The Three Views of Existence Part 3

Our present-day understanding of religion is poor. When people discuss religion they are usually arguing about some doctrine they read in a book somewhere. Most of today’s religious institutions and organizations are led by people who have had no direct experience  of the spiritual, but who have ideas about what  it is. But you can’t get religion from a book or from speculative thought.

Here’s what real religion is: A person sets out on a path that takes him, or her, to the very edge of what can be understood with the thinking mind. At the point he can go no farther, he drops his ego and takes a leap into the unknown where he has a vision of the oneness of existence. To most people this sounds like some kind of Eastern religious trip. But I contend that Jesus took the same journey. If you read the Gospel of Thomas, one of the so-called Gnostic Gospels, it’s easy to recognize. One of the good things about the Gospel of Thomas is that it’s all sayings and aphorisms. There isn’t any mythology attached. It’s simply religious instruction. And religious instruction is mostly about how to manage safely the spiritual journey, which is incredibly dangerous.

Maybe it’s pointless to try to talk about this. To most ears, the journey I’m referring to sounds mythical rather than real. But that’s because of the time we live in, which is mundane and materialistic. In any case, for the moment, the door to the journey is closed. But it wasn’t so long ago that the door was open, and thousands, if not millions, were in pursuit. Even then, it was difficult to get people to understand. For many years, I was one of those who refused to hear of it. Futile or not, I want to try and make the point that in my mind I’ve been wanting to make for several months.

My contention is that real religion is simply the search for the truth about existence, about reality. There is one true religion, and it doesn’t have a name. It is simply the laws of existence—an existence that goes beyond physical reality. Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tse, and others are all examples of individuals who  made that journey, and then came back to tell the rest of us how to go there. In each case, only a handful of the original hearers had any real idea of what Buddha, Jesus, and Lao Tse were talking about. But they were impressed by the power of the speakers, who had been completely changed by their experiences. That’s where the big churches came from—from the mass of people who didn’t really understand what they were hearing, as well as from those who heard it second and third hand. In the first group I would include most of Jesus’ disciples; in the second, people like Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther, and so on. (I’m being critical of Christianity here, but I see Buddhism as having identical problems. One of the problems is to think that there is a “Buddhism” or a “Christianity.”)

It’s not easy to get people to understand what’s true. It’s easier to give them a jealous god who sits on his throne, sees all, and crushes his enemies. They can understand that much more easily than the idea that everything is god, that everything is mind. We all have, at the very least, an unconscious awareness of the spiritual roots of existence. That’s why the churches became so powerful. But as the churches have grown ever distant from the source, their doctrines have become more at odds with observable reality. A few centuries ago it got to be too much for the well-educated, and they began to question what they knew as religion, which was the creator god religion they’d inherited from Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther et al. Eventually they created science and philosophical materialism as a replacement. Today those two sides are duking it out, making headlines, trying to win converts. I can’t take either one of them seriously. There is that third way, which is quieter and more intelligent than either the creator god or philosophical materialism. It has the added advantage of being true. But, as I say, the door to understanding it directly is not open right now. That will change, however. Sometimes I feel that that’s all I live for—for that door to open again. When it does open, everything changes for everybody everywhere.

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11 Responses to “The Three Views of Existence Part 3”

  1. Kathy Says:

    Hi Mark, I had been waiting a little bit for your third statement, and it is here. My question for you, if you will: Why is it that you say the door is closed now? Thank you so much,m I very much enjoy your thoughtful writings.

    • markbittner Says:

      I knew I’d be responding to this question. It’s because the spiritual world isn’t static. It’s dynamic. Sometimes it’s closer to this realm; other times, it’s more remote. When it’s remote, it can’t be approached. We have to wait for it. And when it does arrive, it arrives by surprise.

    • Kathy Says:

      Oh, my heavens! I think it is right here. All the time. I feel surrounded. That is my experience, anyway. I must note that you chose a fine day to make this post, BTW 🙂

  2. JB Says:

    Mark, I find this a nice closer to your series on this topic.

    I just read a review of the Dalai Lama’s newest book, “Beyond Religion”. Apparently he makes the claim that ethics is like water – essential and needed for survival. Religion, he contends, is like tea – ceremonial, habitual, sometimes nutritious, other times poison.

