Philosopher George Jaidar, was the author of The Soul: An Owner's Manual, Discovering the Life of Fullness (Paragon House 1995). A spiritual ecologist, he does a great deal of reclamation of old words. He loves rescuing terms and concepts from the misunderstandings or perversities from religious and conventional usage.
Whether we refer to it as Higher Consciousness, the Life of the Spirit, the Soul, the Transpersonal, and so on, I sense that most of the readers and writers of Personal Transformation are pointing to a realm, state, or process that is transcendent yet immanent, however paradoxical that sounds. This seeming paradox I refer to as simply the spiritual. The spiritual is a developmental process and can be seen as quite analogous to sexuality, in that both require the growth and expression of certain potentials, that is, certain capacities must be developed and in place. Although the spiritual transcends the human mind, there is no excuse for considering the mind and its capabilities as expendable or obsolete. The threshold of the spiritual is arrived at by discovering the limits of the human mind, and the mind must be fully functional in order for it to discover those limits. Any explorations this side of the threshold of the spiritual deserve all the rigor and clarity of mind and its reflective thinking that we can bring to bear. Discovering such limits and attaining to that threshold is not achieved through psychology or any science, but by going beyond them to philosophy; not philosophy in its conventional sense, but more in its Socratic sense.
As a philosopher, I propose an alternate view of philosophy that will help us move past the conventional or the stereotypical. Philosophy is the art of wondering critically and constructively; it is the art of asking thoughtfully embarrassing questions in order to discover the limits of conventional wisdom. I never cease to be amazed at how much sloppy thinking is indulged in because this field is perceived as not requiring rigor and clarity, the hallmarks of reflective thinking. This is what we call mind, the crowning achievement, so far, of homo sapiens. So much of this sloppiness is the result of replacing clear thinking, that is, thinking that has no stake in the outcome, with an old habit, wishful thinking.
Let us first clarify some words that are widely used, namely spirit, spiritualism, spiritual, and spirituality. Here we need to get beyond the sophomoric sentiment of "words mean what I want them to mean." Spirit is often used in a religious context, while spirit and spiritualism are found frequently in the occult. Both religion and the occult are governed by wishful thinking and the magical. It would be well to leave them there and limited to those meanings. Spiritual and spirituality are usually used to designate the realm, dimension, or process that transcends the everyday mind and that is governed by a higher order and clarity.
The terms religion and spiritual are often used interchangeably as if they were synonyms, and this leads to great confusion. The thoughtful person will realize that spiritual is the more generic term and that religion is a special case or the more specific application. The term derives from the Latin religio, which means to bind together. But what needs to be bound together and why?
Here we need to look clearly and dispassionately at the probable genesis of religious experiences in human consciousness. Looking to religions for the answer would certainly be to beg the question. Would you ask a famished lion what zebras are for? A more reliable scrutiny is afforded by cultural anthropology. In all societies, the earliest or proto-religious experiences almost invariably spring from fear and the human attempt either to explain or to assimilate somehow the event that prompted the fear. Primitively (and even to this day by many), this was done by ascribing the fearsome event to some imagined invisible entity which needed to be placated or cajoled in some way or other. Further, since the imagined entity was invisible, it must be in another realm whose leader was to be feared in the same way as was the leader, chief, or king of the earthly realm. This I refer to as the magical phase of the evolution of our consciousness. (Magical thinking was a noteworthy precursor to the later advance of the more reflective causal thinking.)
Evolving from this earlier magical phase of consciousness was the mythological phase which was still magical thinking, but considerably abstracted and generalized, usually anthropocentric. It was this evolution from simple magical to mythological thinking that set the stage for the flowering of religions. At this point, any leader worth his salt could see the opportunity being presented to consolidate his (almost invariably patriarchal) power. Claiming to have an inside track to intervene with the fearsome otherworldly power(s), the leader(s) or delegates, such as a priesthood, could claim for themselves otherworldly powers. This had the effect of convincing individuals that, without the intervention of the religious leader, individuals were separate not only from the deity or deities, however conceived, but also from one another. And this is why binding people together with their deities and with one another became the avowed primary function of religion.
