, in each lifetime on Earth our conscious awareness has a separate awakening during childhood, usually without the benefit of any memory of past existences on Earth or in other realms. Most families and social groups tend to teach their children the religious and spiritual doctrines they themselves have adopted or accepted from their parents and culture. Children in their innocence and openness usually receive this conditioning without much questioning until their minds begin to develop around the age of puberty. As we become adults, we have the choice to follow the religion of our upbringing or reject it and look for some other religion or philosophy of life.
As we approach these teachings and experiences of life, whether they be those of our upbringing or those of our own personal search, the first step is to become aware of what they are. If we reject something or do not give it any attention, it can never really enter our consciousness. Therefore I use the term “acceptance” in the general sense of openness to receive and consider something without necessarily agreeing or disagreeing with it to describe the first stage in spiritual awareness.
Acceptance is a very helpful attitude to have in living. Actually it is really a lack of any negative attitude, like its opposites rejection and resistance. Through acceptance we flow with life and are open to every experience that comes our way. This acceptance allows us to give it attention and become aware of what it is. Then we can enter into a process of understanding, and only after satisfactorily understanding something is it wise to begin our evaluation of what to do about it. As we are growing up, many ideas and concepts about God, religion, and spirituality are placed before us or thrown at us. By merely accepting them without either believing or disbelieving we are in a detached awareness that can help us toward clarity. By accepting other people and what they do or say without judging them we are able to relate to them with love and understanding.
For many people faith is the most important aspect of religion. Faith is helpful in the early stages of spirituality; but as we grow in awareness, knowledge and intuition come to be more important. Children naturally have faith as long as they are treated with love. They have faith that their parents will take care of them and that everything will be all right. As we suffer the troubles of living, many people lose this child-like faith and become more cynical. These people may use doubt and suspicion to prevent them from making mistakes in regard to trusting other people. People’s faith in life or in God may depend greatly on their previous experiences.
Faith in God or in the spiritual nature of the universe can open people so that they will turn to what it is that they have faith in—the teachings of a religion, church, priest, bible, guru, or to the God or Spirit within themselves. I believe that the best and most direct connection to God is within ourselves, but many people do find that the guidance of others may help to keep them on a steady course and protect them from their own follies. By trusting ourselves we can learn more about ourselves so that even if we do make mistakes, those errors will teach us about our own inadequacies and weaknesses. Whereas if we follow someone else’s advice, we may be living and have to learn about their mistakes. In either case we are responsible and must eventually evaluate the consequences of the trust we placed in others or in ourselves.
Faith in God has the potential to bring us great peace of mind and calmness of heart, depending on how strong our intuitive knowledge of spiritual principles is. Such faith has enabled martyrs to face death with joy and courage instead of terror and fear. Ultimately God or Spirit is the only thing that we can really trust completely because everything else is finite and limited. However, since Spirit is in everything, by having faith in God we can be at home in any part of the universe. We can have faith that God will never abandon us because we are part of God. We can trust that God will always love us because the love of Spirit is omnipresent. As our faith and trust in God’s love increases, then our love toward God also grows.
Prayer and meditation are methods of communicating directly with Spirit. It has been said that prayer is talking to God and that meditation is listening for the answer. Both are attempts to establish a direct connection. Prayer tends to be active while meditation is usually passive or receptive. Some prefer the active method because it gives them something to do and a positive focus for their attention. Others find prayer too distracting to the mind and feel that they can be more attentive to the Spirit within them if they can quiet their consciousness. The best prayers are those that come from our hearts, the center of our being. Good meditation allows our consciousness to center itself in the heart of our being.
Prayers may also be petitions or requests for help in achieving goals. Since the spiritual quality of these goals can vary, prayers for selfish or material objectives may be closer to psychic magic than to a quest for spiritual awareness. We all seek various goals in life, and in a broader sense everything we do is a prayer for something. Yet if we are asking for divine assistance, it behooves us to attune ourselves to the divine will, especially if we realize that God knows what is best much better than we do. Therefore I recommend that in prayer we always ask for what is best for all. In this way we will be guided toward what is best for us also in the long run. By qualifying our prayers in this way—by asking for what is best or for the highest good of all concerned or for God’s will—we protect ourselves from our own ignorance and folly. If what we think we want is not really going to be for the best, then it will not be brought about by our prayer. If we do not qualify our prayers by God’s will, then we may get what we are asking for and find out that we do not really want that. There is a saying, “Be careful what you ask for because you might get it.” When we ask for Spirit of the whole, then we get the Holy Spirit, which can only be good for all.
