This is Part 2 of a three part series. I don't think this thread will make much sense unless you first read Part 1, "Anti-God Reasoning Blunders" here: http://www.philosophyforum.com/forum/philosophy-forums/branches-philosophy/philosophy-religion/3631-god-part-1-anti-god-reasoning-blunders.html
My final point in Part 1 was to ponder, what if knowing God requires a different epistemology from knowing the physical universe? It's a good question because if it does, then no matter how much we understand about investigating and manipulating physical situations, none of that skill may be transferable to knowing God.
In Part 1 I also mentioned that the standard for knowing is experience; that is, we seek to observe what we imagine or predict is true. No non-experiential means for knowing has ever been shown effective (math lovers: math helps figure out where to look for observation, but does not prove anything about reality by itself). So even if you want to reverse a couple of centuries of epistemological understanding to believe there is another way to know besides through experience, let's not debate that here.
If we accept that experiencing something is the only
way to know it, then the next question is, "is there any sort of conscious experience besides sense experience that's available to humans which produces knowledge?" The answer is, YES, though it is an epistemology relatively few people in Western culture are familiar with.
As I mentioned in Part 1, people often have a filter in place that requires all matters submitted as "true," able to be viewed with the senses, or understood with the intellect. If you wear this filter, I hope you can open your mind for a bit and investigate free of bias. I say that because the epistemology I speak of would never survive the modern Western filter since it requires one to withdraw
from the senses, and learn to bring the intellect to rest quietly
The development of this epistemology began some 2800 years ago in the forests of India. By the time Siddhartha Gautama joined the group 300 years later, several methods had been developed for stilling the mind. For example, one's attention is turned 180 degrees to the rear of normal focus, one identifies a brightness and vibrancy at the core of consciousness, and beneath and behind the breath one can discover the most subtle pulse that eventually seems to cause practitioners to believe the very universe itself is breathing (and breathing all of us along with it).
After plenty of practice, another potential manifests: oneness
. If you close your eyes and take stock of your mind and body, you will find mind consumed by multiple issues and various tensions in the body. But in the oneness experience, all the mind's issues and all the body's energies integrate into one tranquil experience; the mind stills, emotions subside, the body relaxes. It truly is amazing to feel, nothing is quite as enjoyable as this peace; amazing as well is to discover just how segmented and compartmentalized consciousness really is. The contrast of the two experiences, oneness and fragmented, is dramatic.
Yet there is still more. Walk outside within the experience of oneness and the sky seems part of your mind. Well, that might be one's first interpretation but it's wrong; as one's experience grows one realizes mind seems part of the sky. It is like some vast mind has been joined, or at least that one has become aware of being part of it for the first time.
There are two "official" names for this oneness. In India the term is samadhi
, and in the West the term is union
. I know about this both from study (where, after switching from biology, I specialized in the history of oneness/union experience for my undergrad degree), and I have also practiced union daily for 35 years, just as I did this morning for an hour at dawn.
As a subject it is known by the rather unfortunate term "mysticism" in the West, and is far too complex to attempt giving fair treatment here (I say it's "unfortunate" because the term mysticism is often associated with the supernatural, and that is not the meaning of it in this context). A classic book by Evelyn Underhill "Mysticism" is a good way to start reading about it: Amazon.com: Mysticism: Evelyn Underhill: Books
Most have heard of some of the internal practices developed in the East, but many find it a surprise just how extensively union was practiced in the West beginning not so long after Jesus' death, and continuing (primarily in monasteries) until the 18th century. A few links to books:
Amazon.com: The Desert Fathers: Helen Waddell, Basil Pennington: Books
Amazon.com: The Practice of the Presence of God: Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection: Books
Amazon.com: Lost Christianity: Jacob Needleman: Books
Amazon.com: Interior Castle St Teresa of Avila(A Pure Gold Classic) Includes audio excerpt CD (Pure Gold Classics): Saint Teresa of Avila: Books
Amazon.com: Caves of God: Cappadocia and its Churches (Oxford Paperbacks): Spiro Kostof, Malcolm C. Carpenter: Books
Amazon.com: The Secret Gospel: The Discovery and Interpretation of the Secret Gospel According to Mark: Morton Smith: Books
My main assertions:
