Anyone who talks a great deal about religion has a hard time of it not being mistaken for a preacher. A preacher is a person who tells people, including himself what they ought to do. In order to improve themselves in the world. And there’s a place for this kind of thing. For, within limits, our behavior and our circumstances can certainly be improved. But the limits are rather small. For the permanent gains of human reason and kindness of moral effort and social concern are palliatives rather than solutions to the great basic problems of being sensitive and alive. They redecorate the interior, but don’t repair the fundamental structure of the house. It isn’t that they’re on important. Small, relative, limited gains are never an important. Often enough they represent immense effort and skill. And it would be simply ungracious and unfeeling to minimize them. Think of the energy and devotion of medical men which has increased our average life expectancy from forty five to sixty five years. Twenty years is a long time. Until it becomes the accustomed matter of course. Or until it begins to run out. Or think what this same devotion has done to get rid of physical suffering which is again the most marvelous relief. Until this relief in turn becomes the norm. And free from the struggle with physical agony of the mind becomes aware of the torturing potentiality of anxiety. Sometimes it seems that every victory over fear and pain, simply opens up new and subtler depths of suffering, as if man were by nature a self tormenting animal or as if pleasure and pain were the inevitable terms of sense experience changeable in form but never in presence.
Perhaps it’s true that part of the various zest of life. Lies in fighting endlessly against a limitless element of evil. Just as the fun of say playing cards lies in pitting one’s wits interminably against the element of chance brought in by repeated shuffling of the pack. Yet perhaps this isn’t a good comparison, for the physical and emotional shock of evil and suffering is hardly in the same class as mere disorder. It has a variance and a bite so intense that men often wonder if the game’s worth the candle. Especially when it seems that in the end the victory will go to the side of destruction. For it’s pretty cold comfort, to believe that despite the inevitable destruction of the individual, the race or life itself will go on and on if not here then on other planets in other galaxy is remotely forever. Remote is the word for to the extent that living organisms are individuals and feel as individuals this is other life. Each organism faces its death and destruction alone. And in this apparently final and solitary defeat, others are strangely helpless and far off. It’s against this totally unavoidable eclipse of the individual that the games of science and ethics seem so small. And this is all the moreso, when the whole trend of moral philosophy has been to stress the value of the individual. And thus to make every man more and more conscious of his individuality. In this sense, moral concern seems to hinder as much as it helps. The Christian and Western conscience revolts at the callousness of other cultures. At the way in which Indians and Chinese have let millions of as a matter of course. But this Christian pity for others is rooted in the most intense awareness of oneself. It is the realisation that others are living selves just as I. And this realization, this valuation of the individual person ever more intensifies the sensation of being an individual and never momentum if I is the problem that to all outward knowledge the destiny of each and every individual is destruction. Indeed, sympathy,and love for the individual. Is an emotion so poignant and so apparently hopeless, that our culture is in many ways trying to withdraw from it. Accustoming ourselves to the statistics of violence so as to be able to think of Belsen and Hiroshima without going insane. And without technical powers this is a very very dangerous kind of insensitivity. But what’s the alternative?
For most thoughtful people it seems to be less and less plausible that the individual is an immortal soul fundamentally impervious to destruction and the ravages of pain. And so to many it must seem that the intense consciousness of individuality is a luxury we cannot afford. And that sanity require as a swing back to the collectivist mentality, to the feeling that each man lives for the race and not the race for man. Thus one might easily assume, that all ideas about the basic unreality of the human ego so familiar to the student of Eastern philosophy are part of a general trend towards a collectivist and depersonalized view of man. Of, in the Western world at least, a reaction against the Christian valuation of the individual. Yet no one can go it all deeply into Indian or Chinese thought at its best, without realizing that it seldom idealizes points of view which are extremes of opposites reactive to each other. And this includes also points of view which are compromises between extremes. Eastern thought is generally speaking non-dualistic which in this case this would mean that it regards the individual and collective mentality is as equally beside the point. It isn’t however quite correct to call this non dualist position Eastern, for this is to local and geographical. It is I think better to call it the standpoint of a certain level of spiritual inside of religion or whatever you want to call it which is in fact Universal however unusual it is east and only in the sense that it appears somewhat more frequently in the eastern spiritual traditions.