A very active way of tuning ourselves to Spirit is by consciously using the Light. The Light refers to the Light of the Holy Spirit if we are using it for the good of all. The world “Light” can be an acronym for “Living In God’s Holy Thoughts.” If we try to use Light for our own selfish purposes, then we are working with the magnetic Light without the Holy Spirit. This use of magnetic Light, which people practice unconsciously in their everyday lives, can produce karma for which we must be responsible. When we ask for God’s will, the Holy Spirit comes in on the magnetic Light. If an action may produce karma or imbalance, then the spiritual Light will guide us not to do that action in that way. Here is where we must be especially sensitive to our inner spiritual attunement. It is not enough to say, “for the highest good” and then do whatever the hell we please without regard to the harmful consequences we may produce. Thus constant prayer and meditation is helpful in keeping us attuned to Spirit so that we will inwardly know what is best. If we are in doubt, it is wise to go within ourselves to check our motivation and purpose while asking for guidance. Then we need to investigate the probable consequences of our goals and actions to see if they would be harmful to anyone and what good they would likely do. The more we are able to see the whole, the more holy will be our awareness.
Prayer, meditation, and spiritual exercises also enable us to clear our karma inwardly and ascend in awareness through the inner realms of consciousness. Many techniques have been developed by spiritual teachers to aid people in focusing their awareness. Some use breathing and yoga techniques. Others chant mantras or the holy names of God. A few teachers give initiations with these mantras or into the sound current of God. The sound current is a way of referring to the energy which comes directly out of the heart of God and creates the Light and all the realms of created consciousness. The inner realms have lords who are responsible for those realms, and different sounds can be heard on the various levels. By chanting the names of those lords or a word designed to attune oneself to the clearest, purest, and highest essence of those planes, one is devoting oneself to awakening spiritual consciousness on those levels. I believe that a person’s sincerity of intention and purity of love in living are the ways that most advance spiritual awareness, but there are some who believe that these initiations can aid greatly the opportunity for spiritual progression.
Ultimately we all gain enough experience and wisdom eventually to learn responsibility and to balance our karma so that our consciousness expands and rises naturally in the higher levels. Spiritual liberation then occurs when our consciousness is established in the soul. Then we are no longer attached to anything in the created worlds. This liberation (in Sanskrit moksha) means that we do not need to reincarnate in the human form on the Earth anymore unless we choose to do so. This process may take about two hundred human incarnations. By prayer and meditation we are able to focus our awareness and accelerate our learning process toward spiritual upliftment so that we may not have to go through as much human suffering in order to realize our innate divine qualities.
The law of karma is not mocked and must be fulfilled, but there are many different ways of paying off or releasing karma. The purpose of the karmic law is to teach us how to be responsible for our creations. If we have truly learned a particular lesson, then there is no need for punishment. Thus by realizing in our consciousness what imbalance we may have caused and by releasing within ourselves the causes of that type of action, we may clear our consciousness not only of the particular karma of that specific action but also of the karmic pattern as well. This is an order of magnitude greater in value because specific actions are likely to be repeated until the lesson is learned. Learning how to correct that karmic pattern prevents further actions of that type.
How do we release these karmic patterns? The term used by John the Baptist is “repentance” (metanoia in Greek), which means literally “a change of mind.” Jesus then taught the method of forgiveness to accomplish this. The Greek word for forgiveness, apoluo, literally means to release or let go. Thus when people change their minds and ask for our forgiveness, then we can release them from karmic debts by forgiving them. Similarly, if by guilt we are holding something against ourselves, then by learning the lesson we can also forgive ourselves and release the karma. This process of transcending the karmic law by direct spiritual awareness is called grace. However, I believe that it is naive to assume that all karma will be forgiven automatically just because we happen to accept someone or something as our savior without making any effort in consciousness to learn these lessons. Yet by sincerely dedicating ourselves to God and by loving and forgiving ourselves and everyone else, we do enter into the grace of God, and in the upliftment of our consciousness we are able to transcend the law of karma by flowing with and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Christians refer to the consciousness of the Christ, Buddhists to the consciousness of the Buddha, and other religions have their own terms for similar experiences. We have the ability to let go of karmic patterns; but if we go back into them again, then we are back under the karmic law again. Yet at any moment we can rise above the law. Forgiveness is the method of releasing particular actions and patterns while generally detachment can keep our consciousness free.
Spiritual freedom is original consciousness, but it becomes limited when we confine our consciousness with limited things, feelings, and concepts by becoming attached to them. The experiences of incarnation tend to condition our consciousness in many ways, especially because of the needs and desires of the physical body. After we have taken the initial steps of accepting or realizing that we are spiritual beings and have worked on this awareness through prayer and meditation and by releasing old patterns and guilt from the past, then we can keep our consciousness clear and aware by not becoming lost in attachments.
