Friday 20 April 2018

Different objectives of Eastern and Western religions

In this excerpt from William Arkle's essay Reality (from The Great Gift, 1977) he discusses the difference between the Christian idea of an eternal life that retains our ultimate self-hood; and the 'Eastern' objective of annihilating the self (which is seen as an illusion).

This corresponds to the Christian idea of God as 'outside'/ separate from/ not-identical-with his creation; as contrasted with the Eastern idea of God and creation being an ultimate unity and including ourselves.

Arkle argues that our loving God probably allows people to attain to the Eastern state ('Nirvana') if that is what they genuinely yearn for. But, he regards God as wanting us to become gods - deified selves; and having created reality with that aim.

Within your universe of values you have to discover and find for yourself this more essential and more valuable level, and to learn to separate it out from the less essential and less valuable level, which is your outer personality self fulfilling its needs. The inner, spiritual, essential self is working to fulfil its higher needs, but often it is being prevented from doing that by the activity of the outer personality self, which is grabbing all the attention in order to fulfil its own level of needs. Maslow spoke very clearly about this situation, so if you’ve had the chance to read Maslow’s books you will know exactly what I am talking about.

Now that is your reality; you can’t get out of that, unless perhaps it’s possible to destroy your own ego. I think what some Eastern religions, some forms of Buddhism, do is to take away the separate stance of the ego, which is one of the gifts which the Creator has given to us, and it unifies its own reality with the greater reality, not in the form of becoming a friend of that reality, but in terms of neutralising its own ability to be separate.

This attitude combines its attention and energies with the attention and energies of the bigger system of creation, which we could call the system of the Supreme Being, and, in this way, it seems to destroy its own separate existence and become a part of the Creator’s existence, but I don’t believe this is what the Creator wishes of us, or wishes for us, and if you believe in a system rather than a Creator, I don’t believe it’s the best way of making use of the system.

In the deeply religious sense, I believe that the Creator stands outside the system, and we can have an understanding of his Being in that way. We can make friends with him in that way if our own reality remains a strong and separate reality while we are becoming aware of the nature of that Being we call Creator.

I think it’s also possible to become a part of the energies which are the most ethereal level of creation, and this would be a sensation of continuing bliss, if you like. One would then bask in the rays of the Creator’s creative intention, just like a physical person would enjoy standing under a warm shower, and one could lose one’s reality in that way, in the enjoyment of standing under that warm shower and enjoying its warmth and its activity, and letting go of every other form of reality, every other form of responsibility, every other form of identification.

In that way, one returns to the womb of one’s being, but I don’t think one has actualised or accomplished the purpose of the potentiality which has been given to our being. But on a smaller scale, we have to deal with the overcoming of the outpost of the substitute personality ego if we want to become established in our proper essential higher reality; which is to say, our own essential divine being.

In order to achieve the awareness and the ability to be with our true self, to be according to our true self, to respond with the nature of our true self, we have to learn to eliminate the activity of the outer self, which has taken over the activity of living from our bigger, whole self. But this is a difficult thing to do, and everyone who is trying to do it will tell you the same thing – that it is a difficult thing to do.

How long it will take is not in anybody’s ability to say, because everybody does it in a different way, and takes a different time to do it.

Excerpted from the essay 'Reality', from The Great Gift, 1977.


lgude said...

I really like how Arkle leaves room for both Eastern and Christian fulfilment. I am a pragmatist in that I do many practices from West and East every day precisely "to eliminate the activity of the outer self, which has taken over the activity of living from our bigger, whole self." In my Christian practice I feel the active stirring of God drawing me toward the 'bigger whole self', while in my Buddhist practice I work actively on letting go of the 'activity of the outer self'. More broadly I find this blog particularly helpful at avoiding becoming caught up in the evil of the bureaucratic Hell we have created for ourselves - getting sucked futilely into the sinkholes of contemporary life. In that sense I see this blog as doing a great deal for anyone interested in transforming Hell into Purgatory.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Igude - Indeed, the phenomenon most obvious as bureacracy is indeed the prime evil of our times - and it permeated much more completely and thoroughly than most are able or willing to acknowledge.