The term spiritual must be seen and used analogously to the term education, both of which deal with the evolution of our consciousness. Kindergarten is an early stage of education but would never be used as equivalent to or synonymously with it. Similarly, religion can be used to describe an early, childish stage of the spiritual. Religions tend to keep people in the kindergarten stage of our spiritual evolution, which requires that we go on or transcend to Higher Consciousness, the analog here of higher education. As with higher education, our spiritual evolution requires going through and far beyond, not just continuing, the kindergarten of religion.
Life continually presents us with discontinuities that are the opportunities to go beyond the facile, simplistic, one-size-fits-all reactions of our religious enculturation. This going beyond is much more than rebelling or denying religion. Higher education does not deny kindergarten or any of the earlier stages. The same is true of the spiritual which simply subsumes earlier stages and goes beyond them to seek, act on, and explore the discontinuities that signal us to transcend these earlier stages. Such discontinuities take a variety of forms. On the individual level, it may be the loss of a job or relationship, discovering the limits of an idea or of a path taken, or an ineffable glimpse of the spiritual. On a more macro or societal level, discontinuities may take the form of the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, Einstein, or Gödel, or of Gautama or Jesus. Note that at both levels, discontinuities are perceived as threats to the established order by most, rather than as opportunities for true growth. At the individual level, what is required at these moments is the most radical openness and willingness to break with the comfortable, the predictable and the controllable, of our everyday lives and minds. This is to embark on the journey to Higher Consciousness through personal transformation.
Sin has nothing to do with an externally imposed catalogue of offenses, usually contrived through a religious upbringing or enculturation. Such an errant view deserves to be ignored or abandoned by those who have graduated from or gone beyond religion to the more mature spiritual journey.
Would you believe that our present misconception of sin, at least in the West, is the result of the grievous error of a mistranslation? As a result of that mistranslation, we have for centuries lived with the error and its devious consequences.
Further, we have been deprived of the benefits that would have issued from a clear grasp of its originally intended meaning, which has been hidden even from most of those who rebelled against the concept and its supporting institutions.
To get at this hidden meaning, we must become time-travellers in our religious history and find that word that was originally used in the earliest writings that were relied upon to create what came to be known as the New Testament. The earliest version we have was written in ancient Greek, and the Anglicized Greek word that was mistranslated was hamartia.
Hamartia derives from the ancient art and practice of archery, and it meant "to miss the mark." Underlying this meaning was the Greek mythic view of humans as arrows that are shot by the gods (or God) at the target of your Arete, most simply translated as your excellence or the fullest expression of your deepest and truest humanity.
It is human free will and hubris that allow us to interfere with this trajectory and thus to miss the mark!
So, to sin is only and always an act of omission, that is, to live without embarking on the journey to your Arete. So, it is safe to say that most people are living in sin—hamartia.
Lest you think that economics has nothing to contribute to spirituality, let me remind you of Gresham's law, which is the tendency of an inferior currency to drive a superior currency out of circulation. Those of you familiar with the evolution of religion and spirituality will have become acquainted with this phenomenon, even though you may not have recognized the applicability of Gresham's law.
The currency to which I refer here is the language which we use to communicate about religion and spirituality. All through history, we become aware of the spiritual discoverers and explorers who have pointed at wondrous truths for us to see and act upon. Unfortunately, these truths are soon lost or "driven out of circulation" by the symbiotic needs of societies and religions to make religion into the handmaiden of society in achieving social control, cohesion, and stability. Soon the superior currency of the original spiritual truths is degraded and driven out of circulation by the inferior currency of the religious terms and concepts.
We would be hard put to find a spiritual tradition that does not use the concept of life eternal as a way of pointing to the mode in which we discover our spirituality, the Life of the Spirit, or how we grow our Soul (a process, not a thing, object, or entity). But look at what nearly all religions have done to the term, eternal. It has become misused and misunderstood. Both eternal and eternity have degenerated to refer to time and extensions thereof. (Don't look to dictionaries for help in this; now they only claim to represent usage, which is the problem.)