Detachment results from neutrality and a higher perspective on things that gives us a serenity. Even amidst great turmoil, we can be in the eye of the hurricane, perfectly calm while events are swirling around us. Acceptance is also the first step toward detachment because it opens our consciousness to receive everything in this neutral attitude; whereas resistance to anything immediately indicates that we are attached to something, or we would not be resisting. This does not mean that we accept things in the sense of agreeing with them or wanting them to be that way or even believing them to be true (in the case of symbolic communication), but rather that we are simply accepting everything in the universe for what it is. The difficult part is when we must decide how to act because this inevitably requires some form of evaluation on our part in order to choose our response to the situation. This is the existential dilemma—that because we exist and because we are free, we must choose and be responsible for our choices. In this limited world our choices then define what we become. Nevertheless this entire process of observation, understanding, evaluation, and response can all occur in a detached consciousness, if we do not get hung up mentally or emotionally by judging people as right or wrong, rather than their actions, or by our own addictions to certain things which prevent us from making free and detached choices. Sometimes choices can be very difficult because of complex circumstances that have been created on this planet; yet to turn these into “trauma dramas” with our emotional upset does not usually improve the situations. No matter what the circumstances are, a spiritually attuned awareness is going to be more capable of handling things.
Because we are human with much conditioning, we do experience various emotions and mental confusion. Yet even within this turmoil we can accept what our feelings and thoughts are so that we can begin to understand them also. Thus no matter what our current state of consciousness is, always within that is a greater peace and serenity if we can detach ourselves and go deeper inside. If we judge ourselves for becoming emotional or making a mental mistake, then we are compounding our problems. We are much better off if we acknowledge our feelings and upset so that we can handle it. None of these are ever the end of the world. As souls we are eternal, and nothing can harm us. These judgments can be released through forgiveness.
Often people have sought greater spiritual awareness through ascetic disciplines. Detachment is an inner or psychological discipline which enables us to deal with anything in a spiritual consciousness. Thus it is not necessary to renounce things that may be pleasurable to us as long as we can remain detached in regard to them. As the Bhagavad Gita suggests, we can engage in action in the world as long as we do not become attached to the fruits of those actions. This is being or acting in the world without being of the world because we are free of it, whatever it may be.
This detachment is attained by finding all of our security in our spiritual reality as divine beings or by completely trusting in God rather than any limited thing. Thus the mystical love of God or Spirit can greatly enhance our freedom; although if we become attached to any limited form of God, whether it be a religion or scripture or teacher, then that attachment may prevent us from seeing clearly reality as a whole. The spiritual life can seem very paradoxical and nebulous because there is really nothing tangible to hold onto that we can rely on. Ultimately we realize that it is the intangible qualities, which I call the divine principles, that are most real, secure, and trustworthy. Even those principles are conceptual and below the true reality of Spirit Itself, but we cannot talk or write about Spirit without using concepts for communication. Thus it is helpful to realize that we can always transcend the concepts in our own awareness and experience.
Detachment leads to transcendence because it frees us from the lower things. As we become free, we naturally rise in our consciousness to higher levels. Also as we transcend to higher levels in our awareness, we naturally tend to be more detached from the lower things. Since Spirit is infinite, there is no end to this transcendence. Our imagination transcends the physical world with inward images. Feelings transcend those particular forms. The mind transcends the feelings with abstract concepts. The intuition transcends the reason with holistic perceptions. The soul transcends all of these creations because it is the spiritual reality of who we are as an individual—eternal, infinite, and perfect. The soul is the primary level of spiritual transcendence for people in the world. Yet ultimately the soul itself can be transcended into God consciousness, leaving all individuality behind. The drop of water becomes the ocean. The great value of transcendence is that it gives us the freedom to have access and clear expression on all the levels below the realm we have reached in our spiritual awareness. However, if in that expression we lose our detachment, then we may also lose our ability to transcend temporarily. The price of freedom is eternal watchfulness.
In my opinion the spiritual life is more than just working on our own personal spiritual advancement because spiritually we are all one. In that oneness the heart expands our love to be concerned about caring for others as well as ourselves. Most religions emphasize this giving of love and service to others without expecting any return other than the personal satisfaction of knowing that we have helped them along their way. Charity is sharing our abundance with others who may be in need at this particular time. Altruism offers selfless service to others without any thought of reward and works to serve the good of all humanity and people we may not even know.
