Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ancient Religions and The New Story

Many people today are under the impression that what is missing in their “search” for the truth is a better understanding of the myths that have come down to us through the Judeo-Christian traditions.  And when they find out that these myths (or supposed “truths”) are simply reiterations of earlier (Babylonian?) myths, they mistakenly believe that they are closer to realizing their “real” spiritual meaning – that they are closer to the truth!  They believe that...
”… the ancients were blessed with an intellectually “unspoiled” mythopoetic mind, which was naturally profound and intuitive and could therefore penetrate cosmic truths far more perceptively than the modern mind with its analytic and intellectual approach.”  For the most part, this is just stuff and nonsense”  (pg 81 – History Begins At Sumer by Samuel Noah Kramer).

Like Kramer, I don’t believe that the ancients were any closer than the prototypical Christian or Jew of today who misunderstands or misinterprets mythology and continues to act out these myths in Churches and Temples worldwide. 

Ancient myth was man’s way of understanding life by using what he understood at the time.  Gods were conceived of having human personalities and foibles.  Belief in resurrection was based upon our cycles of planting and harvesting, and cycles of the sun and planets.

Myths were simply our way of understanding life prior to our development of scientific method and rational thought.

Only in the last 150 years have we been presented with a new conception of life.  And while it is still being presented in an academic manner, it is actually far more spiritual (in my humble opinion) than the Judeo-Christian beliefs of our culture

The short booklet “The Human Molecule” by Libb Thims, (esp. chapter 9 and pg. 70 - the Molecular Evolution Table) presents a fascinating depiction of man’s  evolution.  One is able to see how all life forms slowly became more complex by way of molecular evolution.  Accepting this evolutionary understanding requires us to also accept a “new story” in our spiritual quest;   
One that places us not as the egoist center of all that is, but as an actual  part in the ongoing process.  We are only the center of attention to the degree that we are the universe looking at itself.  We are part of the reality that is in the process of morphing into whatever mystery is to be (or is being).

Forget Christian myth.  Forget Judaic myth. Forget Sumerian myth…

As put by A. R. Peacocke in From Cosmos To Love

“We, and all living organisms, have emerged in time out of the non-living world of water, air, and rocks…” [And it is] …only recently that man has seen himself as actually emerging from the inorganic world by a continuous process of time.

What sort of Cosmos is it, if the original primeval mass of hydrogen items… has eventually manifested the potentiality of becoming organized in material forms such as ourselves which are conscious and even self-conscious, can reflect, and love and hate, and pray, have ideas, can discourse with each other, can exhibit the creative genius of a Mozart or a Shakespeare, or display the personal qualities of a Socrates…?” 

’The world we live in – the world in which we live and move and have our being – our world, “this astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bananas; this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, canaries, fleas, gases, tornadoes and floods’ as C.S. Lewis called it.”    

And so, we are left with what Brian Swimme calls “A New Story.”  One that does not easily fit with our Judeo-Christian heritage -- One based upon our new understanding of the evolution of all matter and the evolution of life itself.

To let go of religions’ mythology and to embrace a spiritual belief that removes us from the epi-center is a scary.  Letting go of gods with human qualities means accepting life as a verb – and not a noun, a process, not a product.  It means accepting that all of our understanding, even now, is an ongoing process that is destined to change as we understand in greater detail the “wholeness” of what is, and -especially- the inter-relatedness of all that is.

Belief in an ever-changing understanding of reality is a step into a void.
But, it is also a step into something far more miraculous than any mythology could have ever imagined.

To see the universe as a living, roiling, creative soup; to see ourselves as the universe itself -- A recognition of this is as great a hallucinatory trip as one could imagine.

I have always wanted to see “behind” the screen; to pull back the curtain to see "the great and powerful OZ."  And, as long as I thought of myself as an entity behind the screen, this would have been (at least feasibly) possible.  But what if “I” am not an “object,” but actually part of the screen itself?  

What if, in fact, THIS MOMENT is simply (?) the evolutionary end result of Hydrogen and Helium molecules forming, mixing, compressing, expressing, and morphing into life itself?  Non-life –to- life?  Non-conscious –to- conscious?  Photon –to- thought? 

What if EVERYTHING – life, love, ideas, fear, skin, organs, hopes…  What if everything is part of a process that we are just beginning to get a glimpse of?

EVERYTHING … from the smallest to the greatest?

Does this idea lack spirituality?  There is no chanting, no bracelets, no myriad of gods or saints, no holy book, no bended knees in supplication, no Christianity, Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism.  No statues, no incense, no brotherhood or shared beliefs. 

What then are we left with?  How should we live, why do we live, is there a reason to keep living?

