(From my book: Spirituality Without God)
The concept of God as the Great Other has existed in the human psyche for thousands of years. It manifested in many different forms and dominated and controlled our lives ever since it appeared in the human mind as a projection of our highest moral and ethical ideals. No other aspect of human creation has had such profound effects on the quality of our everyday experience: from the most sublime to the lowest ebb of the inhumane in us.
Through its long evolutionary path, God has been described in forms which served the particular needs of various social orders, philosophers, religions, propagandists and historical periods: from the homely, personal gods of the people of the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent prior to the recognition of a single God within these traditions, to the mystical, transcendent God of early Hinduism, which, eventually, was transformed into the all-inclusive Essence or Ground of Being of the Advaita Vedanta philosophy. Today these notions of God are as clearly evident within the wider spectrum of modern religious and mystical enquiry as they were in ancient times.
God is still regarded as either the omnipotent creator-God in heaven; or as a mystical Being with whom we could merge after following a long, inner path of return – as a drop would merge back into the ocean which is both its source and ultimate destiny; or it is described as the immanent, Essential nature of all manifest existence from which we have never truly been separated. In this instance God is seen as our true Essence, prior to the belief in a categorical division between God and his creation; God and humankind.
Yet, in whichever way we have described and explained our gods to ourselves, evident in all these is a view of humanity which suggests that we are not yet in the same category as that of our gods. Furthermore, while alive here on earth, going through our daily routines of responsibility and volitional activity, human life is regarded to be dependent for its ultimate happiness and fulfillment on a Source which has always existed prior to, and therefore separate from, all aspects of its creation..
In this we notice a distinct, if rather subtle, dualism: if God existed prior to humanity, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that it has an existence separate, and ultimately separable, from human life. This would also imply that as humans we need God for our existence. God does not need us. One of the earliest concepts of God was ‘One without the other’. Originally only God existed. In religious and mystical terms this implies that humanity is a mere after-thought in the mind of God. This implies a distinct dualism between God and humankind – something which none of the traditions have managed to bridge, despite the attempts to do so by some of the great Advaitist (non-dual) philosophers. Where there is a God, there is indeed an other – a human being – separate from the God they worship or aspire to merge with in mystical union.
If we investigate this God-concept further, it also becomes evident that we need God for our ultimate fulfillment, whereas God has been projected as an entity or state of Being completely sufficient unto itself. This vision of humankind as the inferior partner, or lesser principle in the creative potential of the Ultimate, has forced a particular mentality of inferiority and disempowerment upon us and greatly conditioned us into a primary belief of our separation from life itself. Whereas the Ultimate has been described as eternal life, the condition of humankind has been relegated to the realms of birth, death and decay – all suggesting our fundamental inferiority relative to the unchanging nature of the Ultimate. This left us with only one apparent course of action: to return to That of which we are presumed to be either a modification, creation or emanation. And all traditional religious or mystical paths afford us with means through which we could accomplish our return to, or unification with, the Ultimate. Whether this return will happen after death or during some mystical unity with the Godhead during our lifetime, our path has been pre-determined as a fundamental movement towards the Ultimate. Our only apparent choice is which path to follow and which ‘revelatory’ description of God to believe in.
If we now contrast this with the kind of secularism developing mostly in the West – and rapidly spreading to other parts of the world – where more people are beginning to question the existence of a God as such, we notice an interesting shift towards scientific enquiry, technological development and the notion that rational thinking can ultimately deliver us from the problems we have created for ourselves. The concept of God as our source of inspiration and ultimate fulfillment has therefore been replaced with the concept that science and rational thinking could serve as instruments for the facilitation of human well-being. What our gods were supposed to have done for us, science and the rational mind now have to accomplish. The atheistic humanist movement therefore moved from a dependence on God to a dependence on scientific rationalism as its sole source of inspiration and information.
This movement, away from the creator-God as sustainer of its creation, towards scientific materialism makes some sense if one considers the less-than-accurate information about so many aspects of human life which was forthcoming from the religious schools of thought. However, when the human mind began to question its dependence on its own God-projection and shifted its focus instead to a dependence on rational thinking and scientific materialism, it committed yet another error of judgment: it moved from an uninspected religious certainty to an equally uninspected rationalist/materialist view of things without first investigating the fundamental problems both these styles of human enquiry were attempting to address.
