Category Archives: Spiritual Experience
The Primal Light the whole irradiates,— Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, canto 29.136-38
And is received therein as many ways
As there are splendors wherewithal it mates.
The lamps are different, but the Light is the same: it comes from Beyond.— Rumi
I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear,— Job 42.5
but now my eye beholds thee.
A VOICE WHISPERED to me last night: “There is no such thing as a voice whispering in the night!”— Haidar Ansari in Idries Shaw’s Wisdom of the Idiots.
Around the age of fifteen I began a spiritual search. Having already encountered Christians who were quick to try to convert me with their theology of divine child abuse — aka the atonement doctrine, at which I could only laugh — I wanted to answer a simple question; if there is a God (or gods) I wanted to know, for myself, who or what this God was. I started my search studying what I call popular Buddhism. I thought that Buddhist esoteric practices where the way to enlightenment and set out to find this experience for myself. Along the way I encountered some interesting phenomenon, such as internal flashes of light and viewing my own internal neural network. I quickly learned that this was not the path to enlightenment.
Having rejected the esoteric, popular “new age” pop-religions filled with pseudo-religious truth, I turned to the study comparative religion, psychology, science, and philosophy to find the answer. I read widely in psychology, from Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy (Man’s Search for Meaning and The Unconscious God), from Carl Jung’s collected works to Freud’s psychoanalysis to B.F. Skinner’s behaviorism. I read William James (The Varieties of Religious Experience, etc.), Eric Fromm (The Art of Loving and You Shall Be as Gods, etc.), which in turn led to Abraham Heschel’s classics (God in Search of Man and The Prophets).
At one point I finally reached the question, “Who is this person called Jesus? What did he really teach?” Having rejected traditional Christian theology, but nevertheless impressed with truth-insights contained in Jesus’ parables and with the Jewish prophetic tradition as revealed by Heschel’s The Prophets, I began my study in earnest of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
One day, while making my periodic search of the bookstores1 for the latest scholarly works, I stumbled across a big blue book — The Urantia Book — sitting on the shelf. I read the table of contents and my first thought was it was just another work of “new age” pseudo-religious pop psychology full of “I feel good, you feel good” platitudes. Then my eyes fell upon the section of the meaning of the death on the cross. I read it; I was stunned; it confirmed everything I had thought about the atonement doctrine and more. I purchased it and took it home to my little migrant shack I was living in at the time. I read that book all night long, and the next morning when I went to work at the local YMCA where I was teaching gymnastics, I had a revelatory experience in the steam room while meditating on what I read the following evening.
It was in studying the Urantia Book that references to the indwelling divine mind I had been reading about, which in Buddhism is called the ‘Buddha mind’ or ‘true self,’ in Islam is called the spirit of Allah, in the Judeo-Christian traditions is called the indwelling spirit of God or Christ, and in the Bhagavad-Gita is termed the ‘atman,’ or ‘inmost timeless self’ which is at the same time Brahman, became personally and experientially real. Prior to this experience I was attempting to meditate, which I was learning through the Buddhist scriptures, but not to any great success. And prior to meditating I had experimented with attempting to use my mind to achieve astral projection, but had some experiences that quickly taught me this was not an effective way to achieve spiritual growth.
At that point in my life my concept of God or Deity was of some great IT or impersonal Absolute, or some mysterious ‘non-self’ reflected in Zen Buddhism. I had only vague inklings of what this thing called true self might be or how I might approach finding and experiencing for myself this reality. In my studies I surely could see common threads of what I perceived to be truth running through them, but I didn’t want to just intellectually know; I wanted to experience God personally. But my dilemma was, how does one ‘know’ an impersonal Absolute, or realize one’s ‘non-self?’ It was through concepts and teachings in the Urantia Book that this gulf between the idea of an Absolute and a personal God of infinitely loving and divine parental affection was bridged and synthesized into one and the same reality. Of course now I see clearly that this dual concept of the Divine is harbored in all the great traditions.