Eternal is now widely regarded as a synonym for everlasting, which cheapens the meaning, but is understandable for the needs of societies and organized religions to coerce uniformity and social control through the promise of an afterlife. Jesus and Gautama, among others, never promised everlasting life or any kind of afterlife, but rather a life eternal. It is a kind of childishness in spiritual matters that requires or looks for an afterlife.
Eternal or eternity is not a spatiotemporal or quantitative concept, but rather a qualitative, transcending concept. Paul Tillich expressed it so perceptively when he said, "Eternity is the invasion of the Now by the Divine." (I prefer saying it is the "infusion of the Now by the Divine.) Essentially, it is a quality of the Now that is manifested or incarnated by the individual who discovers and is exploring the Life of the Spirit or, if you prefer, who is growing the Soul, in our everyday world, not in some other place or time.
Thus, the life eternal, the Kingdom of Heaven, a life of Bliss, or Nirvana is available in the here and now when we learn to be in the world, but not of it, that is, when we learn not to be limited by the ordinary world view of our enculturation. In sum, each individual needs to see through the limits of that world view and of our enculturation for successful survival at most, in order to transcend here and now, in the world, to the life eternal for which we were created.
Not only is this phrase memorialized in our Declaration of Independence, it has also become a kind of modern mantra for our civilization. In fact, if our society had a motto, it would be the pursuit of happiness. On the surface, as a goal or purpose, hardly anyone but a misanthrope would disagree or reject it.
Now, I am not a misanthrope, but I do feel that, like so much that we accept uncritically in our enculturation, the pursuit of happiness leads us too often to dead ends and considerable superficiality in our lives.
It would be worth looking at the concept of happiness more critically. First of all, happiness requires that something happens to us. This places the source of what gives us happiness as external to us. Early on, this tends to restrict the source to things primarily. Only later in our development, if we do grow, do we learn to include the intangibles of relationships, rather than people as objects for our gratification only, as part of the externals that can bring happiness.
Nevertheless, by the time we reach adulthood, our enculturation has already programmed us not only to pursue happiness, but to expect it to happen primarily from those external sources. In fact, the pursuit itself comes to be a great source of what we consider happiness, and since it is to be pursued, that keeps it in the category of the external.
Further, if you stop to reflect on it, you realize that whatever experiences of happiness we have had have been quite short-lived, transitory, and often disappointing in the long run. The reason for this is that happiness is a counterfeit. It and the things and events that are supposed to bring it are part of a grand deception. We are enculturated to seek distractions and diversions from any promptings of our inner life.
A contemporary form of this pursuit is what literary critic, Barbara Neighbors Deal, calls "feel-good spirituality." Anything or any experience labeled "spiritual" that gives us that feel-good derivative of happiness is sought for and accepted uncritically, especially if it can be had without any of the requisite inner work. Such ersatz spirituality almost invariably promises what most people are suckers for, a short-cut with minimum effort. Don't forget that the American Dream has degenerated to winning the lottery with a one dollar ticket!
The inner work is not a pursuit, because there is no objective as there can be in the outer world of what I call our Life of Survival. While we continue that life, we must become "amphibious" in Aldous Huxley's sense, by simultaneously exploring our Life of the Spirit, or what I call the Life of Fullness, which beckons to us through our inborn yearning.
We have learned to turn a deaf ear to the still, small voice within which is the calling of our yearning. Happiness is a pale imitation of joy, which can only come from within. Within is where we find the kingdom of heaven, enlightenment, nirvana, the Tao, the ultimate, the state of bliss, God, or whatever designation you may give that Oneness which is the Life of Fullness.
A wise one has said "Joy is the echo of God's life in us."