In this, the humanist movement, in its reactive urgency to rid itself from the stigma of the God-paradigm committed the same error which previously led to the error of the God-concept. It moved from the belief in God to the belief in knowledge and science. Unfortunately both these beliefs are based on an uninspected view of the nature of the unique problems facing us. In addition to this, this approach fails to appreciate the limited potential of the instruments employed by both rationality and religious belief to deal with human life in an intelligent, comprehensive and effective manner.
The movement from God to rationality is therefore a mere modification within the projective ability of thought, rather than a radical shift into the exploration of other, more subtle, areas of our human potential. Belief in a God is as much a product of thought as is the belief in rationality and science as panaceas for all our ills. Both these beliefs are created and sustained by thought. Without sensitizing ourselves to the inherent limitations of thought, all the steps we take towards solving our problems via the agency of rationality alone will be conditioned and controlled by the challenged nature of the instrument we use.
If Humanism were to become the basis for a truly integral approach to human well-being, it would be prudent for it to sensitize itself to the vast well of human potential which lies beyond mere scientism and the power of the rational mind. In fact, at some point in its enquiry, Humanism will be forced to re-look at the question of transcendent living, much as the eastern traditions had to do, but without any of the religious dogmas and presumed revelatory, mystical ‘truths’ associated with these ancient metaphors for integral living and the wholeness of life.
Humanism without God needs to look deeply into the entire potential of the human condition before it could describe itself as truly humanistic. Humanism which rejects the notion of a God, as well as not having an ongoing program through which to discover the wealth of ability which exists as transcendent potential within the depths of our human spirit, will fail the high ideals to which it aspires. For instance, humanistic values which do not include enquiring into our non-dual, self-transcendent potential, will remain immersed in the limited ego-paradigm that produced the illusion of God, and all forms of the Great Other, which it believes it has left behind. It will create a world of relative functional and psychological security within its scientific/rationalist projections, but because these are primarily based in a materialistic, non-transcendent and ego-based view of humankind, these values will leave us as bewildered, emotionally disturbed and spiritually barren as what we endured as a consequence of the God-paradigm.
We projected ourselves into the dilemma of God, and we may, through right thinking, come to the understanding that God never was. But if we consider that we projected this thing called God in an attempt to deliver us from our suffering and general distress, it may also be clear that the same instrument (thought) that created this delusion, cannot be trusted as the sole instrument through which to transcend the problems it has created for us. As little as God, as a projection of thought, ever had the power to influence the course of human life and to relieve us from the suffering we brought upon ourselves, equally as little can the instrument that created this God deliver us from the consequences of its own activities. Rational thinking, valuable and necessary when used appropriately, cannot transcend itself.
A new energy has to be brought into the equation of human problem-solving. A new light has to dawn for humanity. A new, different kind of intelligent participation in our inner functioning as well as the instruments we use for this functioning has to be facilitated from within our human potential if we were not to repeat our misapprehensions and mistakes of the past.
The speed with which we destroy the natural resources of our planet; the rampant materialism to which we dedicate so much of our valuable human resources; the superficiality of our emotional responses; our unlove and self-interest; the corruption in all our institutions; the devastating wars; our political and religious divisions – these are all direct consequences of our failure to understand our human situation in its functional reality. As the creators of our own world, individual self-knowledge is of vital importance if we are to establish a more humane society.
Spiritual Humanism suggests that we open ourselves up and sensitize ourselves to the vast well of human ability that have been obscured by all the traditional explanations of who and what we are and how this interpreted version of human life should relate to its world and the presumed Beyond.
Paradoxically this ‘new’ energy is as old as humankind itself. The kind of enquiry which Spiritual Humanism suggests is therefore not to be associated with a categorical movement away from our ordinary lives into the realms of our gods. Rather, it describes a gradual unfolding of our true, natural and holistic condition. Through practical and effective forms of self-enquiry we are encouraged to wake up from all the dreams and beliefs that limit and control our lives. This awakening into conscious awareness of our natural condition has been our potential ever since we started to notice ourselves as human beings. In fact, human life already inheres in a depth of true intelligence and compassionate emotional responsiveness, but these have never revealed themselves as the functional basis of interaction and relationship. Rather they have been obscured through a lack of self-reflection and self-knowledge.
We have no-one to blame. Not even ourselves. We have simply never been made fully aware of our true human potential. Spiritual Humanism suggests that the time has arrived for us to fall back onto our own human resources, to have faith in ourselves and to discover the human-centric functional measure for a truly humane interaction with life. This necessitates a profound enquiry into every aspect of our being – including exploring the vast potential within the transcendent (non-self) truth of human existence. And it is this enquiry which validates the word ‘spiritual’ as an integral component of Spiritual Humanism. If we do not allow for self-transcendent living, we will end up with the kind of rampant materialism evidenced in modern life which cannot but lead to nihilism, bewilderment, cynicism, a deepening of fragmentation and inner and outer conflict.
