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Theology

A Thematic Compilation by Avi Sion                                         

6. Meditations

 

1.   Interpretations of meditation

 

The underlying philosophy of meditation, in common to the main religious traditions, is often referred to as “theosophy[1]. To formulate such a philosophy is of course not to claim it as necessarily true in all respects; we must admit it to be a speculative philosophy or metaphysic. We can pursue the ends it sets in the way of a personal faith, without having to definitively ‘prove’ it and ‘disprove’ competing doctrines.

If we consider the seven historically most influential current mystical traditions – namely those of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Secularism[2] – without meaning to ignore or discard others (which are here assumed to have much in common with parts of one or the other of the main paradigms[3]), we can highlight some of the similarities and differences between them.

In almost all these traditions, meditation is understood as a “return” to some original high state of consciousness, or “reunion” with the underlying spiritual Source. Man is considered as having at some stage “fallen” from his natural, ideal spiritual condition, and become apparently “detached” from his place in the unity and totality of absolute reality – and thereafter, he struggles to recover it, and merge back into the whole[4].

In the secularist approach, the corresponding argument would rather be developmental and/or evolutionary: i.e. though to all evidence we never before had higher consciousness, it might be something we (as individuals and as a species) can realistically strive for so as to reach our fullest neurological and biological potential. This developmental or evolutionary peak, however, need not be assumed to correspond to some mystical experience of absolute reality.

One major issue of interpretation is that of admission or rejection of Monotheism, the belief that the ultimate reality is a spiritual Person, i.e. God. Four of the seven traditions – namely Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism – opt for monotheism, although to varying degrees. Judaism[5] and Islam[6] insist on exclusive monotheism, whereas Christianity[7] opts for a three-in-one doctrine, and Hinduism[8] accepts a large pantheon of alternative or lesser forms of divinity (avatars and gods).

Buddhism, on the other hand (at least officially), denies that the ultimate reality is an eternal spiritual entity, or Soul (Atman in Sanskrit), with consciousness, volition, values and a personality (i.e. a Self) – in short, denies the existence of God[9] – and instead affirms the ultimate “emptiness” of everything[10].

However, upon closer scrutiny we find that Buddhist doctrine does (perhaps as it has evolved over time) suggest a substantial ultimate reality of sorts – something called “the original ground of mind (or of being)” or “Buddha nature”, which for all intents and purposes could be equated in many ways to the monotheistic idea of God. Moreover, it is evident that the Buddha has de facto become deified in the popular mind, and we find the Buddhist masses identifying him with what we would call God.

Taoism is comparable to Buddhism, in that the Tao (or Way) seems like something impersonal, much like the “empty original ground”. But there are occasional mentions of Heaven in Taoism that suggest a belief in God, or which leave the issue of God relatively open or ambiguous[11]. On the other hand, while Taoism does have Immortals (comparable to Buddhas), it does not seem to treat them quite as gods[12].

Secularist philosophy, like Buddhism, rejects the notion of God. Atheists may nevertheless engage in meditation with rather materialist psychological and ethical motives, arguing that it is healthy for the individual to pursue centering and peace of mind, and good for society in general that people do so. They also point to practical benefits, like improved concentration at work, or better human relations. Thus, they meditate on the basis of a more narrow meliorism and eudemonism, i.e. as a means to self-development and happiness in a materialist worldview framework.[13]

The doctrinal diversity of the main traditions should not blind us to their essential unity. They mostly agree that the ultimate reality, the common source of all appearances, has to be unitary. Diversity always logically calls for explanation: only a Unity seems to have a satisfactory finality. This One is the Absolute – while the multiplicity of appearances, whether they seem real or illusory to us, are in comparison to it all relative. The true philosophy is thus necessarily Monist, which does not mean that we can deny the parallel existence at some level of plurality.

Among the features the traditions have in common, then, is the aetiological idea of the underlying unity of all existents being an inexplicable, uncaused, first cause. In monotheism, this is the status of God, the Creator of the world. Similarly, Buddhists and Taoists speak of the “unborn” and “unconditioned” as the background and origin of all phenomena.[14] Concerning the debate between Theist monism and Atheist monism, more will be said further on.