Just because we have a word for it does not mean that there is a reality to which it refers, as for example, unicorn. The mere existence of a word does not imply that it refers to something real. This is an all too frequently committed philosophical fallacy of which we need to be aware so that we may avoid it.
All through the ages, the question of good and evil has too often been the subject of such fallacious thinking. If you think about it, nearly every such discussion starts by assuming the reality of its subject matter. In order to avoid such fallaciousness, we must begin any such inquiry much more basically than is usual. We must look at how these words are used and what are their foundations. This will not be an exhaustive inquiry, but the mere beginning of it will shed much needed light.
Like up and down, good and evil are oppositional, relational terms, terms whose meanings rely on their being the opposite of one another. Like the concepts of up and down, good and evil require a referent, a referential base from which these terms derive their opposition. Using the analogy of up and down is most useful and less charged. Up and down have meaning in relationship to the observer/participant's position with respect to a base, usually the center of the earth (the platform of a space vehicle could just as readily be considered the base). In this schema, up refers to the direction that points away from the center of the earth, and down refers to the direction that points toward the center of the earth. This schema still holds even if we use the more commonplace base of the surface of the earth or any other arbitrarily designated platform. So, apart from our designated base, such as in outer space, there is no objective up or down.
In like manner, the concepts of good and evil have meaning in relationship to the observer/participant's figurative position with respect to a base, usually moral or theological, in which good points toward some moral goal or theological entelechy (a thrust or directing force that is imputed to existence or human striving). Evil, then, points away or in the opposite direction from such a goal or entelechy.
Just as there is no universal or cosmic up or down, there is no universal or cosmic good or evil. Good and evil are simply judgments derived from a moral goal or theological entelechy. Imputing a divine source to such judgments is the way a society/culture, usually through its handmaiden, religion, emphasizes the importance or primacy of such judgments in its primary task of enculturating its members toward successful survival within and as defined by that society.
Consider the very contemporary issue of abortion. Those who favor its availability as a choice consider it good and may ground it as an inalienable right morally and legally guaranteed by the Constitution and our humanistic legacy. Those who oppose it as a choice consider it an evil act that is morally reprehensible and prohibited by their theology and scriptural legacy. Remarkably, people holding such opposing views may also belong to the same political party, sometimes even to the same religion. Good and evil are so very much in the eye of the beholder.
Nevertheless, just as it is important to our survival to know the difference between up and down, it is also important to our successful survival in a given society to know the difference between what is considered good and evil. However, our spiritual unfoldment and evolution is not limited thereby and would transcend such limiting considerations.
"The Kingdom of Heaven is within you," a statement attributed to Jesus of Nazareth, speaks volumes to that which is central to the spiritual life, the soul, or the transpersonal. Similar sayings can be found in a variety of spiritual traditions. Lao—Tzu says "The Tao that can be named [or expressed] is not the Tao." In the Hindu tradition, it is tat tvam asi ("That art Thou"). Numerous others such as Socrates, Meister Eckhart, Al—Ghazzali, William Law and Ralph Waldo Emerson, to name just a few, have expressed this truth just as eloquently and emphatically.
But what is the truth that is being expressed? Spiritual sayings, such as this one, cannot be taken at face value, that is, understood in terms of our everyday language. They are much more like veins of truth that must be deeply explored and mined in order to extract the essence within. If one settles for the face value of the saying, then much dross will be the only reward. I can't imagine anyone intent on personal transformation taking this lazily expedient way of the fundamentalists. "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you" points at a truth of a reality that is far beyond our everyday experiences.
Yet, it must be noted that the only readily available language that can be used for such sayings is based upon our everyday world and experiences. Further, every language is culture—specific, and it is not enough to translate words to our language equivalents. The culture (as the term is used in cultural anthropology) must also be translated in order to capture what was intended. So, keeping that in mind, let us examine this saying more closely, in terms of the context in which it was used by Jesus, and then let's attempt a cultural translation as well.
