Education for Inclusive Identities and Oneness
This article addresses the problem of intolerance. It suggests that intolerance in general and that of religious differences in particular can be handled through formal education in our educational institutions by building identities inclusive of all human beings, if not of all beings in the universe. It argues that the concept of ultimate reality provides the harmonizing tool necessary for building such identities.
Human history abounds in instances of religion being used by powerful political and economic forces for achieving their goals usually at the cost of immense violence, pain, and misery. Religions themselves, through misdirected institutional loyalty and human condition (Talwar 2004), have acquiesced in being exploited by internal and external divisive forces.
Today, modern technology has incomparably enhanced the power of these divisive forces. Instant communication and fast transportation have made the world into what is likened to a global village. At the same time, modern weapons have immensely increased the scope of mass destruction. As a result, alliances of the religious with the political, economic and other divisive forces have never been deadlier. There is an urgent need to attenuate human condition to prevent the formation of these deadly alliances.
Recent history has amply demonstrated the need of taking effective steps in guiding humanity in positive directions not only by preventing the divisive use of religion, but also by promoting its legitimate role of uniting humanity.
1.3. Role of Spiritual Education
Spirituality being the awareness of the underlying unity of all beings in the universe, raising spiritual consciousness through the use of systematic education is expected to help build inclusive identities leading to mutual tolerance, understanding, love and respect. It is argued that the intelligibility resulting from systematically enhanced spiritual awareness will enable self-management of human condition not only in preventing the formation of divisive alliances involving religion, but also in preventing the prevalent excessive exploitation of natural resources and the human environment.
There exists a vast body of didactic knowledge in the spiritual heritage of humanity. It is proposed to use this body of knowledge harmoniously as the basis of educational curricula at different levels in our academic institutions. It is argued that this effort will promote religious inclusivity preventing the use of religion by the divisive forces as an instrument of hate and destruction. It is further argued that it is possible to be exclusive in following the path of one’s personal salvation or liberation while being inclusive in respecting others in their respective paths. Being faithful to one’s religion and being reasonable, sensitive and considerate to others is not mutually exclusive; rather it is a behavior, which is a matter of intelligibility based on systematic learning; and pluralistic societies cannot afford to leave this learning to occur by chance.
Admittedly, the suggested approach is long-term. Different strategies may suit better for short-term containment of the tragic and symptomatic events such as September 11, 2001, the likes of which will never be eliminated even in a thousand years and the world would never truly be a global village without deeper consciousness raising efforts such as the one proposed in this article.
2. Spiritual Heritage
This article uses the word spirit to mean essence. As applied to a human being this word means the vital animating, conscious, intelligent and usually non-physical essence of being a human. As applied to the universe, it would mean that subtle essence that underlies the entire perceptible universe. Since a human being is also a part of the universe, it is easy to imagine that the essence of the human has some kind of a relationship with the essence of the universe. Since the underlying essence expresses through the physical, a study of the spiritual would also involve the connection and the interaction between the two.
For the purposes of education, the spiritual heritage of humanity would thus be defined as that body of didactic knowledge established by sages, seers, saints, philosophers, theologians, psychologists, natural scientists, life scientists and social scientists, and common people alike who have invested their lifetimes researching matters of human and universal essence. Since various experts view such matters from different vantage points, this knowledge is inherently varied and multi-disciplined. Harmonization of different points of view of various peoples and disciplines is necessary towards the intelligibility required for developing inclusive attitudes. This article argues that the concept of ultimate reality provides the best tool available for achieving the desired harmonization.
3. Ultimate reality and The Universe
Nothing can come out of nothing. The fact of existence of the universe points to the existence of an ultimate cause or an ultimate reality that is the causal source of all beings. The ultimate reality is considered to be both the efficient and the material cause of the universe. It is the source of all existence. It is defined as that out of which this universe is born at the beginning of time, in which this universe is sustained and into which this universe dissolves at the end of time (Sivananda 1999, p. 16).
Everything, all entities, all beings, all emotions, all principles, all elements, and all ideas in the entire universe can be explained and understood, without recourse to any other entity, in terms of the ultimate reality of the universe. At the same time, there is nothing, no entity, no being, no emotion, no principle, no element, and no idea in the entire universe in terms of which ultimate reality can be explained and understood. Terms such as the transcendent, the universal principle, and the universal spirit are equivalent. The universe is considered to be a manifestation of the creative power of the transcendent, variously referred to as Godhead, God without, or simply God.
By its very definition, the concept of ultimate reality provides the tool that has the capacity to affect the desired harmonization between religions and between religion and other disciplines.
3.1. Infinity of Ultimate reality
Since its effect, the universe, is infinite it is generally agreed that its cause, ultimate reality too is infinite. The principle of ultimate reality is infinite in its scope since it embraces all things in the universe without any exception, whatsoever. The cause of the universe, its ultimate reality is infinite and so is the universe that is born of it. Having given birth to the infinite universe does not diminish the infinity of the reality that remains outside of it. Any part of infinity is infinite and so is also the remainder (Ranganatharanda, 1993, p. 63).
3.2. Uniqueness and Oneness of Ultimate reality
The fact that there is nothing in the entire universe in terms of which the ultimate reality of the universe can be understood points towards the uniqueness of ultimate reality. It is the only one of its kind without a second. In spite of the fact that humanity variously labels it (as God, Godhead, Allah, Brahman, Shunya, Tao, etc.), variously understand it and variously describe it, all great religions and philosophies of the world proclaim that it is one without a second. The principle of oneness of it is generally accepted.
3.3. Negative Descriptions
Because of its uniqueness, positive definitions fail to fully describe the ultimate reality. Some authorities consider it better to describe it in negative terms such as “not this, not that” (Hume 1921, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad p.97, p.125, p.132; Copplestone 1955, p.131). Cognitively, we can only approximate towards it by employing negative descriptions and thereby hope to gain some understanding about its nature (Ibid., p136).