We should also emphasize the soteriological commonalities between the different traditions. The world as a whole strives for its salvation, the return to its primeval unity. Redemption is both an individual and collective need and task. By improving oneself, one helps others improve and repairs the world as a whole; and one improves oneself by making an effort to help others and take care of the world.

In Buddhism (or at least its Mahayana version) it is considered that the highest realization (Buddhahood) is only possible to those who dedicate themselves to the redemption of all others sentient beings (this is called “the way of the bodhisattva”). Those who more selfishly work only for their own salvation (as Hinayana Buddhists are accused of doing[15]) do not, so long as they do so, reach the highest spiritual peak.

In Judaism, and similarly in other monotheistic religions, since we humans, like sparks issuing from a flame, all share in the spiritual substance of God, we may – by working to redeem ourselves and helping other people find salvation[16] – be said (with all due proportionality and respect) to participate in God’s redemption[17]. Reciprocally, He has a direct interest in our salvation and it is equally to His advantage to promote it. All have a common interest, and cannot find true rest in isolation.

This is in Hebrew called tikkun atsmi vehaolam, meaning the ‘repair’ of oneself and the world, implying a loss of wholeness that has to be recovered. It should be stressed, however, that this doctrine is not an invitation to pretentious claims to human divinity. Though we hope to someday be reunified with God, the Divine Source of our soul or spirit – that does not mean we will ever become the whole of God. It only means we will lose our illusory individuality, and discover our real place in the universe as very tiny fractions of God’s wholeness.[18]

 

2.   The coexistence of the One and the many

 

There are apparent logical difficulties in the idea of Monism that need to be addressed, if we are to grant it credibility. One question people ask is: How can the world be essentially and absolutely (and only) One, and yet appear as a multiplicity of passing phenomena, entities and events? Can a whole be at once considered unitary and as having parts – is not such an idea self-contradictory? Are the One and the many compatible?

This question can be answered, without indulging in overly mystical discourse, if we realize it is already loaded with a certain epistemological point of view. There are in fact two possible viewpoints as to the cognitive and metaphysical relationship between the apparent many and their essential oneness. We can inductively claim either “unity in diversity” or “diversity in unity”.

In the first thesis, which is most commonly known and advocated, and which is the premise of the above question, the One is a conceptual derivative of the many. According to this Pluralist theory, we directly experience a world of multiplicity, and then use our rational faculty to hypothesize an underlying Unity. The One is then a mere concept – it is the most universal of all concepts, the fact of existence all phenomena share, the ultimate uniformity they share.

The problem with such a view of the One as derived from the many by conceptualization is that, as we have already mentioned, it has an inherent contradiction – the concept (of unity) we derive from the percepts (of manifold things) is in logical conflict with its source. Since things are primarily (phenomenologically) many, it is difficult to credibly affirm that they are ultimately (ontologically) One. The epistemological order of things affects the metaphysical perspective.

However, there is an alternative to this theory, which is less widely known and advocated, namely that the many are ratiocinative derivatives of the One. This Monist hypothesis, which is found already in Buddhist philosophy, and is today implied by modern physics, offers a less paradoxical dichotomy. In this reverse perspective, pure (pre-rational) experience is quite unitary; it is the cognizing Subject, who cuts this phenomenological primary given into a multiplicity of shapes, colors, motions, sounds, etc.

If we sit in meditation and just experience, we can soon realize that without interference on our part the multiplicity is a unity. It is only when we start analyzing it – making comparisons and contrasts, considering logical compatibilities and conflicts, and so forth –that the original unity is broken down into a seemingly endless multiplicity. Granting the epistemological primacy of unitary experience, we can understand that ratiocination is the source of apparent multiplicity. In that case, the One and the many do not appear so much in logical conflict, and we can safely opt for a Monist metaphysical position.

Another question people often ask is by what process did the One generate the many? Was the One inherently unstable, that it had to break down into the many? Note that, whereas the preceding question related to the statics of the Whole-parts relationship, this one concerns the dynamics of it.

