Recently, I came across a quote that summarizes my feeling about spiritual practice and the desire to connect with God in a real and personal way, as well as really speaking out against those who would claim that the ONLY logical conclusion that is rational to conclude is that one CANNOT know God.
"If then you do not make yourself equal to God, you cannot apprehend God; for like is known by like. Leap clear of all that is corporeal, and make yourself grow to a like expanse with that greatness which is beyond all measure; rise up above all time and become eternal; then you will apprehend God. Think that for you too nothing is impossible; deem that you too are immortal, and that you are able to grasp all things in your thought, to know every craft and every science; find yourself home in the haunts of every living creature... but if you shut up your soul in your body, and abase yourself, and say, 'I know nothing, I can do nothing, I am afraid of earth and sea, I cannot mount to Heaven; I do not know what I was, nor what I shall be'; then what have you to do with God? Your thought can grasp nothing beautiful and good; if you cleave to the body and are evil. For it is the height of evil not to know God; but to be capable of knowing God, and to wish and hope you know him, is the road that leads straight to the good; and that is the easy road to travel....for there is nothing that is not God. And you say 'God is invisible?' Speak not so. Who is more manifest than God?"-Hermes Trismegistus
I can understand the problem. Few in modern life has an experience of God. No one has trained us to think in any way except that which serves ‘me’. No one has a moment to spare to explore the mysterious nature of their real selves. Who has time to examine their own nature in silence anymore?
In this post, I am wanting to point out some of the difficulty in things like Bill Maher’s perspective in a movie like “Religiulous”. While funny, this funny is pointing out the negative aspects of people who are ignorant. My difficulty with this is that THIS HELPS NO ONE, and is itself hypocritical.
In this film, Bill Maher dresses up as a religious person from the cult of Scientology and espouses their dogma in front of a group of people, as a way to get people thinking about how ridiculous religions are. Pointing out the silliness of Xenu in Scientology, Genesis in the Bible, the fact that Ganesha is a God with an elephant head is like making fun of someone because their name sounds funny; this impulse itself is shallow, ignorant and pointless.
I know Bill Maher is thought to be educated, thoughtful and analytical, but he falls into the trap of “prove it”. Nothing is provable to people of this mentality because their perspective itself limits them to seeing only their side, and this one-sided approach itself is what I think he’s protesting with the movie.
I see also that Bill Maher is very like-minded in his thinking with his apparent mentor, Richard Dawkins, who wrote a series of books that essentially leave out all experiences of mystery in life and make huge assumptions and declarations about religions, spiritual traditions, the nature of the cosmos, the mind and so on that are themselves religious in nature, as science is the religion of people like this. It would seem in the estimation of people like this that scientific people believe in the wholesale stupidity of others not like them. I am not sure that this sort of dialogue does anything but polarize debate, and this itself is also as violent as the wars they protest having been fought ‘In The Name of God’, and certainly doesn’t help people feel peaceful or loving toward one another. Witness:
So, if Bill Maher is protesting something, why then do it too? This is the very essence of hypocrisy.
Protests don’t show insight, no matter how persuasive one’s arguments may be in one direction, it doesn’t automatically make them correct. This is also hypocrisy and arguing about the ignorant’s thoughts about something which is beyond their current consciousness, as well as his own.
We see this constantly in movies- the so-called ‘good guy’ doing all sorts of bad things, killing people and so on and he’s cheered on because he’s ‘right’. Does Bill Maher imagine himself in a science vs. religion gunslinger role? Is he the One Who Can Save Us?
Who can be right when violence is the solution to all things? If one uses violent means, then ignorance must be operating behind it. This is the nature of tamas- the veiling power of the mind. This same hypocrisy is done by many and we fight then over who has some sort of infinitely regress-ible “rightness”, which is itself both ignorant and a waste of time- like two children arguing over who
Pointing out stupidity or hypocrisy among followers of different religions or how idiotic people act in relation to religion has a fundamental problem I am protesting: it’s violent, ignorant and misguided. Since the speaker, in this case Bill Maher, is advancing his own agenda that: “it’s impossible to know God, or know if there is a God.” What is this perspective except a wailing lament to ignorance itself for a resolution?