3.4. Cognitive and Conative Knowledge
The root of all knowledge lies in experience through sense perception. Cognitive knowledge is descriptive in nature and its base is the conative or experiential knowledge. We use inner tools of reason, memory and intellect to express our experience in words, numbers, and similar devices. Sense perception is the tool of experiencing a physical object. Experience of any object is overwhelming and indescribable. Cognitive knowledge gained without direct experience is without conviction and incomplete. One may read or listen to all kinds of descriptions of sugar but this knowledge is incomplete and unsure without a direct experience of sugar itself. Once sugar is seen, felt and tasted and its experience verified by its prior understanding, one’s knowledge of sugar becomes sure and complete. Although senses are known to deceive at times, the repeatability and reproducibility of sense experience makes them the best knowledge tools in humankind’s toolkit.
Sugar is a simple object well within the field of sense perception. In the case of complex objects, ideas and principles outside the reach of sense perception whatsoever, mind and intellect are the only tools of experiencing, and these tools are not as reliable as sense perception. Ultimate reality is such a principle. Its complexity is enormous because of the infinity of its scope. Senses can only enable an indirect experience of it through that of a vast variety of its manifestations. Its cognitive understanding is based either on sense perception of its manifestations in which case it is indirect, or on direct experience through inner tools of mind and intellect, which are less reliable than even the senses. Although their rigor and approaches differ, philosophy and the natural sciences use the indirect approach, whereas the discipline known as ‘mysticism’, which in the opinion of the author is rather a dismissive term, uses the direct approach.
This situation highlights the limitation of human mind and its linguistic convention to completely encompass a principle like ultimate reality and it presents a real problem with conviction and reliability of one’s understanding and knowledge of ultimate reality. The best one can do is to rely collectively on philosophy and science that attempt to unravel ultimate reality indirectly through a rigorous study of nature – physical manifestation of ultimate reality, and mysticism that attempts to unravel ultimate reality directly through an equally rigorous study of it. It must, however be kept in mind that such knowledge is cognitive knowledge and cognitive knowledge gained without personal experience is still without conviction and thus, incomplete. Although both the cognitive and conative are rooted in reality, one needs personal conative knowledge, both direct and indirect, to develop conviction and a degree of confidence to lead one’s life in harmony with one’s knowledge of ultimate reality, for knowledge is meaningless if not applied in real life.
One can study the findings of philosophy, science and mysticism; they are available as published material available through formal education and self-study. The big question is how to obtain this experiential knowledge. Life is too short and personal resources too meager to study the vast manifestation of ultimate reality rigorously as science does; the only approach available to an individual is to supplement cognitive intelligibility by a personal affective and philosophical appreciation of nature. Everyone has personal resources for attempting the direct conative knowledge of ultimate reality. In view of the fact that ultimate reality is best described in negative terms as “not this, not that”, it is said that ceasing to seek the descriptive and cognitive is the beginning of the direct conative – “The Tao which can be spoken is not the eternal Tao” (Watts 1989, p.16); “So I say that a man should be set free of his own knowing as he was when he was not” (Eckhart 1981, p. 201); “But the higher part of contemplation, insofar as it is possible to possess it here below, consists entirely in this darkness and in this cloud of unknowing, with a loving impulse and a dark gazing into the simple being of God himself alone” (The Cloud 1981, p. 137).
How does the mystic arrive at a direct knowledge of ultimate reality? He/she uses methods of contemplation combined with rigorous personal disciplines. A study of the different methods of contemplation suggests that there is a commonality and it lies in emptying the mind of all ideas about ultimate reality or any other object of contemplation and surrendering it to let the reality reveal itself (Talwar 2004; Taimni 1961, pp.6-10; The Cloud of Unknowing 1981, pp.118-19). The process of emptying the mind of all ideas or stopping all modifications of the mind involves exhausting and quieting the intellect by uninterrupted contemplation of ultimate reality or any one particular issue. In this state, intellect is transcended, all intellectual processes cease and the contemplators mind is open to intuition or revelation by the reality of the object of contemplation. The intuition or revelation received in this transcendent state is a personal experience of the individual seeker who is well advised to verify it using valid methods of knowledge verification (perception, reason and authoritative testimony) available to humankind. It is hard to describe the contemplative experience for common knowledge. How do you describe an intimate personal experience? Human descriptions of any experience, howsoever complete, are yet limited because of the limitations of human linguistic conventions. Whatever descriptions are available are couched in personal and cultural expressions. Common listening and reading without the aid of reflection and deep meditation fails to harmonize the available descriptions.
It must be emphasized that both the cognitive and the conative being rooted in reality are complimentary to each other. One needs the conative to gain conviction and confidence for practical use of the acquired knowledge and the one needs the cognitive to verify the conative. Because valid knowledge is rooted in reality, there can be no conflict between the conative, cognitive, direct and indirect.
3.5. Nature of Ultimate reality
Human curiosity impels us to want to know and understand the nature of everything. Ultimate reality too is not excluded from the probing of our curiosity. But, because of its infinite scope, we may differ amongst ourselves as to its nature. We are like the proverbial blind men in the parable of the blind men and the elephant describing the nature of the elephant from their respective touch and feel (Felleman 1936, p.521).
How do you know and describe the infinite reality that underlies the birth, sustenance and dissolution of all beings in the universe? Human perception, reasoning and intellect do not seem to be enough for knowing it. We are advised to refer to the scriptural knowledge resulting from the contemplative visions of the seers and sages who have spent their lifetimes researching the nature of this reality (Sivananda 1999, p. 19). Since all knowledge is rooted in reality, scientific knowledge must also be considered in addition to the scriptural knowledge as the valid basis of an overall understanding of ultimate reality. This body of scriptural and scientific knowledge differs in its revelations about the nature of the ultimate reality. We are advised to harmonize the different understandings resulting from different studies (Ibid., p. 20). An understanding resulting from this harmonization may still be personal and private and merely point to the ultimate reality rather than definitely describe it.