However, we can reply that this second question, like the first, involves presuppositions. One need not view the relationship of the One and the many as having a beginning or an end – it can be viewed as timeless; we can consider that the One has always been actually one and the same with the apparent many. Another viewpoint, more accurate in my view, and more in line with the Monist thesis just formulated, is to say that the One is always potentially apparently many, such potential being actualized as of when and so long as some Subject engages in ratiocinative analysis.

While the second question can be asked even from a non-theistic (or atheistic) perspective, it is most often asked in relation to Monotheism. People ask: Why did God create us, and the world at large? Was He discontented, in need of something, moved by some want, or did He act capriciously? If so, does such supposition not contradict the idea of God as perfect and self-sufficient, as well as ultimately One, alone and indivisible?

Moreover, if He created us intentionally, why is it our mission in life to go back to pre-Creation? Does not the idea of ‘repair’ (tikkun, in Hebrew) imply an error to be corrected? Perhaps the error was not the Creation as such, but only the “original sin” in the Garden of Eden, i.e. a misuse by us of the faculties God gave us? Did God not foresee such misuse of volition (in which case He would have refrained from creation altogether)?

It is proper for a believer to ask such critical questions, for belief in God should always be based on rational reflection, so as to have a maximum of credibility and solidity.

Certainly, ideas suggesting that God might be subject to unfulfilled desires or that He might yield to some passing fancy are unacceptable, since they imply He has some incompleteness or fault, or that He is causatively determined or weak of will. However, the simple answer is that volition (in humans, and by extrapolation to an infinitely greater degree in God) is free – and to say that it is free is to mean that it can operate spontaneously, without mechanical connection to some reason, need, desire or whim[19].

If an Agent (a human soul or God) must have a motive to ever at all exercise will, then there is ultimately no such thing as freedom of the will. It follows that to ask the question “why did God create?” is a misrepresentation of the nature of volition. To insist for some explanation or motive for a purely volitional act is to demand a deterministic framework where none applies. The question is therefore inappropriate.

Thus, the Judaic teaching that “God created us because He wanted to do good to someone other than Himself” is reasonable and consistent. It does not imply that God is lonely, or that He yields to a sudden impulse, or the like; for such explanations would assign an inappropriate causal model to God, implying some thoughts randomly arise within Him independently of His will, and then influence or determine Him. Granting God is the most fully volitional of beings, such functioning is inapplicable to Him; His will has to be solely and entirely His own choice and responsibility, a pure expression of Himself.

We can nevertheless rationalize God’s creativity ex post facto as follows. We could say that so long as His unity remains undifferentiated, His great powers of consciousness (omniscience), volition (omnipotence) and valuation (justice and lovingkindness) remain unactualized potentials – i.e. their reality is concealed. In order to give these powers their full reality, God has to decide at some point to exercise these powers, i.e. to actualize their potential. To do so, He has to create a diverse and changing world, creatures capable of good and bad, etc. – a world in relation to which He can not only be, but also act.

This seems to me a coherent theory. Note well that it does not affirm that God has actual consciousness, volition and valuation before he exercises these powers. There is a level or depth at which God is purely One – prior to any thought, will or intention of His whatsoever. Then at some stage, He Himself spontaneously decides to set a multiplicity in motion, starting with the creation within Himself of His own powers, and proceeding with their exercise by creating and running the world as we know it.

In this perspective, the scenario of a world having bad in it as well as good, although God was fundamentally well-meaning in creating it, is comprehensible. Good can only be exercised in a framework where bad is also possible. If good were the only polarity possible, i.e. if bad was impossible, there would be no choice of good and therefore nothing could be characterized as good (since good presupposes freewill, otherwise all you have is mechanics). Therefore, the possibility of bad had to be allowed. Obviously, God did not fear to make allowance for the bad: He trusted the good would triumph over it.

In this perspective, too, it is perfectly natural for God to both create a world and will it to return to its original oneness. It does not signify a “change of mind” on His part. On the contrary, it is indicative of His strength and confidence – that He can ex nihilo set a diverse world in motion and expect this multiplicity to ultimately return to its unitary source. No error is involved – it is all quite intentional.