Rudolf Steiner wrote a lot of useful stuff about this (amidst the many 'distractions' of his writing) in terms of the manifestation of evil (or the challenge to Good) he termed Ahriman. One idea is that if Ahriman wins, it is evil; but the struggle-against Ahriman is good-for-us, develops us - in fact we *need* this struggle, despite its risks. Which is why God allows the situation.

When bureaucracy began (and rather like democracy, or the mass media), it was a mixture of considerable good with evil; but as it has developed it has become very fully evil, insidious and corrupting.

Compromise with bureaucracy becomes more like surrender to evil with every month; so it may become both necessary and desirable to reject bureaucracy/ formal and non-familial/ non-loving organisational structure (in our hearts) in a near-total fashion, which will be at the cost of (what remains of) civilisation itself. This may - indeed - be the divine plan.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Igude - back to your main point. Yes, I like this too.

Christianity and Buddhism cannot both be true, indeed ultimately only one could be true (or neither). But for Christians, since our God is our loving Father, and not a vindictive tyrant, it makes no sense to assume that Heaven or Hell represent the totality of choices for his children. That would be an extreme and nasty form of blackmail (unless nothing else was possible to the creator - but that seems unlikely).

Christianity is an opt-in religion; and there are ways of declining to opt-in that are not actively evil.

Furthermore, on the whole, God seems to give his children what they want, in the final choice (although that final choice might weel be reversible in principle, if not in practice) - rather than imposing upon them what they *need* - because of the reality of free will/ agency this is indeed a necessity.

God regards the 'static' bliss of unselfed Nirvana as singnificantly sub-optimal' and teh world is not designed for that purpose - but there seems no reason why Nirvana should be forbidden to those individuals who sincerely prefer it to the creative dynamism and familial life of Heaven (so long as they do not attempt to attack or sabotage God's primary hopes and plans - and therefore the highest eternal happiness) - and since God has the power to enable Nirvana, I am pretty sure he sometimes does.

William Wildblood said...

My question regarding Nirvana nowadays is how many people are really, I mean really, able to suppress the individual self to the extent required. It still seems to me to be asking something that radically goes against our human nature and, in fact , may not even be possible except as an idea in the head. So often it ends up as one part of the self denying another part.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William, I have no sense of how common it might be that a person *really* wants Nirvana - perhaps especially here and now - but for me the possibility is an important 'in principle' consideration, deriving from God's nature and intentions, as I understand them. Indeed, I think that knowing that Nirvana is a real possibility might, for some people, lead to a more thorough consideration of whether they really *do* prefer it to Christian Heaven - assuming they believe that Heaven is also a real possibility, and can get a sufficient understanding of what it entails.

William Wildblood said...

It's just that everyone I've met treading this particular spiritual path seems to me to be acting in some way. Admittedly the great majority of them are Westerners who may be temperamentally completely unsuited to self-denial in this extreme way, having a stronger ego base by culture and also perhaps nature.

But I am not saying the the Nirvana state doesn't exist as an alternative. I'm sure it does though I also believe that there may be some inner prompting that eventually chases people out of it or tries to anyway.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - As always, it probably has a lot to do with a Western person's motivation for *not* being a Christian.

If there is a covert selfish reason such as a sexual one (*very* common, in my opinion - and going back more than 200 years; and much more common than is superficially obvious, because it may have more to do with fantasy/ hopes than actual behaviour) then clearly the alternative religion is not going to be genuinely pursued.

Alexeyprofi said...

I have read that meditation reduces activity in the area of ​​the brain responsible for feeling the boundaries of one's body. I think that this is just connected with the experience of one's "oneness" with the universe or God (depending on religion). For the same reason, Buddhists say that it is impossible to draw a line between yourself and the world, for them subjectively it really is.