An exact definition of infinity is impossible. We simply attempt to describe the cause of infinite potential in terms of a finite effect or a group of finite effects, while there is nothing in the entire universe in terms of which the infinite ultimate reality of the universe can be understood and described.
Some of us think that the ultimate reality is a person and ascribe to it all qualities that we consider good and auspicious for a person. Some of us think that this ultimate person is a male and some think it is a female, while others think that it has both the genders. Some of us think it is impersonal. Some of us think it is devoid of all attributes, while others think it has all the attributes we can think all. Some consider it to have a form; some consider it to be formless, while others consider it formless and yet capable of all forms. Some of us think it is pointless to think about knowing ultimate reality because man does not possess the cognitive tools to discern it; it being unknowable, what is the point in talking about it? They feel humanity should concern itself with improving human condition and let ultimate reality to itself.
Only infinity can evoke such diverse feelings and appear so very differently to different people and all are equally right or equally wrong in describing it in their various ways. And yet we use our understanding as the only valid understanding and we get ready for all kinds of physical and emotional violence when others disagree with our vision!
3.6. Mystical and Metaphysical Understanding
The difficulties of definite descriptions of ultimate reality do not deter human minds from attempting general understandings howsoever vague they may be. One such understanding that is generally common in religious circles is the idea of consciousness of ultimate reality. The birth of the universe is generally considered to be a conscious and willed act. It may even be a deliberate and planned act – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (The Holy Bible, John 1:1), “No, my son, in the beginning there was existence alone – One only, without a second. He, the One, thought to himself: Let me be many, let me grow forth” (Prabhavananda, Chandogya Upanishad, p.109), and “We created not the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them just for a mere play” (The Noble Qur’an, 21:16); or it may be a spontaneous yet conscious act – “The Tao’s principle is spontaneity” (Watt 1989, p. 17). In addition, there are many assertions in human scripture that attribute to it the power of consciousness such as in omniscience, mercy, compassion, knowledge, thinking, etc. Another power that is commonly attributed to it in all religious circles is its subtlety. It is considered to be purely spiritual and non-material yet underlying all materiality, pervasive to the extent of omnipresence, and capable of working all kinds of miracles to the extent of omnipotence. Thus, the principles of consciousness and materiality (primordial nature) are its first manifestations.
We are conscious and we have physicality. We can only get them from our spiritual cause if it has them in potential form. The effect cannot have what the cause does not possess. Thus goes the logic in ascribing the potential of consciousness and materiality to our ultimate reality. Yet there are others who consider it distasteful to bring ultimate reality into the domain of divisive human logic that classifies in order to understand. They simply consider ultimate reality to have a mystical power, called maya, to manifest itself as diverse and finite principles, beings, forms and events in relation to each other, whereas in actuality there is no duality let alone multiplicity in nature (Watts 1989, pp. 38-43).
According to Taoism, to which Zen Buddhism is similar in a fundamental way (Watts 1989, p. 3), all beings of the universe are mere manifestations of ultimate reality called Tao. Two opposite principles called yin and yang are the first manifestations of Tao. The first principles are interdependent on each other, though opposite in character are not in conflict but creatively cooperate with each other in manifesting the underlying reality as the diverse universe. Yin is the passive female principle representing darkness, cold, death and earth whereas yang the active male principle associated with light, warmth, life and heaven. Yin is divided into an indefinite number of evil spirits or particles called kwei and yang into good spirits called shen. Shen derived from heaven, immaterial and ethereal constitutes human intellect and virtue, while kwei, derived from material earth represents human passions and vice (Soothill 1923, pp.127-28).
According to Indian philosophy as well, ultimate reality called Brahman, manifests at first as two principles – the principle of consciousness as the active male principle called purusha (spirit), and the passive principle of materiality as the female principle called prakriti (energy, primordial nature). Purusha is the changeless principle, while prakriti is ever changing and evolving. Changeless purusha acts as a catalyst, the presence of which is essential for the process of evolution of prakriti. Both purusha and prakriti are inseparable aspects of ultimate reality considered as separate principles only for the sake of understanding. While purusha may be considered as the efficient cause, prakriti is the material cause of the universe. Prakriti further evolves into two classes of principles – subtle internal psychic principles or the principles of subjectivity such as intellect, individuality, mind, senses etc. and the gross external principles of objectivity or the principles of physicality that comprise the external world perceived by the cognitive senses (Talwar 2001). Although purusha is seen more clearly through the principles of subjectivity in animate beings, all beings, animate and inanimate, are manifestations of both purusha and prakriti, and neither one of them has any separate existence without the other.
In the philosophy of the Abrahamic family of religions, a distinction is made between the created and the uncreated worlds. The created world encompasses the domain of nature, or energy and the uncreated world encompasses the world of pure spirit.
In the realm of the created world, the heaven and the earth are the two first principles that God created – “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth” (The Holy Bible, Genesis 1:1). “In the beginning” means in the principle. “A principle is something that is in or with that of which it is the principle even though it does not precede it temporally” (Eckhart 1981, p. 88) and “Creation is the conferring of existence” (Ibid., p. 87). The principle of heaven is the active principle of form or inner existence and the principle of earth means the passive principle of matter or physical existence (Ibid., pp. 90-91). The principles of heaven and earth function through intellect, and encompass the whole of nature and soul. The soul borders on nature (Ibid., p. 84) and is the most perfect among all the forms of matter (Ibid., p. 87).
In the uncreated world of pure spirit, that Eckhart calls the Godhead, are the trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. “God from God, light from light, one light, one God”, “These three are one”, (Ibid., p. 96). The Holy Spirit is the efficient cause and the created principles the material cause of the universe. God arranges suitable accidents for everything in heaven and earth to appear appropriately (Ibid., p. 89). The Holy Spirit is the principle of consciousness. The realm of the created world is devoid of consciousness, which is manifest in nature due to the Holy Spirit in spirit matter combination – “In him was light; and the life was the light of men” (The Holy Bible, John 1:4); “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (Ibid., John 1:5).