 

3.   The individual self in Monism

 

Granting the Monist thesis briefly described in the preceding chapters, we can understand that our respective apparent individual selves, whether they are viewed as souls (entities with a spiritual substance distinct from mind and matter) or as something altogether non-substantial (as Buddhism suggests), have a relative mode of existence in comparison to the Soul of God (in Monotheistic religions), or to the underlying Original Ground of such being or the Tao (in competing doctrines).

If our selves are relative to some absolute Self (or a “Non-self”, in Buddhism), they are illusory. In what sense, illusory? We might say that the illusion consists in artificially differentiating the particular out of the Universal – i.e. it consists in a para-cognitive somewhat arbitrary act of individuation. Apparently, then, tiny fractions of the original Totality have given themselves the false impression of being cut off from their common Source. They (that is, we all) have lost touch with their true Identity, and become confused by their limited viewpoint into believing themselves to have a separate identity.[20]

To illustrate the illusoriness of individuation, we can point to waves in a body of water. A wave is evidently one with the body of water, yet we artificially mentally outline it and conventionally distinguish it, then we give it a name “the wave” and treat it as something else than the water. There is indeed a bump in the water; but in reality, the boundaries we assign it are arbitrary. Similarly, goes the argument, with all things material, mental or spiritual.

The Buddhist thesis on this topic is generally claimed to differ somewhat, considering that all empirical appearances of selfhood are phenomenal, and nothing but phenomenal. And since phenomena are impermanent like wisps of smoke – arising (we know not whence – thus, from nowhere), abiding only temporarily, all the while changing in many ways, and finally disappearing (we know not wither – thus, to nowhere) – we may not assume any constancy behind or beneath them. Our particular self is thus empty of any substance; and similarly, there is no universal Soul.

This thesis is of course sufficiently empirical with regard to the fact of impermanence of phenomena; but (in my view) there is a conceptual loophole in it. We can point out that it rejects any idea of underlying constancy without sufficient justification (i.e. by way of a non-sequitur); and we can advocate instead an underlying substance (material, mental or spiritual), with equally insufficient justification, or maybe more justification (namely, that this helps explain more things).[21]

Furthermore, we may, and I think logically must, admit that we are aware of our selves, not only through perception of outer and inner phenomena, but also through another direct kind of cognition, which we may call ‘intuition’, of non-phenomenal aspects. There is no reason to suppose offhand only phenomenal aspects exist and are directly cognizable. Indeed, we must admit intuition, to explain how we know what we have perceived, willed or valued in particular cases. Conceptual means cannot entirely explain such particulars; they can only yield generalities.

Thus, while understanding and respecting the Buddhist non-self doctrine, I personally prefer to believe in the spirituality of the individual self and in God. I may additionally propose the following arguments. To start with, these ideas (of soul and God) do not logically exclude, but include the notion of “emptiness”; i.e. it remains true that particular souls and the universal Soul cannot be reduced to phenomenal experiences.

Moreover, Monotheism is logically more convincing, because the Buddhist thesis takes for granted without further ado something that the God thesis makes an effort to explain. The manifest facts of consciousness, volition and valuation in us, i.e. in seemingly finite individuals, remain unexplained in Buddhism, whereas in the Monotheistic thesis the personal powers of individuals are thought to stem from the like powers of God. That is, since finite souls are (ultimately illusory) fractions of God, their powers of cognition, freewill, and valuing (though proportionately finite) derive from the same powers (on an infinitely grander scale) in the overall Soul, i.e. God.

In truth, Buddhists could retort that though this argument reduces the three human powers to the corresponding (greater) powers of God, it leaves unexplained the existence of these same powers in Him. They are derivatives in humans, all right, but still primaries in God.

Yes, but a distinction remains. Monotheism views the ultimate Source as having a personality, whereas for Buddhism, the Original Ground is impersonal. For the former, there is a “Who”, while for the latter, only a “What” if anything at all. It seems improbable (to me, at least) that a person would derive from a non-person. Rather, the particular soul has to have this sense of personal identity in the way of a reflection of the universal soul’s personality.