When we put aside the God-concept, we have nothing but our humanity to rely upon. And what Spiritual Humanism encourages and endeavors to facilitate as a practical, reasonable and most urgent quest, is the awakening of each of us to our vast, undiscovered well of human ability, generally completely obscured by uninspected living. One of the pivotal observations that Spiritual Humanism brings to our attention centers on the insight that, as part of our evolutionary process, we have made use of instruments, such as thought, attention, emotional reactivities, conditioning, habituation and self-awareness to assist us in dealing with the totality of human life before we investigated and discovered how these instruments work. That is, we have used thought, memory, attention, emotional responses, reason and intuition to manage the full complexity of our living environment, before we developed the art of self-observation and self-reflection. Without true self-reflection we will remain unaware of how we use these instruments in ways that more often than not distort our vision and fragment our lives.
As a direct consequence of this uninspected use of these powerful instruments, we created a world which reflects not our deepest human potential, but rather the results of the indiscriminate, habitual and inappropriate use of these faculties which were not designed to deal with the complexity of human life as a whole. Instead of resolving the challenges of life by making use of the entire spectrum of our potential, we sought resolution of these by utilizing the same instruments which created our problems in the first place. This suggests that we projected ‘answers’ for facilitating human well-being before we properly inspected either the nature of our problems or the appropriateness of the instruments we applied to deal with the challenges of life. In this we perpetuated human-created suffering, truly believing we were dealing with it effectively and creatively.
The reference which Spiritual Humanism makes to ‘uninspected living’, not only suggests that we lack knowledge of ourselves as products of thought and emotion, but most profoundly, that we have little or no insight into the functioning of instruments which up to this point in our evolution have mostly been responsible for creating sorrow, conflict and inner and outer disorder. If we are at all serious about a quality of life which reflects our deeper, truly humane potential, it is imperative that we investigate how we are controlled by instruments at our disposal which operate in an inner environment of pure habit and unawareness. No-one, no traditional religion, no guru and no God can correct the error of this unconscious abuse of such powerful instruments. Only conscious living, when explored and allowed to function at its deepest levels of insight, intelligence and pure emotion, could deliver us from what we unconsciously sanction as an ongoing process of uniformed functioning.
Such self-observation and self-knowledge need to take place in the context of a wider enquiry into the whole matter of self-transcendence. As will become evident as our enquiry proceeds, only when self-transcendence becomes the motivating principle behind our investigations into the underlying causes of, and freedom from human-created suffering and disorder, could the possibility of true integral living arise. Holistic, intelligent living and self-transcendence are thus related in a very specific way: the process of self-transcendence facilitates the revelation of the truth of non-duality (wholeness) and this condition of undivided experience is the basis from which intelligence and compassion arises. Wholeness and emotional intelligence are thus two fundamental manifestations of our natural condition. The one cannot manifest in a sustainable way without the other.
And it is at this juncture where we notice the uncompromising position of Spiritual Humanism relative to the humanist ideal: to be a humanist is also to be a non-dualist – not as a mere philosophical proposition, but as a person, in and as whom non-dualism begins to manifest on an ongoing basis. There can be no true Humanism without the reality of the non-dual truth of human existence to inform and sustain it. On its deepest level the human spirit is both founded in, and an expression of, the experience of the non-dual truth of every living moment. Thus the term: Spiritual Humanism.
Without God, we are thrown back onto ourselves, and this could be seen as potentially one of the most creative developments in human history. For once many of us find ourselves in a position from where we could discern about these matters for ourselves and to discover who and what we really are without fear of persecution and public ridicule. Spiritual Humanism suggests that at the most subtle level of human experience a natural state of non-dualism becomes self-evident. This is not something ‘we’ merge with. It is also not some Primordial mystical condition or a God eternally existing in mystical space to which ‘we’ return. Rather, it is simply that which remains when our inner sense of fragmentation and separation has been transcended through right practice and integral living. Here, inner and outer no longer appear as two separate states of observer and the observed. In wholeness no clear distinction can be made between the content of awareness and the awareness of content. The two are self-evidently one undivided and intelligent process of present arising.