    On a very objective level, I feel you are right that society does not have the third way “door” open right now. On an individual, subjective level, I feel the “door” is within and can be opened at any time.

    • markbittner Says:

      Nice to hear from you, Mr. Memes. Yes, the door is certainly within, but I no longer believe than it can be opened at any time. Opening the door is a joint effort. We need the support of others. A lot of people have to be seeking all at once. And that happens only when certain forces are aligned.

      “I will put aside the intention of having the teaching prevail everywhere until the occasion of a rising tide.”
      Dogen

      It can’t be much longer.

  3. Cherie L Lester (@EngageMeHIT) Says:

    Extremely well put! More and more people are starting to understand this. Change is coming.

  4. David Says:

    Here in Nova Scotia there is a lot going on along these themes, has been for some time. A pervasive undercurrent.

    Just went to a brilliant lecture on religious and spritual leaders through the ages, inclding the modern one.

    Christ wasn’t a Christian, Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist. They were all seekers.

    My take is that leading scientists have a similar simplicity of spirit — a similar sense of wonder. Many physicists of the 20th century were later drawn to the philosophical and spiritual traditions of India and China.

  5. Anthony Paul Says:

    If you have the time and inclination to respond to this I appreciate it, and if not, that’s ok too. What follows is partly my restatement of what I think you’re saying, but I also simply ask questions where I’m really unsure as to what you mean. Returning to an earlier posting, where you referred to pantheism, reality consists of a single consciousness, which is everything there is, and this is what you mean when you refer to the oneness of existence. Material individuals such as ourselves are temporary material manifestations of this reality with a conscious element. Our individual conscious existences eventually rejoin that reality, which really means that the material individual ceases to exist as a distinct material being and the indvidual consciousness can no longer be distinguished, nor can it distinguish itself, from the whole of reality. The oneness of existence can only be understood through the experience one has if one undertakes a spiritual journey through which one ultimately has a vision of the oneness of existence. My impression is that we know this as others such as Jesus, the Buddha, and Lao Tse have actually had this experience and have done their best to describe it to others. Is “spiritual” an adjective that refers to “consciousness” and/or “mind” and/or do all those terms refer to the same reality or to different particular aspects of it or ??? Do the “laws of existence” or “true religion” show you how to go about the search for the truth about existence or are they the understanding you arrive at when you experience a vision of the oneness of existence. Put another way, are they “laws” that tell you how to behave on a spiritual journey or “laws” that describe the one reality that you ultimately perceive to exist. Finally, how is the spiritual journey potentially dangerous? If there is only one reality and we are all parts of it and we will be reunited with it, I’m not sure I understand what the term “danger” could even mean unless it means that it’s easy to go astray in the material world and never complete the spiritual journey.

    • markbittner Says:

      Everything you write up to “describe it to others” seems a near-perfect restatement of how I see these issues. When I say “Spiritual” I’m usually referring to “consciousness” and/or “mind.” Yes. Sometimes “mind” means the rational intellect, which is different. Words are imprecise and limited. Buddha said that once you’ve crossed the stream, you don’t need the raft (the teaching) anymore. But I can’t believe that the teachings are different from the way things are. But I also believe there is something beyond the teachings, something impossible to put into words, something waiting to be discovered. I don’t know why the spiritual journey is dangerous, but it is. The heart is a dark and murky place. We get anxious when we go too deep too fast. You can also go crazy and start believing things that aren’t true. It’s comparable to climbing a mountain. At the base the climb is easy, but near the top you have to move slowly and with great care.

  6. Phyllis Lindsey Says:

    Awfully difficult to intellectualize these concepts, which is what science and religion try to do. I feel the oneness is true. I believe there is much more to life on earth than we normally access–other levels or layers. We see the world through a haze which if cleared would show something entirely more beautiful. Once in a while there is a glimpse of it but it can’t be ordered up at will. Just keep climbing the mountain.

  7. vince Says:

    Hi Mark.

    This is my first post, i think i will be spending allot of time with you, in here. some very interesting opinions and views. I am especially interested in your thoughts about consciousness and physics. You siad you had some craziness to write about in that regards. I can hardly wait. The relationship between physics and human consciousness has been on my mind allot lately!!

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