In this article, a reference to the principle of materiality generically or by any name includes a reference to the created principles of heaven and earth, prakriti and yin; and any reference to the principle of consciousness generically or by any name includes a reference to the Holy Spirit, purusha and yang.
The principle of consciousness, being unchangeable, is also known as the principle of being. In the same way, the principle of materiality changing constantly is also known as the principle of becoming. Being and becoming are consistent with the observed facts of the universe and every being in the universe remaining the same and, at the same time, being subject to incessant change at every instant.
3.7. Physical Understanding
Until recently, physics used to think that various kinds of elemental atoms were the building blocks of the diverse universe. That was thought to be the case when atoms were thought to be indivisible, although it was known that atoms consisted of particles such as electrons, neutrons, and protons. The number of electrons and protons in an atom determine the element to which the atom belonged. Cell, the building block of life, was considered to be the result of a combination of suitable atoms under right conditions. Physics speculates that consciousness, which in the opinion of the author is outside the scope of physics, results merely from lifeless and insentient atoms when they combine under certain conditions conducive to create life.
Then, came a time when it was demonstrated that atoms, which were so far considered to be indivisible building blocks of matter, and their hereto before known constituent particles can in fact be split further into yet subtler fundamental particles releasing an enormous amount of energy. With this demonstration, matter just became a ‘frozen’ form of energy. The concept of energy has replaced matter as the most central concept in physics today (Berezin 2002).
Although, physics today considers energy to be the ultimate principle of all materiality, one must marvel at the arrangement of fundamental particles into the constituent atomic particles and the forces that propel them into various arrangements of orbits, which enable them to appear as diverse matter. If energy is the material cause of matter, then the forces that control and organize the energy-based development must be credited with being the efficient cause.
Individual subatomic particles are very heavy in comparison to their size. If one could pack them tight with no inter-particle spaces, a teaspoon full of them will weigh a few thousand tons. A teaspoonful of them can expand into a small planet.
Where did energy that became ‘frozen’ as matter come from? Science theorizes that it came out of a black hole in a big bang or some such mysterious way at the birth of the universe that has been expanding since inception. The process of dissolution begins with the contraction of the universe and final disappearance back into a black hole simply by the force of gravity. The black holes are very dense and heavy and so becomes the contracted universe immediately prior to its dissolution.
3.8. Individual Being
According to the mystical and metaphysical thinking, individual beings are comprised of a physical body composed of earthly elements and an inner being composed of the heavenly elements. The elements are held together in a harmonious fashion by the causal force of Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that enlivens the inner being, which in turn enlivens the physical being. Different types of beings are different because of differences in physical bodies that permit the inner functions to intercommunicate to different extent. The difference in an animal and a human is that in the human body the nature of the physical body permits inner functions to intercommunicate with each other and with the physical body in an optimal fashion. The difference between an animate and an inanimate being would similarly be explained by minimal channels for the inner functions to intercommunicate between each other and with the physical body in an inanimate being. The strength of intercommunication between inner functions and between the inner functions and the external body determines the extent of spiritual development. According to mystical and metaphysical thinking, it is intelligence that guides all evolution and developmental activities in the domain of nature.
Physical thinking credits energy to somehow arrange a number of subatomic particles into an elemental atom. Different atoms arrange themselves into an inanimate being, or a living cell in favorable environment, which in turn becomes the building block of life. All living beings are particular arrangements of cells. Consciousness somehow develops when life develops. Ultimately all beings, animate and inanimate, are nothing but a bunch of quarks arranged in particular fashions. The force that shapes these arrangements does not seem to be within the scope of physics.
3.9. Underlying Kinship, Unity and Oneness
Irrespective of whether one subscribes to mystical and metaphysical point of view or to the point of view of physics, there is a certain feeling of kinship, unity and oneness amongst the infinite diversity in the universe that we cannot escape:
1. In the physical point of view, the source of underlying kinship, unity and oneness is energy, which transforms into the fundamental subatomic particles. All elements and all beings are typical arrangements of underlying energy. If the energy is the material cause of being, the mysterious force that arranges energy in diverse patterns is the efficient cause. There is a level of unity at the efficient level in addition to one at the material level. An individual being is not completely finite and disjointed from others. The underlying force that arranges energy particles in diverse patterns forming an individual is also responsible for inter-connection of individual beings in the universe. Any event that happens to an individual has to affect others through the medium of this inter-connection.
2. In the case of the religious and metaphysical point of view, we are united both through the unity of the so-called created principles and we are united through the unity of the so-called uncreated Holy Spirit. There are two levels of unity at the created level. At the physical level, we are united through the earthly elements that comprise our bodies. At the inner subjective level, we are united through the heavenly elements that comprise our minds and intellects. At the spiritual and the causal level, we are united through the Holy Spirit.
The concept of one ultimate reality does not lend itself to a distinction between the created and the uncreated. It harmonizes them both into a single concept. There is only one ultimate reality that expresses itself into two and then into many. By definition, this one is both the efficient and the material cause of both matter and spirit that appear as diverse beings in the universe.
We are united in oneness not only through ultimate reality as our source of birth, but also through it being the source of our sustenance. We, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the shelter in which we live, the cars we drive, the televisions we watch for recreation and entertainment, the fuel that drives our means of transportation, the electricity which runs our machines and lights our houses, and so on all are expressions of one ultimate reality through which we relate in kinship, unity and oneness with all beings.
As thinking beings it is up to us humans to use responsibility and respect in our relationships not only between each other, but also with the trees, plants, animals, fish, fowl, sun, moon, stars, earth, water, air, etc. Above all, we are united and one with each other as human beings in the sharing amongst us of an additional level of unity. We are co-travelers in of the journey of evolution from the principles first created by ultimate reality. We owe each other the utmost degree of understanding, love, and respect.
The fundamental source of our kinship, unity and oneness, ultimate reality – the source of our origin and our sustenance must always stay in our minds as we relate with each other and our environment.