And the most vital aspect of the uncovering of non-dual living is how this manifests in our ordinary human situation as love, charity, compassion, pure emotion, sanity, intelligence and psychological well-being. This is why non-dual living is so important for the facilitation of the full expression of the humanist ideals. These truly humane qualities cannot generally manifest in the noise and turbulence of the fragmented ‘I’-conscious state, driven and informed by conditioned thinking and feeling. We can neither believe nor reason ourselves into the full expression of holistic living. We can only create the conditions necessary to allow for its gradual unfolding.
This is why it is important that we attend to every aspect of our lives where we habitually and unconsciously fragment the truth of the living moment through conditioned mental and emotional responses to the challenges facing us. Our bondage is a subtly woven web of inner misapprehension and confusion. We believe so many things which contradict the reality of our living experience, and project so many thoughts onto the simplicity of the living moment, that we find it difficult, if not impossible, to discern projected and transferred ‘reality’ from the real movement of life itself.
Should it therefore be our deep, abiding passion to live with what is real, rather than our projected view of things, we would do well to refine our search into how we function as disturbed and self-contracted human beings to the point where our investigation becomes as subtle as the nature of the confusion we investigate. Only when the intensity and clarity of our enquiry meet the functional, but limited, intelligence inherent in our state of confusion, measure for measure, does the possibility of freedom arise. Before then we will remain absorbed in the clutches of our self-created, destiny-creating vision.
We are the path we will have to walk. There is no easy way out of the net of human-created suffering which we alone have woven and which we alone could undo. Few have achieved this, and, as we have seen, the reason for our inability to break free lies not with the integrity and natural ability of the human spirit of enquiry, or the natural intelligence within our human potential, but rather because we have neither been sensitized sufficiently with regard to the nature of our problems, nor been afforded with constructive and appropriate ways to deal with these. We are faced with a human dilemma, and we alone can transcend the problems we have created for ourselves. Our Gods, in whichever form, have proven to be of little help.
Spiritual Humanism offers us insights into the entire process of inner fragmentation: how it gets established and maintained through unawareness and lack of self-knowledge and how to transcend this finely woven network of misapprehension, confusion and suffering we have created for ourselves. This requires that we re-open our enquiry into the human condition: how we function as bundles of self-contraction; how thought creates and sustains the many illusions which dominate and control our lives; how our emotions are tied into their own network of psychological memory and patterns of reactivity and how the random and habitual movements of attention and thought create a false sense of reality which distorts our vision and obscures the non-dual reality which is our deepest potential and most natural condition.
But if we consider that wholeness is not something to be discovered within as some Primordial Essence, but is rather the simplicity of that which remains in any moment of present experience when our inner work has freed our being from the bondage of the self-contracted state, it may be clear that no aspect of human experience could be left out from this enquiry. We have to investigate the way things appear to us externally as much as how we create our confusion internally. As we have seen, wholeness is not something that binds inner and outer together, it is not of ‘one taste’, or of one Primordial Essence. Wholeness is simply the direct experience of the non-dual truth of our living experience which has nothing whatsoever to do with merging the separate self-sense into some Greater Presence, or realizing our presumed oneness with the universe or God.
Our delusions form a comprehensive and very effective barrier between ourselves and the wholeness of present experience, and only by investigating every aspect of these delusions could we create the conditions necessary for this great simplicity to shine through the fog of our misapprehensions. This is why Part One of this book looks at so many diverse aspects of how we delude ourselves into the belief of fragmented living. These are serious and vital considerations which cannot be by-passed. They form the necessary mental and emotional orientation towards true self-enquiry in general, which in turn facilitates the success of the inner work described in Part Two. Every detail of our uninspected sense of separation has to be recognized for what it is and be regarded as a necessary area for investigation and self-observation. Only when these have been re-cognized from the perspective of our deeper intelligence as mere illusions, can they be left behind.
As our enquiry unfolds, it will become self-evident that we are caught in a dream of folly. Mistaking this dream for reality, we are destroying both ourselves and our world. The problems we have created are deeply embedded in the fabric of our limited self-vision, and evidenced by the rather dysfunctional relationships we, as bundles of self-contraction, share with others and the world in general. Spiritual Humanism suggests that we first discover for ourselves the falseness of the ways in which we function, and from there to allow the clarity of our own living reality to lead us from darkness to light – from mere biological humanness, to truly humane living.
Only when the human spirit stands free from any self-imposed limitation and conditional relationships based on this deluded sense of self, can we consider ourselves truly humane. From there the natural order of things will unfold by itself.