The next day I went straight to the YMCA, and while meditating in the steam room as was my habit, and reflecting on what I had learned the night before regarding the life and teachings of Jesus, the indwelling presence of the Adjuster and Jesus’ Spirit of Truth, the simple truth of my faith sonship with God, and the joy of knowing salvation, I experienced the presence of a Inner Light. I cannot describe with mere words this experience. It was not a presence outside of me, but within me. When I saw this light (not with my physical eyes) I clearly remember thinking it was like staring into the sun, but only infinitely brighter. And then, not of my own doing, I was enveloped in this light, which I can only describe as the presence of the divine love of God. I don’t have words to describe what transpired. I don’t know how long it was, or god forbid what I looked like sitting there naked in the steam room communing with God, but when I opened my eyes I was overwhelmed with this profound sense of peace and joy, even to the point that tears were streaming down my cheeks — I was in a steam room so it was not too obvious. I went home immediately and searched the Urantia book for anything referencing light, and found the following two statements:
There is a characteristic light, a spirit luminosity, which accompanies this divine presence, and which has become generally associated with Thought Adjusters…. this Paradise luminosity is widespreadly known as the “pilot light”; … it is called the “light of life.” … this phenomenon has sometimes been referred to as that “true light which lights every man who comes into the world.”— Urantia Book, 107:4.5
Most of the spectacular phenomena associated with so-called religious conversions are entirely psychologic in nature, but now and then there do occur experiences which are also spiritual in origin. When the mental mobilization is absolutely total on any level of the psychic upreach toward spirit attainment, when there exists perfection of the human motivation of loyalties to the divine idea, then there very often occurs a sudden down-grasp of the indwelling spirit to synchronize with the concentrated and consecrated purpose of the superconscious mind of the believing mortal. And it is such experiences of unified intellectual and spiritual phenomena that constitute the conversion which consists in factors over and above purely psychologic involvement.— Urantia Book, 100:5.4
Religion, the conviction-faith of the personality, can always triumph over the superficially contradictory logic of despair born in the unbelieving material mind. There really is a true and genuine inner voice, that “true light which lights every man who comes into the world.” And this spirit leading is distinct from the ethical prompting of human conscience. The feeling of religious assurance is more than an emotional feeling. The assurance of religion transcends the reason of the mind, even the logic of philosophy. Religion is faith, trust, and assurance.— Urantia Book, 101:0.3
The Quran has a most beautiful description of what I experienced upon realizing this divine presence:
Allah is the Light— Surah 24:35
Of the heavens and the earth.
The parable of His Light
Is as if there were a Niche
And within it a Lamp:
The Lamp enclosed in Glass;
The glass as it were
A brilliant star:
Lit from a blessed Tree,
An Olive, neither of the East
Nor of the West,
Whose Oil is well-nigh
Though fire scare touched it:
Light upon Light!
Over time I collected various scripture from the Torah that speak of this inner light and still small voice:
There is a spirit in man; therefore stand in awe, sin not; and commune with your own heart upon your bed, and then be still; and your ears shall hear a small voice behind thee, saying, ‘This is the way, walk you in it.’ When you go, it shall lead you; when you sleep, it shall keep you; and when you awake, it shall talk with you. You shall make your prayer unto him, and he shall hear you; your eyes shall see thy teacher, and his light shall shine upon your ways. Behold, the Almighty shall be your gold, and you shall have the silver of his spirit for strength. Says the Lord, ‘My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.’ For you gave your good spirit to instruct us, and to show us light, and the way wherein we should go. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye beholds you. Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes of the soul to behold the presence of our Father.— Torah on Inner Light
All the world’s great religious traditions have prophets, seers, and teachers who speak through poetry of this inner light, this pilot light, the true light that lights every child who comes into the world.
Dharma-body’s wheel of light is without bound,
Shining on the blind and ignorant of the world.
The light of wisdom exceeds all measure,
And every finite living being
Receives this illumination that is like the dawn,
So take refuge in Amida, the true and real light.
Every being is nurtured by this light.
So take refuge in Amida, the one beyond conception.
The light of purity is without compare.
When a person encounters this light,
All bonds of karma fall away;
So take refuge in Amida, the ultimate shelter.
The light of compassion illumines us from afar;
Those beings it reaches, it is taught,
Attain the joy of dharma,
So take refuge in Amida, the great consolation.
The light dispels the darkness of ignornace;
Thus Amida is called “Buddha of the Light of Wisdom.”
All the Buddhas and sages of the three vehicles
Together offer their praise.