1. The most powerful and reliable reports of "God" stem from individuals who had attained the union experience.
2. In the union experience, the sense of having joined a huge mind is what has led to the concept of "God."
3. All the great "God" people were deeply absorbed in union, some permanently such as Moses, the Buddha, Jesus, Kabir, Nanak, the Baal Shem Tov and, yes, even Mohammad.
4. Religion (in contrast to the union experience) is a sort of sense-bound, intellectual attempt at translating an experience that is utterly not-graspable by the intellect and senses into what non-experiencers of union can relate to (I should add that I'm not proposing that religion can't help people discover union). I'll call this translation sense-mind translation
Hence, religious concepts tend to be packed with exaggerated speculations about God's power, knowledge, etc. that reflect imagination and logical inference rather than the direct experience of the features of reality that union exposes, and religious debates tend to take the form of intellectual fisticuffs based on these non-knowing, inferred concepts.
A way I might put it is, it is 100% "religion" if it is 100% concept or concept-derived. The concepts and their derivations come as "beliefs" that have insufficient personal experience supporting them, or are built into emotion-stirring practices meant to simulate the powerful experience of union. And what is wrong with that? It is like trying to satisfy hunger with the mere concept or ritual of eating of food . . . we know only the actual
experience of food nourishes. In my opinion, the majority of atheists/agnostics are so decided because of the failure to experience anything satisfying through religion, and so incorrectly conclude there is no God rather than suspect maybe the God epistemology they know is ineffective.
5. Most actual union experiencers simply experience joining something huge, feel a deep love, peace and bliss from doing so, and find (after experiencing oneness) their own tiny little separate self to be an illusion of exalted self-importance. Confusing to many is that the way they talk about their experience is usually tied to the discipline within which they are practicing. For example, consider the words of Julian of Norwich (a fourteenth century monastic) describing the "great mind" aspect of union experience:
""And then the Lord opened my ghostly eye and shewed my soul in the midst of my heart. I saw the Soul as it were an endless world, and as it were a blissful kingdom . . . . Man's soul is a creature in God which hath the same properties made, and evermore it does what it was made for: it seeth God, it beholdeth God, and it loveth God."
As you can see, Julian's religious background has her interpreting it as "God." But now look at the Buddha's more neutral description as a "plane":
"There is, monks, that plane where there is neither extension nor motion. . . there is no coming or going or remaining or deceasing or uprising. . . . There is, monks, an unborn, not become, not made, uncompounded . . . [and] because [that exists] . . . an escape can be shown for what is born, has become, is made, is compounded." *
For me, any interpretation by someone truly experiencing oneness is beautiful. It doesn't really matter if one translates it theistically, devotionally, yogically, poetically, philosophically, or any other sincere way. Call it the "great mind" experience or call it the "kingdom of heaven" or call it "nirvana" . . . what difference do the terms mean if you can actually get to the experience? Only the non-experienced want to fight about it, but if all one cares about is having the experience, then every knower's unique expression is an opportunity to deepen one's own appreciation of the union experience.
* I know a lot of people say the Buddha was an atheist, but that is the typical sort of mistaken "sense-mind translation" the non-experienced make. What he really said was that speculating on what union experience reveals about the soul or God does not contribute anything to one's practice: "I have not declared these things because that is not conducive to the purpose, not the way to embark on the holy life, it does not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to higher knowledge, to enlightenment . . . that is why I have not declared it." It's like a coach answering his player's question, "will I be champion," with "practice and find out."
Okay, now on to the Part 3 of the series: http://www.philosophyforum.com/forum/philosophy-forums/branches-philosophy/philosophy-religion/3633-god-part-3-self-evolution-consciousness.html