Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Two Theisms

Over half of the human beings alive today adhere to the curious religious creed of monotheism. Its “singular god“ vision - be it of the Judaic, Christian or Islamic taste - is an unusual and recent development in the timeless scheme of religiosity.

These Big 3 comprise the majority of today’s monotheistic creeds. However the world’s other major religions, along with countless indigenous and regional spiritual systems, are significantly different in character. They honor, instead, a web of myriad sacred beings, and have come to be known by the catch-all of polytheism.

While monotheism does have its tendencies toward the “mysticism of multiplicity,” it is usually hobbled in this quest. With the exception of the revelations of the rare Kabbalist, Christian mystic or Sufi, the Big 3 allow little room for direct communion with the infinite varieties of oneness in the universe, let alone curiosity about the infinite nature of our reality. They exclusively direct contemplation and prayer to the “one and only God,” Jahweh-Jehovah-Allah, and relegate the infinite varieties of life’s manifestation to being “God’s creations.”

From a marketing standpoint, the three monotheisms are masters at opinion brokering in in their sales pitch and promise. To envision the goal of a spiritual life as embodied in the powerful branded logo that is “God,” is an effective strategy. With unquestioning adherence to the God logo being mandatory for the true believer, the monotheisms have become potent means for amassing worldly power. However, they have fallen short in spiritual achievement.

Abiding beyond the realm of human experience and the natural order while exerting influence on every minute detail of life makes the monotheistic world creator an effective agent of mental and social control. So it is little wonder that the Big 3 monotheisms have effectively converted large populations in today’s nation-states and kingdoms. These types of heirarchic, sociopolitical structures are already in synchrony with the monotheistic model of central authority.

The continuance of the monotheistic creeds and cultural systems require an absent, all powerful and all knowing “great father model.” Patriarchic discipline together with more than a dollop of fear work wonders in keeping people to the prescribed path and away from pesky social innovations and natural ideals. The edict-enforced discipline of the Papacy; the persecutional fear of the Zionists, and the “God is great” zeal of the imams and ayatollahs utilize such methods of psychospiritual control.

Still, it is only human that spiritual and secular interests intersect on many planes in life. But where there is an all powerful, all knowing yet distant, creator god, the derived communal worldview becomes extractive and disconnected in character. It is extractive by its harnessing belief and devotion toward its own self-perpetuation and, by extension, in justifying the mining of the earth’s treasures and of the lifeforce energy its peoples. Such is considered permissible since Earth and humanity are believed to issue from and belong exclusively to the great father-creator god.

When human life and prosperity are bestowed by an abstracted and all powerful entity, adherents become disconnected from the natural urge to give and share. Where there is only one giver, people become “takers,” as the ex-Catholic monk Daniel Quinn so aptly termed unenlightened monotheists in his literary masterpiece, Ishmael.

When a holy writ that is honored by the Big 3 counsels to “spread thy seed over the earth and subdue the animals and plants,” people become less oriented to unconditional love and compassion toward the world and its life forms. Their worldview runs counter to the natural altruistic urge to give from the heart, which is to benefit anyone or anything as if they were a relatives or closest friends. This is because the bounty of the world is given solely to them by their god on high and is not acquired through the experience of responsible synergy with the web of life.

While the monotheisms do espouse love and empathy, their guiding scriptures are even more replete with sanctions and retributions meant as guides to proper thought and behavior. In this way, the monotheisms may well be useful for short term applications to the human condition, but they ultimately reinforce longterm problems through their slavish attention to a single personified Oneness. Their God acts on their behalf rather than empowers people toward applying good thoughts and deeds themselves.

Years ago, at a Buddhist initiation ceremony in India, the Dalai Lama got to the heart of the matter when he observed that, “there are two kinds of religion in this world: one having a creator god, and the other not recognizing a creator of this reality.” He was referring to the fundamental difference between the Western monotheistic religions and those such as Buddhism, Hinduism and indigenous systems.

The latter religions accept the universe as it is – as a timeless and formless sourceground out of which all matter, life and mind arise –without the need for a divine agent of causation. This turns out to be a much more sophisticated view of the sacred and profane, as it requires focused instrospection to understand the enormity of existence.

Non-monotheistic spiritual systems allow for and celebrate the multiplicity of sacredness embodied in the myriad forms and models of holiness that permeate earth and cosmos. Where there is an all-inclusive sense of relationship with a multiplicity of related, thinking and feeling beings, who are imbued with de facto holiness and sentience, there naturally arises an awareness and intent of compassion and caring.

Buddhism cautions about adherence to any form of worldly creator divinity. For Buddhists, the gods are not even immortal. Gods live in celestial paradises amid great splendor and enjoyments and they have exponentially longer lifespans than do humans. But unlike humans, the gods do not know of their own mortality until only a few days before they are set to die. This causes the gods great mental suffering as they stand on the brink of death and proceed into rebirth with an untutored and fearful state of mind.

Instead of holding to the dicta of a distant and fickle creator god, Buddhists celebrate the evolving enlightened mind and spiritual force of heart that are potential within each being in our phenomenal reality. And they do so in the knowledge that this reality is not all that is. Underpinning it is an indescribable sourceground of life force and mind, of which we humans, animals - all phenomena - are vital aspects and equal parts.