The light shines everywhere ceaslessly;
Thus Amida is called “Buddha of Uninterrupted Light.”
Because beings hear [and apprehend] this power of light,
Their mindfulness is enduring and they attain birth.
The majestic light, transcending form, is beyond description;— The Collected Works of Shinran, 325-328
Thus Amida is called “Buddha of Inexpressible Light.”
All the Buddhas praise this light.
Tasdiq is to recognize a truth, to appropriate it, to affirm it, to confirm it, to actualize it. And the truth, in each case, is personalist and sincere…. [F]aith is then the recognition of divine truth at the personal level. Faith is the ability to recognize truth as true for oneself, and to trust it. Especially in the Islamic case, with its primarily moral orientation, this includes, or makes primary, the recognition of the authenticity, a moral authority, of the divine commands. Thus there is a recognition of the obligatoriness of moral obligations; and the acceptance of their obligatoriness as applying to oneself, with the personal commitment then to carrying them out.
Again: it is the personal making of what is cosmically true come true on earth—the actualization of truth (the truth about man).— Wilfred Cantwell Smith, On Understanding Islam
More mystically, it is the discovery of truth (the personal truth) of the Islamic injunctions: the process of personal verification of them, whereby, by living them out, one proves them and finds that they do indeed become true, both for oneself and for society and world in which one lives.
Tasdiq is the inner appropriation and outward implementation of truth. It is the process of making or finding true in actual human life, in one’s own personal spirit and overt behavior, what God—or Reality—intends for man.
And with many a passage strongly insisting that faith is more than knowledge, that it is a question of how one responds to the truth, one may also render the proposition ‘faith is tasdiq‘ as ‘Faith is the ability to trust, and to act in terms of, what one knows to be true’. (Smith 1981: 150-151)
(….) Faith, then, is the positive response to God’s initiative. It is not merely knowledge: it includes knowledge, but is something else as well. That something additional, the men of kalam came to agree, is tasdiq. Huwa (that is al-tasdiq) amr za’id ‘ala al-‘ilm.
We turn, then, from faith to tasdiq… We can now see that it designates not belief, but knowledge; and not merely knowledge, but knowledge of the truth plus something else. (Neither of these two components—neither that of knowing the truth, nor that of the something additional—is found in the current Western translations …). (Smith 1981: 155)
(….) What, then, is tasdiq? Clearly, it lies in the realm of activist sincerity. Sidq … designates truth at the personalist level, of recognition and integrity: the second form of the very designates an activating of this.
Fundamental for understanding one of the prime meanings of tasdiq in this connection is a remark such as the following of al-Tabari:
al-qwam kanu sadaqu bi-alsinatihim wa-lam yusaddiqu qawwlahum bi-fi lihim.
Obviously this is not ‘to believe’ but rather to confirm, to actualize the truth. They ‘… spoke the truth with their tongues, but did not corroborate what they were saying with their deeds’. Or one might use such verbs as ‘authenticate’ or ‘validate’. An older usage in English would legitimately appear here if one translated by: ‘… they were not faithful to what they were saying, in their deeds’. (Smith 1981: 156)
The actualizing aspect of tasdiq is illuminated, again, in the oft-cited statement, al-iman ma waqara fi al-qalb, wa-saddaqahu al-amal. ‘Faith is that about which the heart is firm, and that deeds validate (authenticate, corroborate).’
Again, and more theologically, the fact that God Himself is called mu’min is also explained, by al-Baghdadi, as His being actively faithful in this sense:
wa-Allah mu’min li-annahu yusaddiqu wa’dahu bi-al-tahqiq.
(It would be ludicrous to translate either iman or tasdiq as ‘believing’ in any of these cases—and I feel, in any cases at all).