3.10. Journey of Life
An animate being has bodily needs for survival and continuation of life. He/she needs air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat and shelter to live in order to continue the journey of life. In addition, there are needs of procreation and pleasure to live well, enjoy and continue life. These are immediate needs and must be fulfilled in every case or life ceases to continue.
In the case of human beings, there are some needs upon which our life does not apparently seem to depend. These needs are social and ethical in nature. We need to feel well by doing the right thing and fitting in the society as we run a business to provide for survival and pleasure. We follow a religion that is indigenous to the society; we do what is expected of us in our diverse roles as citizen, child, youth, husband, wife, father, mother, etc. In some cases, emphasis on immediate needs of survival and pleasure hijack the need of doing the right thing, while in others, ethical and social considerations take on such an importance that life and pleasure are willingly sacrificed to protect a preconceived value system. At times, this self-sacrifice is propelled by positive feelings of love to save and protect, while at times it is motivated by hatred and self-righteousness to damage and destroy others.
For some human beings, there is a need to know, understand, and live in harmony with the profound truths of life. This need may supersede all other needs. They want to discover and unravel the secrets of nature and reality and travel the journey of their lives in harmony with their understanding of the realities of life. The concept of ultimate reality is so profound that its reflection and contemplation continuously propels a re-evaluation of preconceived religious and ethical value systems. Preconceived value systems begin to pale in the light of ultimate reality resulting in lives full of love, understanding, peace and harmony.
How an individual behaves in life depends upon how he perceives himself. Does the individual identify him/herself with the physical body alone without any sense of oneness? Or does he/she identify with the inner being without any sense of oneness? Or does he/she identify him/herself with the Holy Spirit also without which either the inner or the outer physical system cannot survive? Remember, the Holy Spirit is one of the uncreated Persons identical with Godhead, the ultimate reality (Eckhart 1981, p. 96). Am I a separate individual cut off from others? Or am I connected with others through the sense of oneness of material, mental and causal principles? Body identification encourages a finite, separate and disjointed view of life. So is the case with identification with the inner beings of intellect, ego and mind. Balanced perspectives of self lead to balanced lives and lopsided perspectives to lopsided lives. The profundity and depth of the concept of ultimate reality and meaning has the capacity of providing the tools necessary for humanity to attenuate the effect of preconceived ideas while developing the balance needed for harmonious lives.
4. Forces of Change
It is a matter of common perception that nature is imbued with dynamism. Principles of being and becoming are the forces that propel this dynamism. The former principle in one sense relates with the element of constancy in what we are, we were, and continue to be and in the other sense it relates with what we have become at a given instant in time. The latter principle relates with the element of change in what we are going to be. Natural entities simultaneously have a certain state of being and also a certain tendency of becoming somewhat different. Without this tendency of becoming, there would be no creativity in nature and there will be no dynamism; everything would be totally static and lifeless.
The element of constancy is manifest through the principle of life or consciousness enabling the capacities of life and perception, thought, feeling and will in the mind stuff. The dynamism seen in nature is driven by this principle. On the other hand, the element of change is manifest through the objects of perception, thought and feeling expressed through matter, subtle or gross. The medium of change is this principle of becoming. The mechanism of change is pure and simple determinism through cause and effect characteristic in the material domain whereas both free will and determinism play a part in the dynamism seen in nature.
4.1. Determinism and Free Will
Matter, at the level of common experience, displays the tendency of becoming in primarily a deterministic manner, because it lacks effective mental equipment necessary for the manifestation of consciousness. Living organisms are endowed with physical bodies that permit their mental functions to interact with each other and with the principle of consciousness. They, on the other hand, display a degree of free will mixed in with determinism.
In the cases of both inanimate matter and of living organisms, dynamism appears to be guided by a principle of consciousness or intelligence, which is present in them both, although it is perceptible to a higher degree in living organisms than in inanimate matter. The extent to which an object manifests the principle of consciousness seems to depend upon its individual spiritual state manifest through the effectiveness of mental equipment. Thus, in the real world, the principle of consciousness, to the extent it is manifest, gives rise to free will, which alters the deterministic course of natural tendencies.
This principle of consciousness is responsible for enabling awareness to the subject’s own state of existence in relation with that of the environment. The extent of this self-awareness depends upon the extent to which the subject manifests the principle of consciousness. Subjects with high degree of awareness display a relatively high degree of free will that alters the natural deterministic path of evolution. In inanimate matter, there appears to be little or no free will, and the process of becoming proceeds in a relatively predictable and deterministic manner. Within the class of living organisms, the principle of consciousness is manifest to different degrees in different organisms. Of all the living organisms, human beings manifest it the most, although not to the same extent individually. Therefore, of all the living organisms, in humankind the dynamic processes are capable of the highest degree of freedom from the determinism of natural inclinations. It is important to make it clear that the term free will is used in this article to mean will free from the compulsions of natural instincts and inclinations resulting from the unconscious or subconscious mind, prior experience, karma, preconceived ideas, habits, prior conditioning, etc.
4.2. Spiritual development
The extent to which the principle of consciousness is manifest in a subject determines the extent of its spiritual development. The extent of spiritual growth thus can be measured by the degree of freedom from the determinism of natural instincts and inclinations.
Development of human beings depends upon the extent to which the principle of consciousness is manifest in them. This presumably is the assumption implicit in the systematic development of human awareness by educational processes, which, by definition, aim at an accelerated rate of human development as compared with the rate envisaged by nature alone. The extent to which the educational processes succeed in the spiritual development of the student can therefore be measured by the degree of resultant freedom from natural instincts and inclinations.
