The “top of the shop”, the most profound, the real jewel in the crown, from the world’s wisdom traditions, is to find true peace and to reconnect with a direct felt sense of profundity and mystery much deeper than can be expressed verbally.
Man’s circumstances are always changing – lives over the centuries are very different gigs indeed. However man’s existential situation has not changed – one is born, one dies and there is quite a bit of hassle and up and downs in the middle It has been a common observation in cultures around the world over thousands of years that we live in a dream, that we are not fully awake, we are not “fully alive”. But what does this mean? If it is true how do we wake up? And having woken up what do we find?
The Buddha spoke about Nirvana. In Hinduism the highest ideal is “union of Atman with Brahman” (the individual with the whole, the “self” with “Self”/”God”). In Taoism we have surrendering to the Tao. In Orthodox Christianity there is theosis, in Catholicism divinization. In a non-religious context the analogy of the wave and the sea is a good one. There are whole rows of books in bookshelves these days, largely following on from Ekhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”, of self-declared folks who “have awakened” – awakening is getting more common, perhaps especially outside conventional religious traditions where the weight of history can hold people in a set of mental chains about what it is and what it isn’t that isn’t always helpful. Indeed some Buddhist cultures/countries state that its no longer possible (!) and as far as I know the divinization concept that is still above the board in Orthodox Christianity is somewhat below the board in Catholicism but has dropped out of Protestantism in its main sects.
If we take a critical look at what is going on here then we cannot but conclude on the one hand that there is a wide spectrum of beliefs and experiences. However on the other hand – especially if we take the root point in all the world’s traditions that language is not up to the job, insufficient – then we can see that regardless of background, belief or century many many people self-report an undergoing of a shift in consciousness which has some common features. Indeed this is not even controversial from a developmental psychology perspective. All the models for some time have included at the top “self-transcendence” … getting beyond the ego.
As one of the greatest 20th Century Western mystics put it, “the truth is a multi-faceted diamond”. No tradition, culture or “angle” owns all the facets or has all the wisdom. We are challenged in many ways by the times in which we live. Equally however we are gifted so much wisdom – why immerse ourselves solely in the shallow candy-floss focus so prevalent in the media?
The opposite problem from “keeping one’s eyes shut” is opening them! There is such a vast plethora of offerings of this and that out there these days that it can be overwhelming. Go into any large bookstore and there is an overwhelming array of literature.
How to validate your own experience? How to trust someone else to validate it? How to know what awakening is? Whose definition is right? How to “be true to your religion” or “avoid religion completely” while on this search? How to avoid falling into even mildly culty groups? Which of the myriad of sources to believe?
I address these questions here – Beyond Belief