The difference, then, between knowledge and tasdiq lies in the sincerity and in the operationalist addenda denoted by the latter term. Knowledge is the perception of the truth outside oneself; tasdiq is the personal appropriation of that perception. It is the inner reordering of oneself so as to act in terms of it; the interiorization and implementation of the truth in dynamic sincerity. Tasdiq means not ‘to believe’ but rather to recognize a truth and to existentialize it. (Smith 1981: 156)
(….) All this is especially relevant to, and leads to a consideration of, the second of the two fundamental orientations that we averred to be characteristic of Islamic life and significant for its faith—namely, the moral. For the truth to which the Muslim must respond is largely a moral truth. The knowledge conferred by revelation is largely a knowledge of moral requirements, of commands, of duties: awamir, ahkam, fara’id. In the moral life especially, as all of us recognize, knowledge is not yet virtue. The recognition of that something out to be done is not yet the recognition that I ought to do it, not yet the resolve to do it, not yet my personal decision to act. Involved in the moral life is a particular quality or act, more than and other than knowledge and its awareness of objective truth, a quality that brings one to the point of committing oneself to act in terms of what one has recognized as right. This is tasdiq, and to have it is to have faith. (Smith 1981: 157-158)
(….) One of the compelling expositions of the matter comes in the fuller elaboration of a statement by the later writer al-Kastalt …: ‘Al-tasdiq does not mean knowing the truth …; no, it is rather a yielding to what is known and a letting oneself be led by it, setting aside recalcitrance and stubbornness, and constructing one’s actions in accordance with it’. (This is a beautiful example of a passage that Christian theology could be happy and proud to take over word for word ….) (Smith 1981: 158)
So as we can see from the teachings of Islam, faith and belief are not the same thing and mere knowledge is not wisdom, but knowledge plus something else; the divine light and love of God infusing knowledge with true cosmic insights that transcend the mere knowledge of men.2
The keys of the kingdom of heaven are: sincerity, more sincerity, and more sincerity. All men have these keys. Men use them—advance in spirit status—by decisions, by more decisions, and by more decisions. The highest moral choice is the choice of the highest possible value, and always—in any sphere, in all of them—this is to choose to do the will of God. If man thus chooses, he is great, though he be the humblest citizen of Jerusem or even the least of mortals on Urantia [earth].— Urantia Book, 39:4.14
Over time, I have come to understand meditation to be an attempt to achieve unbroken communion with the indwelling presence of God through balanced prayer and worship, and an inner dialogue with the divine presence. I also have found in my experience that loving service brings one closer to God through actualizing divine love in our lives through wise service to one’s fellows; I view them as two sides of the same coin. I understand this inner communion as my attempt to attune my mortal mind to the indwelling divine mind of God (finding, realizing, and choosing to align my will with the divine will); to realize the spiritual values of truth, beauty, and goodness, and to actualize them in my life. I think any sane and balanced practice, if it leads one to a closer relationship with God, is worthy of our attention. And I certainly will take a warm loving hug any day, and find it easy to see God in the love and compassion of others.
1 Of course, this dates me, as this was the pre-Internet and pre-Amazon age and the only way one could find good books was to physically travel to a bookstore or library.
2 The Urantia Book in Paper 108 Section 8 titled Faith and Belief teaches:
Belief has attained the level of faith when it motivates life and shapes the mode of living. The acceptance of a teaching as true is not faith; that is mere belief. Neither is certainty nor conviction faith. A state of mind attains to faith levels only when it actually dominates the mode of living. Faith is a living attribute of genuine personal religious experience. One believes truth, admires beauty, and reverences goodness, but does not worship them; such an attitude of saving faith is centered on God alone, who is all of these personified and infinitely more.— Urantia Book, 101:8.1-4
Belief is always limiting and binding; faith is expanding and releasing. Belief fixates, faith liberates. But living religious faith is more than the association of noble beliefs; it is more than an exalted system of philosophy; it is a living experience concerned with spiritual meanings, divine ideals, and supreme values; it is God-knowing and man-serving. Beliefs may become group possessions, but faith must be personal. Theologic beliefs can be suggested to a group, but faith can rise up only in the heart of the individual religionist.
Faith has falsified its trust when it presumes to deny realities and to confer upon its devotees assumed knowledge. Faith is a traitor when it fosters betrayal of intellectual integrity and belittles loyalty to supreme values and divine ideals. Faith never shuns the problem-solving duty of mortal living. Living faith does not foster bigotry, persecution, or intolerance.
Faith does not shackle the creative imagination, neither does it maintain an unreasoning prejudice toward the discoveries of scientific investigation. Faith vitalizes religion and constrains the religionist heroically to live the golden rule. The zeal of faith is according to knowledge, and its strivings are the preludes to sublime peace.