I am feeling you Bill, I spent many years not having a logical way to argue for the existence of God, and I lamented in much the same way as other thinking people. The problem here is that this is a man putting his own personal angst and wailing about his lack of connection with God into sarcasm- which is merely a mask for anger. Anger comes from a desire unfulfilled. What desire could need to be filled for Bill Maher? A real connection with God, aka his own real nature. He sounds really in touch with his intellect, but his intellect is being used by his low mind to arrogate his own agenda and the movie itself is quite one-sided. I am all for debate, but I’d like to see Bill Maher debate with a vedantic scholar!
One can use the intellect, which resides in between the high and low mind. In yoga, one is trained to put the high mind to use taking over the intellect to search logically and emotionally for one’s connection with the mysterious, to use a religion-neutral word. This silence is not proved by something, it merely is. Does one need to prove an obvious fact? I am sure that it doesn’t.
In this case, Bill Maher’s OWN ignorance is being propagated here- his ignorance of God; which, from what I can tell, is exactly what Bill Maher himself is making fun of- ignorance. Still, I protest making fun of the ignorant, as making fun of ignorance just isn’t funny.
Making fun of stupidity IS, because now one can easily play judgmental God, which is what Bill Maher is doing. He can do this completely on his own for the ‘amusement’ of other negative people who are equally ignorant of God (no matter what they SAY they are) and so why does Bill Maher have a need for God, if we can do it on our own? It’s this precise attitude I am working against in this blog post.
As I have pointed out in many other articles and blog posts, the REAL problem IS ignorance and the subsequent suffering associated with ignorance. A person without knowledge that cars need oil changes will eventually suffer through an expensive and inconvenient session in gaining that knowledge, as an example.
What we need is a solution to ignorance. The answer to this is not complicated. Every person who would read this has had the experience of moving from lacking understanding or perspective on something and then realizing what the implications or full nature of that thing is. You “get it” (whatever it is) at some point and it makes sense.
In my next article (on the articles page) on The Anatomy of Ignorance, I will talk about the nature of consciousness and how it’s come to in more detail, but suffice it to say that Self-realization is akin to gaining an ‘aha’ experience of the world and one’s Self to an extent that it is never contradicted by ANY subsequent experience. If I am Bill Maher, I would be seeking an experience like that, and not merely just poking fun at those who don’t and therefore exposing myself as someone also without this experience.
What we REALLY want is to experience the fullness of ourselves and others in a way that is not possible to contradict or be wrong. Then when I speak to everyone, I can see clearly what is happening in all situations and circumstances. Advaita Vedanta answers questions precisely like this one in some great detail and using perfect logic, to an extent that someone like Bill Maher simply is not capable of doing.
My Own Time As An Atheist
Now, I was once a devout atheist. I would tell everyone, if they asked me, and I would vehemently deny the existence of God. I see now that my view was ENTIRELY a selfish one: What had God ever done for me? Plus, everyone I knew who was devoted to God seemed judgmental, arrogant, self-righteous and quite loud about it, as if to make up for some lack of REAL feeling or experience of God inside themselves.
What I was REALLY experiencing was a difficulty understanding the ignorance of the people who said they were “God-fearing”, whatever that means. I felt judged on the whole, not listened to. I found myself going to Campus Life meetings with other teenagers trying to grasp the completely foreign idea of why a person would choose to have faith in God, when he was so clearly a vengeful one. I wanted to reconcile my own ideas about what God was with the faith I saw around me. Never was an Eastern perspective on how to become one with God offered to my mind.
During this period, therefore, I rejected religion of every sort as it felt too judgmental, scary and frightful. I think many feel this way about Western religious traditions, and it’s seemed to create a society ripe for more kinds of fear and a continuous ‘lack’ feeling. I also didn’t like feeling this way either, and I have spent now 20 years examining myself and religions, mysticism and esoteric traditions to find my way back to my real Self. I am not yet there, but I did want to speak to this topic because I am seeing movies like “Religulous” coming out making fun outwardly of religions and spirituality in general.