But in truth, we can still intellectually reconcile the two doctrines, if we admit that such arguments are finally just verbal differentiations and that we should rather stress their convergences and complementarities.[22]

In any case, the apparent meditative success of Buddhists does not logically exclude the logical possibility that their doctrine denying soul and God may well be an error of interpretation – since other religions also report meditative successes although they resorted to other interpretations. If we generously accept all or most such human claims at their face value, we logically have to conclude that correct interpretation is not necessary for meditative success.

This suggests that meditation is ultimately independent of doctrinal quarrels. Competing, even conflicting, doctrines may be equally helpful – depending on cultural or personal context. Therefore, meditation is ultimately a pragmatic issue; it does not need particular dogmas to yield its results. Whatever your religious preference, or lack of it, just add one ingredient – meditation; this single measure will over time naturally perform wonders anyway.

The modern Secularist denial of spiritual substance (a soul in humans and God) can be depicted as follows. We are in this case dealing with a materialist philosophy, which grants solid reality only to the phenomenal (and conceptual inferences from it). The material phenomenon is regarded as exclusive of any other, although if pressed secularists will acknowledge some sort of additional, mental substance, imagined as a sort of cloud of “consciousness” hovering in the heads of certain material entities (i.e. at least humans and possibly higher animals).

This substance is conceived as a sort of epiphenomenon of specific combinations of matter (namely, those making up a live human body, and in particular its neurological system). They effectively consider mind as a rarified sort of matter. The proponents of this thesis make no clear distinction between the stuff of memories, dreams and imaginings, on the one hand, and the one experiencing these inner phenomena and indeed (via the senses) outer phenomena, on the other. And therefore, they reject all notion of an additional spiritual substance or soul as the essence of self.

This philosophy can thus be doubted on two grounds. Firstly, it fails to clearly and honestly analyze mental experience and draw the necessary conclusions from such analysis. Notably missing is the distinction between the intuited “cognizing, willing and valuing self” and his (or her) “perceived mental (and sensory) experiences”, i.e. the distinction between soul and mind within the psyche. Secondly, while secularism does tend to monism in respect of matter, it refuses a similar monist extrapolation with respect to souls, and so denies God.

Today’s Secularists of course pose as “scientists”[23], and by this means give their doctrine prestige among non-philosophers and superficial philosophers. But this stance is not scientific, in the strict sense of the term. Physical science has to date not produced a single mathematical formula showing the reducibility of life, mind, consciousness, or spirit/soul to matter. Materialists just presume that such a universal reductive formula will “someday” be shown possible. Maybe so; but until that day, they cannot logically rely on their presumption as if it were established fact.

They think their materialism is “sure” to be eventually proved all-inclusive – but this expectation and hope of theirs has for the moment, to repeat, no scientific justification whatsoever! It is just a figment of their imagination, an act of faith, a mere hypothetical postulate. Secularism is thus just another religion, not an exclusive inference from Science.

“Science” is entirely defined by rigor in cognitive method, without prejudice. It demands all available data be taken into consideration by our theories, and duly explained by these theories. Genuine philosophers are not intimidated by the intellectual thuggery of those who pretend that science is exclusively materialist.

In the case of the Materialist theory, the evident data of life, mind, consciousness and spirit or soul has hardly even been acknowledged by its advocates, let alone taken into consideration. It has simply been ignored, swept under the carpet, by them. That is not science – it is sophistry. What is speculative must be admitted to be such. And two speculations that equally fit available data are on the same footing as regards the judgment of science.

 

4.   Already there

 

A phenomenological stance is consistent with the teachings of meditation by Zen masters, when they insist that meditation is not a pursuit aimed at acquiring Buddhahood (ultimate realization). We are already Buddhas, they teach, and zazen is merely the typical behavior of Buddhas.

By sitting in meditation, we simply express the “Buddha-nature” already in us, rather than try to add it on to us. We express our native Buddhahood, our very “ground of being” as conscious entities. We just settle comfortably into the “nature of mind”, i.e. into pure consciousness.

Placing and resting one’s consciousness at the phenomenological level, the domain of appearances, we naturally, without artificial activities, recover our true identity and a true perspective on all things. By floating freely on and in the waters of the ocean, we become one with the ocean and know it more intimately than any motorized mariner ever could.