Wasn’t life easier with the belief in a god and an afterlife?  Didn’t we all feel safer?

Traditional religions make people feel safe.  They supply chants, prayers, ideology, and a god that is in control.  Traditional religions are good for people who have a difficult time with ambiguity and abstract thought.  They serve a purpose.

But to my way of thinking, believing in traditional religions is like stopping at the first door of a large cathedral.  

Alan Watts tells about a place he was taken to in Japan where one walked down an ornate walkway into a massive gilded church filled with golden statues, paintings, and smelling of incense.  But there, in back of the large alter, was a door.  Walking through the door, one came across a trail that led up to a smaller, but still brightly decorated shrine.  In the back of this shrine was yet another door which led out to an old path.  This path led further up the mountainside to a quiet undecorated chapel.  Once again, inside the Chapel, behind the small alter was a door.  Outside this door was a thin overgrown trail that led up the mountainside to a tiny dark hut.  Inside was a simple wooden prayer-table -- and again, behind it was another door resting on rusted hinges. 

This door opened to the world.   

Most of us stopped at the first church.  Filled with incense, chanting, and golden statues.  We came to accept that this is where we were supposed to be.  When we felt unsatisfied, we merely looked at the religious icons hanging on the walls and thought we were making progress when we researched their history.  We became enthralled with antiquity.  Few people thought to question beliefs held for so long a time, or beliefs held by so many others. 

Ultimately, what is needed isn’t merely a new understanding of a muddled belief, but an entirely new way of seeing reality – a paradigm shift.

Ram Dass tells story that I find particularly appropriate here…

There are two waves traveling across the ocean, a small one, and a larger one. 
Suddenly the larger wave sees land approaching, and gets upset. 
He cries to the smaller wave, "Oh no! Up ahead -- waves are crashing and disappearing!   We're going to die!" 
The smaller wave, somehow, is unperturbed. 
So the larger wave tries to convince her, to no avail. 

Finally, the smaller wave says, "What would you say if I told you that there are six words, that if you really understood and believed them, you would see that there's no reason to fear." 

The bigger wave protests, but as the land approaches, he becomes desperate. 
He'll try anything.  "Fine, fine" he says.  "Tell me the six words."
"Okay," the small wave says:

"You're not a wave, you're water."

You’re not a wave, you’re water – I like that.  A complete and total paradigm shift in the way one sees the world.  The “New Story” demands the same shift in perceiving oneself and reality.  You aren’t you, you’re what is happening.  Part of a process, a happening, a creative becoming -- the universe looking at itself.

I think it was Emerson who said “The world globes itself in a drop of dew.”  To this I would add, "The universe globes itself in a drop of you."

From a hydrogen atom to a bit of soil and water, each of us “evolved.”  All the while everything else was/is also in the same process.  It is all evolving in a creative tumbling of all that exists in every moment.

It is not just you.  It is your wife, your partner, your children, your community, your planet, your very thoughts.  It is all part of a mysterious process that is happening forever and ever.

Now THAT… that is spiritual!

Respectfully submitted,
Bro. Tavit Smith


I highly recommend reading

DEEP TIME - The Journey of a Particle from the Big Bang to the Death of the Universe and Beyond   by David Darling
Other authors with this perspective:
Brian Swimme
Thomas Berry
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (for a Christian perspective)
Michael Dowd (esp. “Thank God For Evolution” )


For the emergent process, as noted by the geneticist Theodore Dobzhansky, is neither random nor determined but creative. Just as in human order, creativity is neither a rational deductive process nor the irrational wandering of the undisciplined mind, but the emergence of beauty as mysterious as the blossoming of a field of daisies out of the dark Earth.

It is especially important in this discussion to recognize the unity of the total process, from that first unimaginable moment of cosmic emergence through all its subsequent forms of expression until the present. This unbreakable bond of relatedness that makes of the whole a universe becomes increasingly apparent to scientific observation, although this bond ultimately escapes scientific formulation or understanding. In virtue of this relatedness, everything is intimately present to everything else in the universe. Nothing is completely itself without everything else. This relatedness is both spatial and temporal. However distant in space or time, the bond of unity is functionally there. The universe is a communion and a community. We ourselves are that communion become conscious of itself.

You have molten rock, and then all by itself, it transforms into a human mother caring for her child. That's a rather astounding transformation.
Of course, it takes four billion years.
You've got silica; you've got magnesium. You've got all the elements of rock, and it becomes the translucent blue eyes and beautiful brown hair and this deep sense of love and concern and even sacrifice for a child.
(From an interview with Brian Swimme)


I added this just for fun:

Q:  Is God Love?
A:  You brought him into existence. Be creative, make him be whatever you want him to be.      (Interview with Papaji)

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