5. Rationale for Systematic Spiritual Education
The current educational systems seem to be designed to emphasize human awareness of the external environment rather than the awareness of the essence of one’s own existence. It is believed that this lack of self-awareness leads to a one-sided development of human awareness skewing the path of spiritual development. Our educational systems prepare us more for the business, scientific and technological developments and less for the realms of understanding our own human essence and that of the universe. Who are we? What are we? Where do we come from? Where does the universe come from? Why are we here? How do we relate to one another and how do we relate to the universe? How do we come about and how does the universe come about? How should we behave with one another and how should we behave in the universe where we exist? Educational systems do not lay enough emphasis on questions such as these and most of humanity is left to answer these questions using individual resources or by chance discoveries. Such a lack of systematic preparedness in matters of human essence and essence of the universe leaves us without proper perspective in making free life choices. We seem to be governed by natural tendencies, which seem to drive us rather than our free will. If education were to cause spiritual development in step with developments in the external world, it is imperative to strike a balance in the emphasis on matters of essence relative to external environment.
6. Human Condition
Evidence of this lack of balance is present everywhere. In this post-modern era, the human mind is capable of developing space and air travel, computers, smart machines, the internet, human clones, lightening-fast communications, rapid means of transportation, health and disease control, etc. In comparison, there is no discernible improvement in inner human condition that underlies behavior, minimal standards of behavior being enforced from outside through laws, legislation or reciprocity of selfish individual, national or regional interests.
Unchecked passions seem to take control. Pleasure-seeking through sex, alcohol and drugs, seems to be commonplace. Family commitments weaken. Love, respect, and compassion generally seem to be absent or lacking. Violence is commonplace. Emphasis on sex and pornography is alarming. Pleasure seeking by individuals seems to replace noble goals of life. As a consequence, loneliness and depression seem to increase and mental health seems to deteriorate as we have more external facilities with increased technological development.
Hatred and lack of tolerance abound. Shortsighted profit motive and greed drive everything. Environment is being polluted to the extent that the very life on earth is threatened by climate change and ozone depletion. Weapons of genocide and mass destruction are so numerous that the whole population of the earth can be destroyed many times over. Humankind seems to be rushing towards hatred, violence and destruction without looking back. In general, we seem to lack the internal human tools to deal with changes in lifestyle brought about by increased development in the sphere of external environment. On the other hand, in the less developed parts of the world, comparisons with the developed parts have generated feelings of injustice and despair leading to loss of hope and growth of radicalism and extremism. Intolerance, hatred, and acts of terrorism have sent shockwaves around the world. Humankind seems to be in a state of turmoil. Peace, both individual and collective, seems illusive. Fear and greed appear to have taken humanity in a tight grip.
It is my understanding that in North America more Internet traffic is generated by each of the pornographic and gambling businesses than by any other human endeavor. Considering that North America is a developed region of the world with free and compulsory education until high school, one can imagine how this would be used in geographical areas of the world with little literacy, development, or education. Internet is a technological development with unlimited potential of human good. But look at the human condition that has reduced it to be a tool of slavery to baser instincts rather than a tool of freedom from slavery from natural instincts and inclinations!
Admittedly, leadership of some of the so-called developed nations has taken seemingly important spiritually progressive steps in the form of legislation guaranteeing basic human dignity and rights to their citizens, but lacking accompanying spiritual growth of the individual citizen, legislation remains ineffective especially in situations involving conflict with the houses of power. On an international level, human rights considerations remain subservient to national interests or absolutist visions of religious leaders in-charge of interpreting God or God made laws. Of course, there are instances of enlightened leadership on international level through acts of removal of walls, boundaries and barriers, but again such acts are largely driven by national and regional interests rather than spiritual or human considerations. On an individual level, humanity seems to be drawn towards pleasure seeking either here on earth or in heaven after death, mistaking momentary pleasure for lasting happiness and incapable of managing personal relationships, the environment and individual lives. We value pleasure to an extent that we are willing to go to heaven to enjoy earthly pleasures. Leadership of nations cannot be essentially different from the individual citizens from whom it is drawn.
6.1. Determinants of Human Condition
The root of human condition is traceable to our complete identification with physical body and intellect, which simply are expressions of the created principles. We are conscious of the finitude of our bodies and mental capabilities. This happens because of our misunderstanding of our true source; we truly are expressions of ultimate reality, which is infinite.
I am an expression of ultimate reality and so are you. I was born with that identity but I was not aware of it. My mother told me I was her son. Then my father told me I was his son. A little while later everybody told me I was a Hindu, and then I was an Indian. Later I became a Canadian. In my old age, I am known as the husband of somebody and the father of so and so. I am aware of all those identities and in this confusion I failed to realize that at first I was an expression of ultimate reality. This is my most basic and supreme identity. I could not have any of those identities if I ultimate reality chose not to manifest in my form or create me. All other identities came afterwards.
Our cause is infinite therefore we too are infinite. Our source is the source of the entire universe. We are all are akin, connected, united and one. I inherit my being from ultimate reality and so do you and all the others. Whereas the created principles are our material cause, the efficient cause is the Holy Spirit without recognition of which we have limited tools to transcend our body and sense related selfishness. An enlightened perspective between the body and the spirit is needed for leading a balanced life. Without this perspective, one’s behavior is likely to be governed by one’s limited I-sense – natural instincts, a collection of preconceived ideas, a limited set of experiences and the consequent inclinations. With this I-sense, there is no scope for free will. Our lives are going with the flow of unchecked emotions and ungoverned passions. One’s behavior then is totally deterministic and governed by the strict laws of cause and effect. To every action, there is a proportionate reaction.
Inclinations lead to strong cravings, aversions, and a strong desire to live with consequent fear of dying. All actions then are governed by these determinants of human condition.
6.2. Exclusivity and Inclusivity
Our false identification with our body and intellect is the source of exclusivity. What we say, think or believe becomes the only truth. If we are right, everybody else must be wrong. We are at the center of our body and intellect centered lives, next come our spouses and immediate families that feed our senses, then every thing connected with us. Things unconnected with our immediate circle are either of no concern to us; they must not be right; or downright despicable. Whether such people are religious or not, educated or not, whether they go to church, synagogue, temple, or mosque it does not make an iota of difference to their attitude about others.
