It’s Time to Get Back to Religion’s Roots

Written by on August 31, 2020 in Spirituality and Religion with 0 Comments

By: Forrest Rivers

The multiple crises that we face demand a response from our religious traditions. However, the religion we know as an institutionalized hierarchy of powerful leaders and their followers will no longer serve us. It may only exasperate our problems even more. We must return to religion’s roots. We need the inspiring wisdom of a Jesus or a Mohammad without the corrupt guidance of religious authorities. We need to touch the transcendent beauty of the Hindu or Jewish scriptures, firsthand, through one-pointed meditation. And, we must see our own Buddha Nature reflected in the life-giving rivers that flow effortlessly to the infinite ocean. Direct religious experience is the panacea to the deep-seated troubles of our times. For in truth, COVID-19 and all the related problems that it has brought to the surface are indicators of a deeper spiritual crisis at hand.

At the roots of all the world’s major religions are mystical traditions that emphasize the importance of one’s direct and intuitive experience in understanding the greater reality. In Christianity, these roots are discovered through the lives and works of mystics like Saint Francis, Saint Teresa of Calcutta and Thomas Merton. In Islam, their mystical tradition is expressed through such practices as Sufi Dancing and through the words of poets like Rumi and Hafiz. In Buddhism, it is found through Zen, a school of wisdom described by some as the “gateless gate”, in which seekers arrive at their own enlightenment through persistent meditation (Zazen) and less reliance on the word of scripture. In Hinduism, this mystical tradition is reflected in sacred texts like the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. It is also experienced by the many wandering Sadhus (holy men) in search of an unfettered communion with Brahman (God). Finally, in Judaism, the mysterious Kabbalah is a powerful mystical expression of that faith.

Aldous Huxley, the revered writer-sage, calls these common mystical ties in all religions the “perennial philosophy”. Whatever name we use to describe it, our mystical traditions have the power to transform entire societies because they are able to change the hearts of all individuals from the inside out. On that point, consider this revealing quote from Gary Snyder, the great beat poet:

“The practice of meditation, for which one needs only the ground beneath one’s feet, wipes out mountains of junk being pumped into the mind by the mass media and supermarket universities. The belief in a serene and generous fulfillment of natural loving desires is strengthened by meditation and destroys ideologies which blind, maim and repress.”

This type of direct spiritual experience(meditation) that Snyder writes passionately about, has the positive effect of raising both our individual and collective states of consciousness. More significantly, direct spiritual seeking has the power to heal division between groups of people and build peace among all God’s children. Whenever we meditate or pray, we can’t help but feel a deep kinship with all beings of the Earth. It is this deep sense of interconnection that sparks monumental shifts in consciousness and breaks down barriers of separation. It is the illusion of separation that frustrates our attempts at peace. Anthropocentrism, racism, sexism, nationalism and classism are all faces of a false reality that pictures the web of being as a collection of unrelated parts.

As the Chandogya Upanishad from the Hindu tradition, reminds us, direct spiritual seeking helps us come to this unitive vision of reality:

“The self is hidden in the lotus of the heart. Those who see themselves in all creatures go day by day into the world of Brahman hidden in the heart. Established in peace, they rise above body consciousness to the supreme light of the Self. Immortal, free from fear, this Self is Brahman, called the True. Beyond the mortal and the immortal, he binds both worlds together. Those who know this live day after day in heaven in this life.”

Returning to religion’s roots (Huxley’s perennial philosophy) is one way to heal the discord that is escalating in nations like America. There, tensions between so-called conservatives and liberals have reached such a boiling point that some mainstream pundits on “both sides” have even openly questioned if a second civil war is inevitable! The events surrounding COVID-19 have taken this “culture war” to new and alarming heights. Strongly clashing perspectives between the two groups have only intensified. Everything from the government’s response to the handling of the virus itself, to the enforcement of wearing masks in public to sharply differing opinions about Black Lives Matter have been called into question.

If this fire of division isn’t soon extinguished, it could easily spill over into more violent conflict. Sadly, every day, more and more Americans continue to break off into one of the two extreme camps of “far right” and “far left”. As this shift takes place, the number of people standing on neutral ground steadily declines and we become a nation of extremists. The negative consequences of this deepening polarization are there for us all to see: dissolved friendships, broken marriages, increasing hate and deadly clashes between protesters and police. More now than ever before, we must embrace what unites us. The mystical traditions—our forgotten spiritual roots—are our great refuge in these times of moral fragmentation. Black Elk, a very wise Native-American mystic and a beloved leader of the Oglala Lakota, said peace between groups of people and between nations cannot be attained until each one of us first finds our own inner peace:

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. This is the real peace and the others are but reflections of this. The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is that which is made between two nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is known that true peace, which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men.”

Happily, the roots of our mystical traditions can help all of us attain the inner peace that Black Elk describes and deliver us a world of universal love.

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