Now this is a level of religion which has little if anything to do with preaching with exultations to change oneself or the world as I’ve suggested it’s not against such acts of exultations. It is not merely indifferent to them. It is in a difference here. But this is a sphere in which we must be awake and aware if moral and social concern are to have any point at all. It underlies ethical activity in somewhat the same way. That space underlies motion space does not of itself Force One to go left or right. But without space one can do neither. To put it in another way all concern for human improvement for growth and positive change is a matter of time. Of hopes, and ideals whose realization requires a future. But the deep level of religion of which I’m speaking is not a matter of time its concern is not with the relatively narrow limits in which man on the world may be improved or deteriorated saved or damned. It’s concerned with the immeasurably larger and even limitless realm of situations which we cannot change. With the universe as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be the world without end.
This is at times an easy world to ignore. For we are naturally preoccupied with things which we can control with details and confined spaces upon which our vision can easily focus. But according to the Buddha this ignore and it’s this ignorance is the root of our agony. Let it be said again however, that this eternal and uncontrollable sphere of things does not exclude or stand in opposition to the world of practical concerns. It underlies it, it interpenetrates it at every point. Perhaps the simplest most ordinary way of getting some Theel of it. Is to go up by oneself at night and look at the stars. At such a moment it’s merely a superficial cliché to think in the face of all this immensity I do not matter. That isn’t the point at all. As Basho said in one of his haiku poems, When the lightning flashes how admirable he who thinks not life is fleeting. The point is rather, that while the whole site of the heavens never fails to move us with its glory. We do not differentiate between good stars and bad styles. Nor between well and badly arranged constellations. Paraphrasing a Zen poem we might say, in the scenery of Heaven there is neither better nor worse. The shining stars are by nature some great, some small.
So also when we. Look at mountains we do not blame the valleys for being low nor praise the peaks of being high. The high peak implies the low valley and vice versa. Furthermore, the scattered constellations the outlines of mountains. The shapes of leaves and clouds always strike us as models. And are indeed the very prototypes of our notions of order and beauty. They don’t copy all imitate our abstract theories of proportion and design these are just our feeble attempts to explain why they affect us. On second thought, beauty is not the right word. For what we feel in the presence of these things. It’s too human, too moral, too good. What we feel is rather holiness. In its ancient sense of the all inspiring the wonderful the uncanny. From the most remote times the Heavens have given men this weird feeling. And this is doubtless why they have been thought to be the abode of God. Yet this gives a new twist to the old idea that by spiritual insight we find that heaven lies within us the point being that at a certain level every human being that lives is also holy. However good or bad, healthy or sick, interesting or doll. Every living creature is an uncanny strain. Almost other to himself. So that he could say with the Psalmist Behold I am fearfully and wonderfully made. For looking within, we confront the same unknown, the same uncontrollable depth of reality into which we gaze outwardly when we look at the most remote regions of space. Whats’ more, on the inner side, the deepest and most unreachable unknown of man is right inside the ego itself the very root of consciousness and will of the controller who is so impossible to control. Tennyson used to evoke the queerness of being an individual by repeating his own name. And the weirdness of I being eyes so spooked him that he passed into a kind of cosmic consciousness in which he felt the actual identity of the deepest inside of his ego was the father just outside of the stars. And at that moment, the feeling shifted from the uncanny, to a joyous and exuberance certainty that down at the very center he was not Alfred Tennyson, but that, as when the Upanishads say, tat tvam asi.
Now, unfortunately, all kinds of religious systems make this type of certainty this cosmic feeling. Into a goal which people ought to reach. In this way, it is dragged down into the domain of preaching and into the sphere of time something to be produced in the future. All kinds of cults implicitly or explicitly offer this experience as a hope. As a higher state of realisation into which you can move all grow in some tomorrow. Perhaps with the idea. That if only enough people felt this way the face of the Earth would be transformed. But this is a red herring. At this level religion has nothing to do with transformation. We are looking here at the way things are and always have been. At the secret glory of millions of people who lived and died long ago in what we should call the darkest ignorance. For at this level, religion goes beyond all human standards which is what louder meant when he said that heaven and earth are not humane. And that the Sage also is not humane. He sees that behind both the good and the bad of our social existence. There lies the immeasurable wonder of our natural existence. And I use natural here in the Chinese sense of spontaneous. The existence which comes about of itself and governed by the conscious will like the structuring of our bones. Ultimate religion is the recognition that this basic existence is infinitely more miraculous than any achievement of reason or art. The point is put very well in the words of an Arabian Gnostic mana emas known only for this single quotation. Learn whence is sorrow and joy and love and hate and waking though one would not and sleeping. One would not and getting angry though one would not and falling in love one would not. And if thou shouldst closely investigate all these things, that I will find God in my self one and many just as the atom. Thus finding from myself a way out of the self. The same thought as expressed by the Taoist Chuang-Tzu when he says. You move but you do not know whence movement begins you rest but you do not know how you come to stay you eat but do not know how you taste. For all this is the mighty insistence of the universe. How can it be grasped or held.
