Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Warm greetings from Melbourne!
The Dalai Lama once described the ‘treadmill’ on which many people in our modern world find themselves:
‘Many people sacrifice their health in order to make money. Then they sacrifice money to recuperate their health. And then they are so anxious about the future that they do not enjoy the present. As a result, they do not live in the present or the future; they live as if they are never going to die and then die having never really lived.’
Our greatest dread is we will only live ‘half-lives’; wasting the one opportunity that we have. The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore reflected this fear when he said: ‘I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung.’ In response to this fear, we experience an urge to be ‘more’ than we presently are; to live larger, more meaningful lives; to leave behind a limited sense of self with its petty concerns. We long for purpose, serenity and inner integrity. No one wants to die with their music inside them!
For many, the call to experience ‘more’, is inextricably linked to a desire to experience God.
I once heard it said that human beings are ‘hardwired’ for God! I think that the author of this statement was suggesting that in every person lies an instinct for transcendence; a desire to experience the Divine.
Both Western and Eastern spiritual wisdom would attest to this truth.
St Augustine put it this way: ‘You have created us for yourself and our heart cannot be quiet until it finds its rest in you.’
Lao Tzu expressed the same thought: ‘As rivers have their source in some far-off fountain, so the human spirit has its source. To find his fountain of spirit is to learn the secret of heaven and earth.’
Similarly, there is a verse in the Koran: ‘Verily, in the remembrance of God do hearts find rest.’
Our search for God should not be limited by our cultural experience or intellectual understandings. The search can take us beyond the God that society or even our religion talks about. God is bigger than the words we use to talk about God. There is a saying among Buddhists: ‘If you see a Buddha by the roadside, kill him!’ In other words, when your image of God becomes fixed and rigid, get rid of it. St Augustine expressed the same thought: ‘If you can fully understand it, it is probably not of God!’
Most of us have been born Christian and find great inspiration and guidance from the experience of Jesus in the Gospels. However, we can also derive wisdom, guidance and consolation from the teachings of other traditions that inspire us and reveal God to us.
Besides Jesus, there are others who have made the journey their life’s preoccupation and have left a roadmap for us to follow. From the life and teachings of a few have grown the world’s great religions. Unfortunately, many of the paths that they discovered have been clouded by the accumulation of rigid practices, ideologies and dogma. More and more there is a desire to return to the original insights and convictions of these individuals, stripped of non-essentials, in order to uncover the universality of the spiritual journey.
In the Hindu tradition, there are over 300 million gods. However, few people believe that any of these gods is divine. They are representations of different human experiences of the Divine; images that point to the deeper aspects of God. Spiritual growth happens when one transcends these images, until one reaches the Divine beyond the images. Beyond images, beyond manifestations, beyond mediators - one experiences the Divine as divine.
Better one minute of deep communion with God than a lifetime of study about God! When Jesus walked the earth, he was not attempting to create a new religion – He wanted us to experience the Divine. We are drawn by a mystery which is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced.
There is a wonderful story of a holy man who put up a sign, ‘For two cents, I will give you an experience of God’. When people came to see him, he told them to put their money in a little bowl and he gave them a few grains of sugar and told them to eat it. He did not ask them to describe its taste or talk about its sweetness. They simply had to eat and experience the sugar.
What is sweetness? It can’t be analysed in a chemist’s laboratory. It can be described and talked about. However, the more you talk about sweetness, the less you know that sweetness is in your mouth. Sweetness is an experience, just as God is an experience.
The great religions of the world are all God inspired. Each is a call to the mind of the One God; different roads converging upon the same point. Within their varying contexts, they all offer insights into how we can address the great questions of human existence.
If we listen to other traditions carefully and respectfully, we can hear the same voice in another language. The late Benedictine monk who lived in India, Bede Griffiths, using the image of his hand, described it this way:
‘The fingers on my hand represent each of the world’s major religious faiths. The tops of my fingers they are all separate and distant from one another. Christianity is separate from Islam; which is separate from Buddhism; which is separate from Judaism; and so on…This is the level of theology, beliefs, culture and customs on which they may never agree. But as you move more deeply down into each tradition, to the level of encounter with God, you converge on a common centre represented by my palm where my fingers meet; a common source; encounter with the Divine!’
Peace and blessings,