Human history shows that people who identify their selves with ultimate reality have an inclusive view of others. They see all beings in the universe as one family. They understand humanity as they understand themselves. Their viewpoint is inclusive of not only all humanity, but also of all other beings in the universe. Such people may be very dedicated to their respective religion and their particular ways of seeking personal salvation or liberation; they see nothing wrong with having love and respect for others. For them religions are nothing but different paths to knowledge and love of ultimate reality; and one can only walk one path at a time. All the paths, whether prescribed or self-designed, when followed with devotion and single mindedness are equally capable of taking the dedicated to their destinations. One can only be inclusive to the extent one identifies oneself with ultimate reality.
6.3. Natural Instincts – Cravings and Aversions
All beings are born with natural instincts of likes and dislikes, cravings and aversions. As a consequence, we all feel attracted towards and attached to an object or idea that we imagine pleases us, and feel a degree of resentment, loathing and repulsion towards an object or idea that we imagine upsets us, displeases us, or causes us some kind of pain. The natural cravings and aversions give rise to distaste, loathing, repugnance, hatred, and fear on one side and longing, hunger, hankering, passion and greed on the other as we live and learn from our individual environments.
These instincts and inclinations form a group of individual passions, which tend to enslave human beings. Under their spell, human behavior is totally deterministic and free will does not play a role. Spiritual development enables freedom from passions by strengthening the element of free will that results from the understanding of human essence, essence of the universe and their relationship – considerations that remind me of my most basic and supreme identity that I am an expression of ultimate reality; so are you and all the others. This identity liberates a person from the cause and effect determinism. The extent to which one identifies with ultimate reality is the measure of spiritual growth.
The answer to all this lies not in the denial of attractions and repulsions, not in the dulling of senses, and definitely not in unchecked indulgence in cravings and aversions. Freedom from passions does not imply a life devoid of pleasure and enjoyment. Freedom implies control. The person should be in control. Passions should not control the person, especially in critical situations. Gift of life is meant to be lived fully. That is why we are here. It is a question of maintaining proper perspective and being responsible for one’s actions motivated by one’s passions. One must remember that life is a balancing act. Purpose of food is to sustain life. But unchecked gluttony can lead to death. We have evidence of it all around in North America. In the same manner, oxygen without which we cannot survive even for a few minutes can kill us by oxidation creating toxic free radicals damaging vital organs leading to death.
Self-consciousness, self study, and understanding of inner motivations and drives is necessary for developing the mental tools of free will to tame the ferocity of the human passions. Human beings need to develop inner tools of looking at the reasons that underlie attractions, attachments, aversions and repulsions and learn how to manage them with an enlightened perspective and the supreme identity with the ultimate.
One adds to the natural cravings and aversions by learning from the environment in which one lives. They underlie all our activity. One must use reason to control the natural and acquired passions or else they start controlling our reason, thought and will. Control begins with understanding, which, in turn, leads to the attenuation of passions.
“An unexamined life is not worth living.” We have to learn how to examine our lives. We have to learn how to develop valid tools of soul searching and examination of the drivers of our individual will. Superlative happiness lies in the activity of this examination and following up of the findings thereof. This is not a one-time activity, nor is it an activity in which to involve in a haphazard and sporadic manner. On the contrary, it is a serious activity that needs to be performed well, with due preparedness and understanding, and continually if happiness is to be a continuous state of being in a life lived well. In the opinion of the author, education specifically designed for this purpose is necessary to achieve the necessary goals of inner development, or in this fast changing world, the natural force of becoming will continue to be directed by uncontrolled passions and external considerations.
7. Directing the Force of Becoming
Although humanity recognizes the value of education in orienting human lives, so far education in the spiritual heritage of humanity has been overlooked. Having identified human condition with material well-being, human societies have not paid due attention to the deeper determinants of human condition. This article proposes a program of complementary education in the hope of re-establishing a balance between internal and external growth of human awareness. The proposal does not de-emphasize the external but it emphasizes the internal so that humankind attends to the task of developing inner tools of coping with external developments in human and humane ways.
The proposed educational effort provides for an increased emphasis on developing awareness of one’s own state of existence to correct the imbalance created by the current educational systems. In this sense, spiritual heritage implies that knowledge and understanding which is developed by humankind through the ages and is related with the essence of human existence, essence of the universe, their relationship with each other and the questions of human identity. It is hoped that such an education will contribute to improving human condition in a deeper sense in general by encouraging research and reflection on important human questions. In addition, it is hoped that this education will also build inclusivity between religions on one hand and religion and science on the other in addition to promoting respect for human and natural environment. It is also hoped that such an educational effort will promote tolerance, understanding, love and respect amongst different people by creating a background for meaningful inter-religious dialogue, as religion primarily is a mere cultural expression of the underlying spiritual heritage of humanity.
8. Curricula in Human Spirituality
In this section, an attempt is made to develop a set of criteria that must be followed in order to ensure acceptability of the proposed initiative, to define its scope and its basic directions, and to develop a strategy of its introduction. A curriculum of courses can then be designed to suit the specific needs of the target students.
8.1. Curriculum Design Criteria
In seeking to promote the proposed educational initiative, we must follow a certain set of principles and adhere to a certain set of criteria. It must be remembered at all times that it is not intention to meddle with religion as such or propose an alternative. It simply seeks to highlight the universality of the essence of all religions. It respects all religions as different paths of perceiving cosmic reality. The goals of mutual respect, love, understanding and rich coexistence would be well served only when it does not shake a seeker’s faith in his or her particular religion. We need to work on the principle that one’s personal salvation or liberation lies in the single-minded pursuit of one’s chosen path and, reciprocally, according the same freedom of choice to others. The important conclusion of spiritual endeavor is that it is senseless to bring in the element of exclusivity in one’s religion while downgrading others. This conclusion needs further elaboration because what is advocated here is not merely tolerance of other religions but mutual respect and acceptance of other religions. This can be ensured only when there is no seed of intolerance at all in the pursuit of a religion. It is true that civilized secular societies have ensured that there are constitutional mechanisms in place where there is no scope for religious intolerance to raise its ugly head. But our objectives go one step further. What is advocated is true spirituality that transcends all religious differences and where there is no room for religious intolerance per se.