In the time of Jesus, the highest realm imaginable was a kingdom, and people were aware of the manifold kingdoms of the earth, and as well—enculturated members of their respective societies, they embraced and pursued the values and goals of their cultures. Very rarely, an individual member, seen by some as a prophet, seer or teacher, while considered by most as mad or a trouble—maker, would surface and attempt to point out that there is a realm or dimension beyond these everyday pursuits and that that realm deserved our attention. (I have come to regard such individuals as mutants or leaps of our evolving consciousness.) In Jesus' time, such a realm was called the equivalent of our term Heaven, the domain of God, the state of bliss, however conceived. Thus, since this was considered the realm that surpasses the realms of our everyday, earthly concerns and pursuits, it was referred to as the Kingdom of Heaven.
If we went beyond a simplistic word translation and performed a somewhat current cultural translation as well, we would refer to this not as a place, but rather as a state of Higher Consciousness as compared to our everyday-mind kind of consciousness. I would go even further than considering this an entity or a state, but rather an open-ended process that is continuous with all of reality and in which each of us is invited to participate. However, we have been impeded from doing so, due to some serious limitations, of which we are normally unaware, in how we use our language.
These limitations become more apparent when we look at the entire saying: "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you." Actually, there are many other terms that are often used in describing the kingdom of heaven, such as beyond, higher and deeper. Literally, these words describe spatial characteristics, which shows how spatially-based our language is and how derived it is from the spatio-temporal matrix of our everyday world. These words, such as within, are not intended literally in such a context. Another familiar use of these words is the figurative, to describe nonspatial qualities such as importance, intensity or priority.
At this point, we might think that we are using within figuratively, but that would be an error. The figurative use of language, as in much of our prose and poetry, is based on experiences we have in common, which would occur in the spatio-temporal matrix of our everyday world. (For example, "He felt deeply wounded by her accusation.") We have already said that the Kingdom of Heaven is beyond this realm; further, it is an open-ended process that is unique to each person, not a common experience, the requisite of the figurative use of language. Now that we see that within is being used neither literally nor figuratively, what is the use of language that goes beyond either of these? Since it is trans-literal and trans-figurative, we shall name it the transcendent whenever we use language to point beyond our everyday experiences.
Thus, the entire statement, "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you," must be looked at as a transcendent expression. This transcendent use of language means that we must resist our usual tendencies to arrive at closures, conclusions and generalizations of meaning. These meanings are to be left quite tentative and open to further illumination, as in Enlightenment. This will require the openness of the true scientist or the true mystic who can embark on such a journey as the intrepid-yet-patient explorer open to whatever is encountered, knowing that it will not fit the Procrustean bed of our ordinary language and worldview.
Like all spiritual sayings, "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you" is an invitation to explore, not "Lo here, lo there," but rather a process, the Soul, that is inherent in you. The Soul-process beckons you to discover who you really are, why you are here, where you are, and what to do. Don't miss it!
There are many individuals today who may be mystics, but because of some of the stereotypes widely and wildly circulating, they are not willing to admit it. As you can see, it's very much like the sexual orientation thing. Like it, there has been a great deal of confusion surrounding who is one, what is it, and should one admit it even privately, let alone publicly.
In order to explore what is a mystic, we need to do some much–needed conceptual housecleaning of the stereotypes and misconceptions that abound. One misconception is that the mystic has something to do with magic, which couldn't be further from the truth. A phenomenon is considered magic when we do not understand the principle behind it. For example, much of what we now explain by the principles of modern chemistry was at some time in the past seen as magic and may still be by the ignorant or the gullible. The true mystic has gone far beyond the magical thinking that is the earlier basis of the religious phase of the evolution of our human spirituality. (Those who are familiar with my work know that I consider religion to be an earlier kindergarten or childish stage of our spiritual evolution that was governed by magical and wishful thinking and that we are now in the post–religious era of this evolution.)