Similarly, in Judaism and like religions[24]. Faith in the existence and omnipresence of God – an effective faith in everyday life, including trust in His guidance and providence and submission to His rule – is considered equivalent, for most intents and purposes, to full consciousness of God.

In other words, it is not necessary to be at a supreme level of consciousness of God’s presence in order to be agreeable to God. If one believes in Him and serve Him as one should; whatever one’s spiritual level, if one lives, thinks and acts in a manner that constantly acknowledges His unseen presence and kingship, one has equally well fulfilled one’s duty.

If one acts as if one has God-consciousness, then one effectively has God-consciousness. Just as a servant does not require an audience with the lord of the manor to fulfill his task, one does not need to receive fancy personal revelations to conscientiously and loyally do one’s job in this world. Our works, whatever they are, loudly proclaim our actual spiritual position.

By “works”, here, I mean: mental and physical behavior, including personal, social and religious acts. I am using the expression in a broad manner, tolerant of various traditions. I am referring to moral virtues most people agree with, like personal rectitude, common decency, helping others, fairness in law, kindness to animals, and so forth[25]. Without moral behavior, one cannot seriously claim to believe in God. Therefore, such good behavior may be considered (partial) evidence of belief.

Religious acts, like prayer or various ritual acts, are also (partial) evidence. If one prays to God, one may logically be assumed to believe in Him (at least that much); one would not bother praying otherwise (except of course pretending to pray for the social benefits it might bring; e.g. to belong in a community). Similarly for other acts of worship: engaging in Divine service may (normally) be taken to imply belief in the Divine.

Of course, orthodox Judaism takes all this much further, and insists all the 613 commandments (the mitzvoth), as understood by the Rabbis, must be obeyed. Strictly speaking, any deviation from this principle would be a failure of belief in God. That may well be true – I do not here argue for or against it[26]. All I wish to do here is point out that we are to some extent conscious of God well before we reach our spiritual ideal.

This defines the Monotheistic equivalent of the Zen concept of being “already there”. Another way to express the same thing is to remind us that we were created in God’s image and likeness – i.e. that our deepest nature is God-like. This may be equivalent to the “original face” spoken of in Zen.

If one keeps this theoretical self-knowledge in mind, and constantly reminds oneself that one’s soul is a bit of God’s own holy spirit, one can hardly go wrong in practice. One will naturally engage in “imitation of God”, doing one’s best to honor this treasure within us and others, and not dishonor it in any way.

As of the moment I interiorize the Zen notion that I am one with the universe, or the Jewish notion that I am a piece of God, I am as good as “already there” (that is, here and now). I have already effectively awakened to the effervescence of existence, to the miracle of all that occurs. The distinction between this practice and some ultimate attainment as a result of it becomes, as the saying goes, “purely academic”.

Nevertheless, paradoxically, all this is not intended as an argument to stop meditating! Why? Because if one does not meditate, one cannot know firsthand and experientially that one is “already there” – one can only at best “think so” by hearsay and conceptually, and that is simply not enough. One must keep meditating to advance, and it is only ongoing meditation practice that makes one’s current spiritual level equivalent to the ideal level.

Thus, keep meditating! For without some spiritual practice, you sink back into gloomy darkness; while with practice, in one way or another, you are already (as above explained) effectively enlightened. It is that easy.

 

Drawn from Meditations (2006), Chapters 5, 6, 8 and 33.

 

 

[1]           Etymologically = God + wisdom. This may also be conceived atheistically (despite its name). It has also been called “the perennial philosophy” (by Aldous Huxley), because of its recurrence in history and across cultural barriers. Many writers throughout the ages have managed to formulate all or parts of this philosophy with considerable success, and I do not here presume to equal or surpass them. My purpose here is only to discuss some aspects of it, on the assumption the reader has already studied (or will eventually study) other texts.

[2]           Wherein I would include Confucianism, though it has some conceptual commonalties with Taoism; which one would expect, since they both come from the same culture, China.

[3]           All of which, by the way, the author has studied to varying degrees – theoretically through various texts, and in some cases practically.