The following design criteria shall apply to curriculum research, development and delivery:
1. All educational material, lectures, seminars, etc. will be equally applicable to the whole humanity, irrespective of religion, belief, faith and culture, and without discrimination of any kind whatsoever.
2. All educational material, lectures, seminars, etc. will use extreme caution and sensitivity and refrain from affirming, diminishing, or denying any religion, belief, faith or culture explicitly or implicitly.
3. All educational material, lectures, seminars, etc. will acknowledge due academic credits to ideas and concepts used from any religion, belief, faith, or culture.
4. The approach used to research, develop and deliver the curricula shall be based strictly on academic considerations.
5. There shall be absolutely no preaching and proselytising.
6. All educational material, lectures, seminars, etc. will promote tolerance, understanding, love, and respect for all human beings without any discrimination.
7. The educational material will be complementary to the existing educational systems.
8. The educational material will incorporate totality of human experience with multi-disciplinary approach.
9. All educational material, lectures, seminars, etc. will be mindful of the individual need and right to the exclusive practice of one’s chosen religion with undivided devotion and surrender in following the path of one’s personal salvation or liberation. Religious inclusivity should not in any way or form be understood as a compromise in this respect.
10. The educational material will promote the use of natural and environmental resources with respect and responsibility.
11. The educational material will promote positive personal involvement in improving human condition through oneness, education, nonviolence, understanding, respect, love, and service.
8.2. Basis for Curriculum on Spiritual Heritage of Humanity
We are conscious of our existence and the existence of the whole universe. We do not need any other proof of our existence. We wonder how we came about and how the universe in which we exist comes about. This natural curiosity leads to a belief or an inference about the existence of an ultimate reality. We do not agree with each other regarding the nature of this causal reality and how we, and the universe come about through it. Some of us are not convinced that there is a causal reality different from the universe. The universe just is and it goes on by itself indefinitely. Some of us are not curious about the causal issues and we just want to live our lives with contemplative guidance from within. Some of us just want to live as we see fit depending upon the conditions that prevail from time to time.
The proposal is based on the following postulates:
- The existence of an individual in the universe is a reality.
- The proof of existence lies in the individual being having consciousness of the self and of the universe.
- There is underlying reality conceived as ultimate reality not necessarily outside of the universe. This reality may be a reality of faith, pure reason, contemplative perception, or a combination thereof.
- Understanding of the nature of this other reality is relative and private to an individual and his/her personal value and religious commitment.
- One can learn to be exclusive in following one’s own commitment in search of personal salvation or liberation and at the same time to be inclusive in respecting everybody else’s religions.
8.3. Scope of Education in the Spiritual Heritage of Humanity
Spirit of something is its essence, its true reality, and its underlying meaning. It is proposed that we keep our focus on this meaning while considering how to define the spiritual heritage of humankind. Broadly speaking, the spiritual heritage of humanity for our purpose would imply that body of knowledge which is created by humankind anywhere in the world concerning human identity arising out of an intelligibility of human essence, the essence of the universe, the reality underlying humanity and the universe, the relationship between realities of the humankind and that of the universe, the meaning and purpose of being human in the universe, and the means of fulfillment of our purpose. Courses shall include both the cognitive and the experiential, direct and the indirect knowledge of ultimate reality harmonizing with different disciplines of the established educational system.
8.3.1. Human essence
The consideration of human essence encompasses it actuality, its potential, and its development. The study includes the essence of body, mind and spirit. In principle, body and mind have been identified with the created principles of earth and heaven respectively, and spirit with the uncreated Holy Spirit, also referred to as the real self. Whereas the real self is the subject of conative knowledge alone, body is the subject of life sciences, and mind including the study of reason, thought, will, senses, feelings and sensations etc. are the subjects of humanities and social sciences.
8.3.2. Determinants of Human Condition
Human identity underlies human condition. Intelligibility, attenuation and control of human condition to achieve universal inclusivity is the main goal of education in the spiritual heritage of humanity and a yardstick of one’s spiritual development.
8.3.3. Realities of Humanity and the Universe
This curriculum area encompasses the exploration of how different religions, beliefs, faiths, cultures, and natural sciences conceive ultimate reality of the universe and humanity within it.
8.3.4. Meaning and Purpose of Being Human
A reflection of the self, the universe and the relationship between the two leads to an understanding of the meaning and purpose of life. Spiritual education won’t be complete without this investigation including the disciplines of contemplation and ways of living.
8.4. Strategy of Course Development
It is suggested that initially a curriculum be designed to suit students at the post secondary level in order to develop a pool of teachers for the lower grades. Because of the breadth of the scope of the proposed initiative, it is suggested that a team of experts collaboratively develop each course.
Initially the courses will be offered in distance education mode on the internet. It is hoped that the established educational systems worldwide will feel compelled to take notice if we do an excellent job of high academic standard in developing course material, which we plan to share with others on request.
9. Concluding Remarks
Recognizing the value of education in orienting life, this article presents a philosophical argument in favor of an increased emphasis in public education on developing inner capacity of humankind through the all inclusive ultimate reality centered study of human essence, essence of the universe, relationship between the two, and human identity. Knowledge is transformational and that of ultimate reality is especially so. It is hoped that the proposed educational initiative will equip the human mind better to cope in a human way with the fast paced scientific and technological changes in the external world. It is also hoped that the resulting spiritual understanding will pave the way for increased religious tolerance and understanding leading to mutual love and respect amongst the various religions of the world and amongst diverse inhabitants of open and secular societies.
It is hoped that the proposed spiritual studies will contribute significantly towards promoting civilized behavior by individuals and nations alike by equipping the individuals in the world with means of intelligibility that imbibes unity and oneness of our essence with simultaneous affirmation of their personal faith structures and denial or diminishing of none. Peace and justice require the capacity to see everyone inclusively. Top of page
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