I also bought into this when I was a child during my ‘vengeful atheist’ period when I proclaimed I was an atheist to my father, who said very logically (and so I had to agree with him) “There is no way you can know if there is or isn’t a God, so you must be an agnostic. Atheists KNOW there is no God.” This, on the face of it seems very reasonable and rational logic. I realize now that this is merely a state of mind and from which side one approaches it.
In an age of excess, we had been schooled to believe that one must survive in a hostile world filled with many imagined fears to supplant REAL ones- supporting one’s self financially, defending one’s self against those who would judge you, put you down, and our emotional competency, patience and abiding nature has gone away. We fill every moment with stimulus- TV, radio, activities so we can meet the expectation of being a “go-getter”. People who are go getters are praised to the skies, and monastic people are denied, debased, and analyzed into irrelevance.
Those who do adopt this survival stance often only have apathy to look to as an alternative to solve their problems, and many of us have tried this. Later this turns into cynicism and self-righteousness and control disease and violence in speech, deeds and internal thoughts. Where is God to be found in such a person’s outlook? The idea that we must be the change we wish to see in the world is one that assumes a great responsibility for one’s actions, thoughts and consequences.
From Many To One
Your ability to survive and acquire things still doesn’t allow for a lack of fear, surrounded by so many possessions. Vedanta argues logically that fear can only come when there are two (getting to two is easy, from there, Pandora’s Box is no longer just a parable). To resolve this one must see everyone as one’s Self. In so doing, one begins on a journey where one can apprehend God.
I love the quote we were often told at the ashram about one of Swami Vishnu-devananda’s favorite examples:
“Sometimes when you go to scratch your head, you poke yourself in the eye. You don’t scream and curse at your hand for poking you in the eye, because you see it to be a part of yourself. If one sees everyone as a part of one’s Self, one cannot be afraid.”
Sure, some of the ‘stories’ of religions are outrageous from a modern perspective and mythologies don’t feel ‘real’ to anyone, except when you see that they in fact parables and lessons. Yet we watch TV, movies and listen to the radio constantly.
Given that these myths were the original TV, then it’s easier to understand where they were coming from. Now we have entirely too many parables and tales coming our way, ALL of which are teaching us some lesson in some form. EVERY TV show is teaching us some moral lesson or another, so what use do we have anymore for religion? When the conclusion of all these TV shows is that vengeance is good, and skill at beating people up, shooting them with a gun and so on is OK, because I am on the side of ‘right’- well this sure sounds like a recipe for millions of people to believe what Western religions have been doing for thousands of years. On the other hand, it also pushes people away, or makes them so cynical they can feel nothing. I think this is where atheism has come from so much in the last years.
My disagreement with this view comes after seeing the amazing and in depth logic on the other side of this picture found in Vedantic literature. There ARE ways one can know of the existence of God, yet the Western vengeful God perspective contains little about how to get there, nor is silence of the mind addressed in any real way. So, steeped in this culture, how am I to find my way to God? In general I will not, or it will take much of my lifetime to get past all the cultural influence enough to form my own identity enough to challenge this widespread perspective.
I am reading a book now by the head of the Vedanta Society of Western Washington- Swami Bhaskarananda. It’s called “ From Many to One- Essentials of Vedanta ”. This is not close to being my first Vedantic book I have read, but I am always amazed how logically one can argue for the existence of God, and for it’s practical pursuit in silence and meditation.
The intellect is a tool that sits in the middle between the high and low mind. It can be used to justify either position. One position takes you away from your own real nature, and separates you from others. Your habits can free you or keep you bound. We see many who feel restricted by this vengeful perspective and so rage against it, using the very anger (coming from a desire unfulfilled- the desire to attain integrity and oneness) that the misfits in culture have always used. Yet this keeps one angry in a completely ineffective way. One must transcend ignorance to become great and to get one’s needs met for integrity, wholeness and respect. Your intellect can be used for this purpose too- not merely to justify or rationalize one’s conditioning and perspective.
I look forward to your comments and perspectives.