[4]           Judaism speaks of teshuvah (return), devekut (adhering) and yichud (unification). The Sanskrit word ‘yoga’ refers to union, as does the Greek word henosis used by Neo-Platonism.

[5]           Judaism rejects any notion of incarnation of God. In the Jewish view, God is spiritual and not material. The Torah statement that God created humans in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:27) must be understood to refer to spiritual, not physical resemblance. God’s infinity cannot be concentrated in a finite being (as many other religions suppose when they deify some historical or legendary figure), and He is not to be confused with the phenomenal universe of matter, space and time (as Spinoza confuses Him).

[6]           Although it should be mentioned that there is a doctrine within Islam that grants Mohammed, the Messenger of Allah (God), the Divine status of “human incarnation of the Spirit” (to quote Lings, p. 33). In this context, Islam should be compared to Christianity and Hinduism rather than Judaism.

[7]           The doctrine of the trinity was a logical outcome of the apotheosis of Jesus, the founder of Christianity. The Church wanted to grant Divine status to this man, yet at the same time emphasize his spirituality and reaffirm the Judaic doctrine of unity. Note that the Christian idea of trinity differs from the apparent radical duality of Zoroastrianism. Whereas Christian philosophy seems to adhere to the unity of God at the highest level, Zoroastrian philosophy seems to regard the two basic formative forces of good and evil it posits as irreducible primaries. Analogous concepts and issues are found in Hinduism, in greater multiples.

[8]           It is in practice cheerfully polytheist, although at an academic level it acknowledges monotheism as the ultimate truth. Polytheism generally tends to a radical pluralism (of many irreducible primaries), although some forms of it may be considered relatively compatible with monism (or monotheism).

[9]           Which was in Buddha’s India advocated by Hinduism.

[10]          Note that Jewish mystics (kabbalists) have proposed a similar concept, that of the Ayn (Hebrew for “There Isn’t”, i.e. Non-Being, different from and beyond ordinary being) or Eyn Sof (“There Isn’t an End”, i.e. Infinite, in extension or breadth [Great] and in intension or depth [Unfathomable]).

[11]          Anyway, Taoism is essentially a Monist philosophy, in that it conceives the Supreme Ultimate principle as a Unity. However, since Taoism describes this One as giving rise to Two (Yin and Yang), and then to Many, it may be compared to Dualism, and even, at times, to Pluralism (this is not said with any intention to downplay Taoism, but rather to point out its richness).

[12]          To my limited knowledge (which is why I have placed this religion closer to Secularism). However, it should be noted (though the books we read about it in the West little mention the fact), Taoism as it has been popularly practiced in China involves many supernatural beliefs (many of which we would class as lowly superstitions) – ghosts, demons, exorcisms and the like.

[13]          Note that some secularists nowadays subscribe to meditation with reference to ideas that were in fact diluted from general theosophy, or some fashionable Eastern religion like Buddhism, while unaware of or refusing to admit their spiritual motives and interest.

[14]          Note that the idea of causelessness is also found in secularism. In modern physics, we have it in the Heisenberg Principle, which can be taken to suggest spontaneity of some natural processes; or again, in the Big Bang theory, with regard to the existence of the primal seed of matter and the initial explosion thereof. In psychology, some thinkers (though not all) admit the existence of freewill in humans.

[15]          I think this is an unfair accusation. The Theravada (called Hinayana by the Mahayana school) ideal is to concentrate on fixing oneself first; and then once has done so, one’s sincere compassion for others will naturally be awakened (this is a possible interpretation of Gautama Buddha’s trajectory). Whereas the Mahayana consider it is necessary to work on oneself and for others at the same time, because each side of this path helps the other succeed. Both approaches are probably equally valid, I would suppose – depending on the character or “karma” of the person involved.

[16]          The tsadikim (“just men” in Hebrew), and in particular the Moshiach (“Anointed” one, or Messiah), are actively involved in saving souls. That is their spiritual profession, we might say. But ordinary people also of course participate in this work occasionally, if only as amateurs.

[17]          This is implied, notably, in the philosophy of the kabbalist Isaac Luria.