Another misconception is that the mystic is passive or has withdrawn from life. This is no more the case than it is for the artist or the scientist. Like them, the mystic is an intrepid explorer of what is beyond the everyday and the conventional. The mystic evolved individually through that crowning achievement of our evolution, the reflective intellect, the height (so far) in the evolution of the consciousness of homo sapiens. This evolution of reflective intellect enabled us to attain to philosophy, high art and science, all of which require that we actively approach our world with wonder and attempt to discover the underlying harmony and orderliness. What distinguishes the mystic in this development is that he or she has not only attained that height but has reached and acknowledged the limits of human intellect and is willing to go beyond.
The discovery of these limits is seen by most people as a negative, a failure. Actually, the recognition of limits is a great beginning and has been the precursor of every scientific, artistic and spiritual revolution. It is the threshold to mystery, which causes most people to reel in fear while attempting to fit the unknown into the old, so-familiar framework. This is the realm that requires great courage for the mystic to explore. She or he must leap beyond the comfortably familiar, predictable, controllable known to the unfamiliar, unpredictable, uncontrollable unknown. Contrary to popular misconception, this is not done by leaving behind the reflective intellect whose limits have been acknowledged. Rather it is subsumed, along with its hallmarks, reason and doubt, which are regarded as old friends on this journey of exploration of the transcendent realm of our consciousness.
It is this transcendent realm of our consciousness that is referred to as the soul, but to avoid the misleading error of thinking of it as an object or an entity, I call this the Soul-process, which is the unfolding current stage in the evolution of human consciousness. This is what calls to the individual from within to begin what we call the search for meaning or for the Ultimate. This calling from within has been referred to as the still, small voice, or what I call simply the Yearning. The Yearning has no objective in this world, because there is no object for it in our ordinary spatio-temporal reality. However, along with this awareness or our Yearning comes a coincident awareness of our Oneness with all.
If the mystic has come out of a religious tradition, he or she will not be able to continue therein without the most egregious compromises. Think about the Latin root religio which means "to bind together." Religion sees itself as binding together separate selves to one another and to God. Along with the mystic's unfolding awareness of the Oneness, the enculturated sense of separateness for which religion functions is seen as illusory, and religion becomes no more necessary than kindergarten is for an adult. Further, religion as a part of the enculturation process has another serious built–in drawback, and that is its emphasis on the group and the corporate way which serves to amplify the conditioning necessary for survival, but which works as an impediment to spiritual growth.
Spiritual growth is not a group activity. The awareness of the Oneness that accompanies your Yearning does not require a group to attain it. That Oneness is a birthright that needs to be discovered and claimed, as you would claim an inheritance. Here, an analogy might be of help. What the mystic must learn is much like a non-swimmer learning to swim. You may start out in a group, but the first and most important thing to learn is to trust the water to hold you up, then how to move and breathe in it. Actual swimming, however, is a solo activity. The point of it is not to have the instructor or the group do it for you, but as in learning to fly, another excellent analogy, getting to the point where you can do it solo. Similarly, in spiritual growth, you may start out with what I call a Guide, someone who has been there, whose ultimate function is to eliminate that need when you are able to solo. When you are aware of the Oneness, you also know that spiritual growth is for the unique individual and does not require a group, which could serve at most an introductory purpose only. What astonishes me is that the same people who would not dream of going to a physician, an accountant, or a dentist in a group blithely assume that spiritual growth can only or primarily occur in a group. How misguided and sad!
It used to be that most mystics evolved out of a religious tradition, because religions had a near monopoly on learning. That was the only way one could develop the reflective intellect and thus discover the limits thereof, the requisite, as shown earlier, to going beyond it. Next, many mystics were coming out of the arts, especially as the ties to religion were loosened. In our time, more and more mystics are evolving out of science, thanks to its long and successful struggle to be independent of religion. Most are coming from the fields of physics and biology, with a remarkable spillover effect on philosophy, cosmology, and, lagging as usual, psychology. So many of these evolving modern mystics of the post-religious era, although sounding, acting, and feeling like true mystics, seem hesitant about coming out of the closet, a hold-over from the religious era taboos. I'm here to say that you no longer have to be a closet mystic. You can now come out. It's Ok!