So, only in the sourceground of the One – in whatever way it may be envisioned - can the two types of religion ultimately find their common ground. Because, it is only at the creative font of things that true empathy and understanding, beyond the limitations of forms and concepts, can be fully realized.

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.
- Heart Sutra –

I came into unknowing and there I found myself.
- John of the Cross -

Current of the Times

Two Asian natural disasters recently have riveted the attention of the world. And one wonders whether the Sky Dragon’s storm vortex that leveled Burma's Irawaddy Delta and the massive stirrings of the Chinese Earth Dragon in Sichuan Province were not somehow connected on a level much deeper than geography and calendrical time alone.

The deadly cyclone and earthquake are symbolically linked in South and East Asia to a mythic power being known as the Great Naga. At its most benign, the Great Naga is a fiercely protective serpentine entity, embodying the powerful currents of the life force of earthly things, and of the forces of terrestrial waters and storm clouds.

Wherever and whenever the Great Naga slithers into view, it hints at an omnipotent undercurrent and powerful insinuation of something of massive import about to uncoil. It is a harbinger of momentous events and serves as an apt symbol for these unstable times in which we live.

The Great Naga is encountered everywhere in the eastern hemisphere. It gazes from finials atop Buddhist temples in farflung Tibetan valleys. It adorns the stairways and roofs of forest monasteries throughout Southeast Asia. A form of naga even appears to have journeyed across the Pacific Ocean to the western hemisphere during archaic times to become Tlaloc-Chac, the primal storm and water deity of the pre-Columbian Mexicans and Mayas. Its serpentine forms encrust stairways, rooftops and walls of stone edifices throughout Central America.

The serpent deity figures centrally in the cyclic movements at the root of the Mayan cosmo-creation narrative, signifying the transition of life into the coming Fifth World. This projection of future events is based on the cyclic patterns of the planets and stars as described in Mayan stone relief and codex writings, as well as in passages from the more recently composed Popul Vuh, their Book of Creation.

They all relate how the Maize God created the present Fourth World by raising the sacred corn tree in order to separate cosmos from earth at the proper moment in space and time. He then fashioned human beings out of corn and blood to dwell in it. For ancient Mayan astronomers, the creation of the Fourth World coincided with the center of the serpentine Milky Way coming into proper cosmic alignment. Though exceedingly rare in occurrence, this alignment will again appear in the night sky in but a few years’ time. Like a snake that is coiled around a tree branch, the cycles of time always return to their beginning, but at a point further along in the timeless flow of things. Their movement could be thought of as composing a sinuous spiral in the fabric of spacetime.

According to the Mayan Long Count system, a new macro-cycle will unfold on December 21, 2012. Then, the "White Boned Snake" (which is the Mayas’ name for the Milky Way - their path of life and death) will properly intersect the ecliptic (the pathway along which ride the sun, moon and stars through the sky), which is envisioned in Mayan art as a double-headed, “vision serpent.” Together they form the trunk and limbs of the Cosmic Maize Tree. Like the axis mundi tentpole of the ancient Siberians, the gods will raise the sky again by way of the cosmic tree, to reveal a canopy of stars, sun and moon above the unfolding Fifth World.

Such monumental cyclic changes are fully echoed in the other great computational system of the ancient world, that of Hindu-Buddhism. Its system of astrology and history measures its cycles in eons of time. It recognizes a range of natural cycles, from the personal to the universal, each going through a succession of existences. Its practitioners agree that we are on the verge of a major world cataclysm and rebirth into the fifth world reality in this cosmic eon. They call this challenging transitional crack between the worlds, the Kaliyuga.

Along with the convergence of these currents in time and space, there will likely come major upheavals in our daily lives. In fact the signs are already abundantly clear. Fortunately, the physical world will not end when this occurs, at least according to the ancient Mayan glyphs. What will end, however, will be the routine complacency of our lives. And here's one possible sign of this shift.

The year 2012 is being anxiously awaited by astrophysicists as well as Maya spiritualists. It will witness a maximal increase in sunspot activity, which is more powerful by half than any burst of solar energy to hit the Earth during the past 1000 years. The waves of solar wind may fry orbiting satellites and blow out power grids around the globe. And where daylight on Earth coincides with its flares, it is not impossible that they could do damage to computers, cellphones and digital networks – to the extent of paralyzing internet, economic and social services.

Some go so far as to hypothesize that this surge may fundamentally affect the very fabric of the planet. They speculate that a pole shift in the Earth’s magnetic core may be linked to the increased solar energy flow and thus to this anciently prophecized transition point in the life cycle of the world.

From my experience in their cultures, I would expect that if a Maya Indian sage and a Tibetan lama were asked to consider whether their macro-cycles of spacetime were somehow causally connected, they doubtlessly would come to full agreement on the subject. With the Great Naga and Tlaloc-Chac in their thoughts, as possible agents and emblems of this massive shift, they would agree implicitly with what William Shakespeare so eloquently expressed in a few prescient words:

What’s past is prologue.
- The Tempest -