[18]          It should be noted that orthodox Jewish doctrine might not include a final reintegration of all souls into God. I base this supposition on oral rather than written teachings. I recently questioned one Rabbi on the subject (namely Rav Mendel Pevzner of Geneva, a Lubavitcher chassid). He taught that we will never merge back into God – but will always remain separated as individual souls, having the function to eternally declare God’s sovereignty and praise Him. Moreover, he confirmed, some evil individuals (at least the likes of Adolf Hitler) will never return to God. I did not inquire on what texts this doctrine is based, and even whether all Jewish authorities agree with it. I was a bit skeptical when I heard the part about the righteous souls remaining separated; but upon reflection, it does not seem logically inconceivable. Certainly, there are people who deserve eternal damnation and can never be purified of their sins whatever hell they go through. Granting that, then the possibility that just souls remain forever suspended in paradise sounds reasonable, too. It is worth emphasizing in this context that Judaism teaches love of life on earth more than any other of the main religions: Judaism cannot position itself radically against the world (totally rejecting the body and mind), since it considers that God created this world (including human beings) intentionally and that He views his Creation as “good” and even “very good” (Genesis, chapter 1). Notwithstanding all such issues, let us not forget that God remains One throughout: He always was One, He is still One now, He will always be One. Any separateness people may experience is an illusion of theirs, which their Maker does not share in.

[19]          See my work Volition and Allied Causal Concepts for a thorough analysis of freewill.

[20]          Rather than suggest like Bishop Berkeley that we are ideas in the mind of God, the viewpoint here advocated is that we are, as it were, ideas in our own minds. God invented us, yes, and allowed for our seeming individuation; but He has no illusions about our separateness. It is we, in our limited and therefore warped perspective, who misperceive ourselves as individuals.

[21]          We shall further debate the issue of impermanence later on.

[22]          Needless to say, I do not intend this statement as a blanket approval, condoning all beliefs and practices included in practice under the heading of Buddhism. I have in past works for instance voiced my reserves regarding the worship directed at statues (idolatry). Even from a Buddhist point of view, this is a weird and spiritually obstructive practice (since it involves mental projection of “selfhood” into purely physical bodies). Moreover, I do not see how this can be an improvement on the worship of God. If devotion is a good thing, surely the latter is its best expression.

[23]          Some are indeed scientists – in their specific field, such as Physics. But this does not entitle them to a free ride in the general field of Philosophy. I am thinking here of Hubert Reeves, who appears on TV claiming atheism as incontrovertible fact, as if any other view is simply unthinkable. Laypersons should not confuse his prestige and media-presence with logical confirmation of his view. The underlying fallacy is ad hominem argument.

[24]          Christian ideology (of Pauline origin, if I am not mistaken) is that faith suffices for salvation. But the purpose of this idea is to attract converts, by making that religion seem easy; it is an advertising ploy, to obtain a first commitment. I doubt if any Christian would seriously consider a mere declaration of faith sufficient. Faith still has to be proved in practice through certain good works; faith has to be lived out, through certain required behavior patterns (like loving your neighbor, for example). Some works are indeed discarded by the Christian faith-only doctrine; these are certain Judaic commandments, like the prohibition of pork or the need to wear prayer phylacteries. (A similar approach is found in Pure Land Buddhism, by the way: on the surface, faith is initially presented as enough; but thereafter, there is a teaching about good works. This includes, not only chanting a certain name, but various moral injunctions.)

[25]          From the Judaic viewpoint, this would refer to the “laws for the children of Noah” (i.e. for humanity at large). This is considered ordinary “savoir vivre” (derech eretz, in Hebrew). It does not only include external actions, but the underlying thoughts (for example, if you hate your neighbor in your heart, overt displays of benevolence are hypocrisy).

[26]          Although, as I have pointed out in Judaic Logic, belief in God does not necessarily imply belief in an alleged revelation from Him. The latter is an additional step, found in each of the Monotheistic religions in relation to a different “revelation”. Similarly, within Judaism historically, there have been believers in the written law (Torah) who had doubts relative to the so-called oral law (Talmud). I say all this quite objectively, without intending to advocate one position or another.

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