Spirituality and Religion (2)

Religious expression can be placed in three broad grades.  The first is the primitive religious expression of our forbears, wherein natural forces were deified.  The intent of this form of worship was to propitiate the elements in order to ward off misfortune.  In other words this primitive phase was a religion of fear. 

The second grade was a step upwards, with the introduction of human concepts of morality and ethics, and the advent of great Teachers who endowed the Deity or Deities with moral qualities and judgmental powers.  These propagated moral qualities are now reflected in the more advanced civilisations which recognise them as necessary for the wellbeing of a community.  They are such things as forgiveness, mercy, non-aggression, integrity and benevolence.  However, hand in hand with this went the concept of arbitrary punishment for transgressors.  The Deities of this evolved religion embody the highest human qualities including exalted Love.  We can broadly distinguish this as the religion of morality and ethics.

The third grade is the religion of the philosopher, mystic and initiate, and even perhaps the scientist who is uncomfortable with materialism.  It advocates the principle of unity; the Creator is not only the source of life but is all inclusive, being both the manifested and the unmanifested.  He cannot be apart from His creation and is incapable of being distinguished as this, that or the other, either in expression or in quality.  To do so would exclude opposites and would therefore nullify the primary postulate, which is that everything is knowable through contrast.

The three grades of religion naturally shade off, as it were, into one another.  We can find elements of one mixed with those of the next higher one.  This applies more to the first two grades which could be called ‘communal religions’.  The third grade could be conceived as a prescription for a Universal Religion, except that at this level the religious element shades away into spirituality.  In fact the term ‘Universal Religion’ is a misnomer because the only possible Universal Religion would not be religion at all but Universal Spirituality.

There will never be a Universal Religion or rather Universal Spirituality so long as humankind is as it is, at vastly differing levels of intellectual and spiritual development.  The grades of religion given approximate broadly to the degrees of human intellect.  Christianity, in its ecclesiastical form, can never become a world religion, for it is only one of a number belonging to the second grade, and it is largely mixed with elements of the first grade.  However, as expressed in its highest form it can belong to the third grade mentioned.

There is no question at all as to the depth and power of the religious instinct in the human individual.  It provided an irresistible thrust through history, from primitive man’s totems and fetishes to the highest religious expression in the saint and mystic.  It gave us the great Teachers and founders of religion and the great scriptures of the world.  The absence of expressed religious instinct in a few individuals or even a few communities does not disprove its practically universal existence.  Instinct is not necessarily a conscious recognition, indeed the word primarily means a ‘natural spontaneous impulse which does not involve reasoning’.  Many so called ‘rationalists’ would have us believe that all religions are the products of ignorant superstitions and a dread of the ‘supernatural’.  However, what these rationalists deplore are mainly the dogmas of religions, and here they have a strong case, but they are blinded as to the distinction between the religious instinct which is so deeply implanted in human nature and the various forms of expression to which that instinct gives rise.  Most of these rationalists are simply materialists.  It is not in the lowest but in the highest aspects of religious expression that we are able to perceive what really lies at the root.

However irrational may be the forms of religion which come under the second category, those of the third category are in the highest sense rational.  Not in the sense of being able to explain all things by means of the intellect, no rationalist can do that, but perhaps in the sense of rejecting everything that is clearly irrational insofar as the legitimate use of the intellect is concerned.  If it comes to the point, what is more irrational than the materialism of the last century on which the rationalists principally relied?  One might say that the most rational thing today is to recognise the limitations of the rational faculty. 

Without delving into the nature of the Spirit and apart from any question as to the existence and nature of God, we might say that the human individual instinctively feels that he is very much more than a mere physical being; and he feels a compulsion to learn about and realise that more, which must necessarily lie in the super physical.  Thus, one of the fundamental concepts in the search for the Spirit is the survival of bodily death.  It could be claimed that that survival is a proved scientific fact today, even though the rationalists may still deny it. 

In primitive religion we find man seeking to ascertain his relationship to some outside and unseen Power or Powers which he supposes to be operating to control the course of Nature and his own destiny.  Thus, even today we find prayers being offered in our churches for blessings on many of our material interests, not excluding war.  A person who is religious may believe in a personal God who will dispatch or curb rain on request; an interventionist God who sends His worshippers pain and suffering and will even deprive them of their children in order to ‘chasten’ them.  A spiritual person believes in a God of immutable law, who operates in the spiritual and moral as well as the material world; who sets in place the law of cause and effect which He will not override because He takes an overview of the whole, while the petitioners see only a small part and ask without knowing the nature of the whole or its requirements.

The conclusion we come to is that all formulated religions, all creeds and dogmas, are found to lie in the limitations of the intellect, and we cannot in any way formulate beyond these limitations.  When we try to express in terms of intellect that which transcends intellect (which is precisely what theology tries to do) we invariably encounter contradictions and obscurities.  Hence the interminable systems and debates of the theologians who have to fall back on assertion and dogma. 

Spirituality is the finding of the real self, the spiritual self which is intrinsically immortal.  A comparative study of religions should lead us to the profound conviction of man’s immortal spiritual nature; not to mention the godlike powers which a practical realisation of this can give. 

While religion can often detract from the quality of life, spirituality cannot do so, for it is an intensification of life.  True spirituality induces harmony in relationships and makes co-operation easier.  It embraces all the powers latent in human beings which await awakening through the spiritualising kiss.  Practical spirituality is absolute conquest by the innate powers of man, here and now, in this world.  It must be stressed emphatically that it is conquest and not escape.  It is a conquest over ignorance through real knowledge.  Neither Christianity nor any other religion can save you or your loved ones from physical harm and disease, or from other and more subtle evils, if you have no knowledge of their causes and lack the will to overcome them.

Achievement of The Mastery of Life is not through adherence to beliefs and dogmas but through belief in and awakening of, one’s own inherent powers.  In other words, through what we refer to as attunement or correspondence with the Source and Arbiter of all power – The Supreme Spirit.  Through an increasing realisation of cosmic unity.

Only very slowly does the lower temporary personality learn to become at-one with its immortal spiritual self.  It is this at-one-ment which is the essential nature of spirituality, here and now, and not in some after-death redemptive state.  Only as each individual accomplishes that regeneration, that second birth, will humankind as a whole accomplish it.  How could it be otherwise?  Each of us as integral units of the human family and through repeated spiritualising incarnations will lead humanity towards what it is intended to be – the rightful heir of a Divine Father.

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Let us look briefly at the wider aspect of the nature of spirituality as it concerns humankind as a whole.  The ancient science teaches that only as the lower personal self is lost can the higher immortal Spirit be found.  The great cycle of human evolution on this globe is a ‘fall’ and a recovery, an outgoing from Spirit into matter and a return to Spirit.  Far too much has been made of individual spiritual salvation as if it had no reference to the salvation of the human race as a whole.  Humankind reaches forward to a spiritual consummation when the whole earth will be peopled with individuals fully conscious of their God-like nature and potentialities.  Then much that afflicts man today will have been banished from our planet.  The cosmic cycle is an outgoing from the One Source and a return thereto, and man, like everything else in the cosmos, must return to his source.

The return of humanity to its spiritual source is as certain as its outgoing there-from, however long and bitter the process may be.  In that far distant future – The Celestial Age – the God-like members of the human race will be those who, having gone through the great spiritualising process, have attained the full knowledge of their true nature.  That humanity must be the humanity now evolving towards it.  In Spirit it will be ourselves.  We head towards the wonderful dawn of The Celestial Age, carried forward by the surging sea of Spirituality which is within us.  Upon the surface of that sea are the individualised expressions of Spirituality, which we know as religions.

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