Now, these are all ways of showing how the human being seems to transcend and surpass himself when he tries to find out who or what he is deep down inside. He cannot penetrate this inner world. It silences his clever intellect shuts up his thinking. For before one has done or achieved anything at all whether good or evil ones sheer existence is simply unbelievable. Myself almost scares the wits out of me. Because it’s no longer little ole me. But the astonishing intelligence which I observe when I look at nerve fibers under a microscope. I haven’t about heaven below stars above stars below all that is over under shell show happy who the riddle read it. Now, you cannot preach about Wonder. You cannot tell people that they ought to wonder. That they should be teased out of thought either you are all you want. Or you can say is look into yourself and you may be amazed or you may not. Beyond amazement you may realize that you are that or you may not. But if you can’t see it by looking straight at it no amount of words will make it any clearer.
But there’s no way of making a duty out of this kind of thing, because the whole point is lost when we try to be utilitarian about it. To make out that existence is good for us. For existence at this deepest level is not good for anything. It doesn’t need to be. It’s the which than which there is no whicher. This is why Aristotle said that philosophy begins with wonder. And that action ends in contemplation. Which is simply a more silent and in raptured kind of wondering. The fiasco of school philosophy as it’s now widely practiced is that it permits no existential amazement I wonder it feels as a disease that descends upon us when we are not thinking clearly when words beguile us into asking questions that have no meaning, and so no answer. Well, schools have unhappily become institutions solely for teaching and explaining. And when they can’t explain the school men feel out of role, and abruptly change the subject. I don’t say this to minimize the value of scholarship. The fragments which it adds to our knowledge are no less important than the relatively small improvements which science and art to make to nature. All of which are also important. Because the more our knowledge and skill increase. The greater are our grounds for astonishment at what comes into being without our aid.
Well in short then, there is no need to anesthetize, to blunt the consciousness of being individuals in order to make the human situation tolerable. There’s no need at all to recondition men into some kind of collective all mass consciousness so that they can cooperate with each other and with the state like bees. The problem of the poignance and intensity of individual consciousness contains its own answer. For it is as it were, a brilliant concentration of light which just because it can foresee its own dissolution, can be vividly aware of existing now. And can wonder. As other forms of life apparently do not wonder. Just how it manages to be. And from what inner roots it springs. It is just here, that the restrictive and limiting quality of individuality, explodes through its own intensity. Because, when reflecting upon its own existence it finds that it’s beyond itself beyond its own understanding and control. And thus, as much outside itself as the most distant stars.
Individuality therefore ripens into an altogether new sensation of selfhood and identity which I’ve been calling the recognition that you are that. As good a word as any I can imagine. For that indescribably holy and eternal something or other which we feel. When night enables us to look out into the whole immensity of our universe. I keep returning to this image because it seems to me to be so common to all of us. Incidentally, it’s the image with which Dante concludes each of the three sections of the Divino Comedia. Perhaps, because it seems to convey more than his most elaborate symbols of the glory of God. Ultimate religion, the level of religion which lies beyond all ideals and improvements. Yesterday, today and forever is also the recognition that that is this where this refers to our every day. Monday in sensations to the stream of perceptions and feelings which make up an ordinary human life.
In the usual way, this realm of experience is regarded exclusively from the dualistic standpoint of good and bad success and failure. Pleasurable and painful. But now it is seen that the configurations of this well may also be seen in just the same way as the configurations of the stars. Without ceasing to be pleasurable and painful, it is also perfect and miraculous at every moment. No effort, no human contribution is required to make it so. But if we make any attempt to feel this to be so, the feelings so constructed will not only be artificial and shallow like all cultivated religiousness. We shall also fail to see. That our everyday feelings and experiences are miraculous just as they are before we make any attempt to recognize it. Once again this is no matter of a preaching for saying what ought to be done. There is nothing to do. For this is the way things are of themselves. Either you see it or you don’t, and if you don’t the very not seeing is also it. Of course we have bitterly afraid that any such view of our ordinary existence will obliterate the moral and social conscience. There are indeed people who adopt this as a philosophy to justify their economic status quo. I call this the wisdom of insecurity, for others. These dangers indeed exist for ultimate religion… like radioactivity, is a very dangerous thing. But as soon as a man knows that he is really free to be just what he is. That his existence is wholly of itself, beyond good and evil. Here is a man to whom we can preach and say listen, now that you are free this is what you ought to do.