Some may think of this merely as generosity while others may use the term “sacrifice,” which means to make something sacred. In sacrifice we usually feel as though we are giving up something, implying a personal struggle in our motivation. Sometimes we sacrifice what we consider something lower for something higher or better. This attitude of sacrifice implies a reluctance to give and a feeling of difficulty. For many people this may be the case, and it may be a noble action. In other cases the person’s attitude may be promoting the feeling of deprivation. Joyful people are often able to give, because it is the best thing to do under the circumstances without any attachment to the feeling of suffering. Instead of feeling suffering for their own personal loss, their focus is on the suffering of the people who are in need and how that suffering can be alleviated. People who give while feeling that it is a sacrifice are still attached to whatever it is that they are giving. Nonetheless some may not feel that they are sacrificing because they are giving very little in relation to how much they have to give. Others who give most of what they have and therefore feel that they are struggling to get by on less are liable to feel they are sacrificing much.
Charity is given freely without anything tangible in return and thus is free of karma. Also charity does not try to control the recipients of the gifts but allows them the freedom to live as they choose. Charity is thus another form of grace. Some people may not want charity, and they have the right to decline. Yet it seems to me that the wise will use everything to the advantage of all. This means giving if that makes things better for all, and receiving if that improves people’s lives. Perhaps charity can best be described as sharing the entire universe as one big happy family.
Altruism often implies a far-seeing approach to improving the conditions of all humanity throughout the world and for future generations. Selfless service is considered a valuable spiritual discipline where we put our love into practical action. This too is free of karma when we do not expect any reward, whether it be monetary or praise. In a spiritual consciousness doing good is its own reward because we experience the subtle expansion of our love and deep inner joy. Altruism depends on having a universal consciousness where we can see the whole situation and then evaluate what would be the best thing that we as individuals or groups can contribute to the general welfare. Each person through self-knowledge of one’s abilities and the exploration of conscience must decide what contribution she or he is best prepared to make at any given time and situation. Through altruistic and charitable actions we are able to realize in very practical ways our spiritual oneness and community.
A goal of individual spiritual endeavor is union with God, and a benefit of social religion is communion with other souls. These result from the realization that as souls we are divine Spirit and one with everyone and everything. In reality this union is true all the time, but what most people are seeking is the consciousness awareness of the oneness and the joy of sharing in communion.
Yoga means union and is the discipline used by many to attain oneness with Spirit. Yoga efforts include physical postures and exercises, intense emotional devotion, practical service, comprehensive mental understanding, psychological discipline, and attunement to the sound current of God. All of these are attempts to realize the true essence of who we are. Uniting our consciousness with Spirit is usually more of a process of getting rid of things we do not need than of acquiring anything. Because Spirit is what we are, we need merely to remove the various accretions that muddle our consciousness and prevent us from seeing clearly. This process of removing layer after layer of unnecessary thoughts and feelings and images or of becoming detached from their influence can take years or even lifetimes of concentrated work on oneself. Self-knowledge must ultimately transcend from the awareness of all of our creations to the realization of our spiritual beingness. This is why physical training or heartfelt devotion or spiritual exercises with a mantra can greatly aid this endeavor by focusing our awareness through concentration. The purpose of concentration is to direct us to the center. When we do find our center, then we will realize that we are divine. Then we may attain conscious union with God.
Realizing our divinity naturally awakens greater love in our hearts for others. Through communion we are able to share this love in a free and open consciousness that does not expect or demand anything but merely enjoys the mutual presence of Spirit. Some people feel this experience through religious ritual, but others can commune with other people or nature in any experience simply by opening their hearts to the flow of Spirit. A key to this experience is surrender to the Spirit within us because transcendence is certainly beyond the efforts of the ego and usually at the borders of conscious purpose. This is why trying does not usually produce transcendental experience. Because it is something that is beyond our conscious mind, it is more of a process of letting go than of effort. This is a spiritual paradox because it often takes much effort to prepare ourselves for such experience. Gradually we learn the subtlety of attuning ourselves to Spirit without blocking the flow by trying to control it. Ultimately, “practice makes perfect.”
Since we are eternal in essence anyway, it does not really matter when or how we eventually achieve union with God and spiritual liberation. We can continue to have experiences and reincarnate as long as it takes for us to learn the lessons of human life on Earth and lift our awareness into Spirit. We are creators learning how to balance all of our creations in a harmonious universe. In our freedom we continually have choices as to what goals we want to pursue and how we want to progress. Nevertheless I believe that union with God and communion with other souls and all of creation can improve the quality of our love and joy while we are here in this grand school called Earth.
LIFE AS A WHOLE:
II. The Individual