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Hinduism is the oldest extant religion in the world today. It is vastly complex, and probably comes closest to understanding the real origin of things. The energies such as Shiva or Kali, for example, never quite lost their mythic origins, or developed into fully human personalities in the way their Greek counterparts did.
Buddhism developed, or rather evolved out of Hinduism, not dissimilar to the way Christianity evolved from Judaism some time later. The Buddha’s message, despite its enormous psychological complexity, was really very simple, that is to “stay awake”. The Buddha declared, ‘from our thought the world arises’.
Buddhism doesn’t so much teach that there is no God, as the West sometimes understands it, as that the ‘idea of God’ simply masks a greater reality, that which is permanent, unchanging. It is with this true reality, lying behind all masks and illusions, that the enlightened soul (he who has seen through and shed all his illusions) reunites, be it in Nirvana, or the Pure Land; themselves metaphors. It teaches that we must learn to distinguish between the false, which is just an idea about reality, and reality itself.
In the Western world the idea of God can be traced to two distinct strands. One is the Greco-Roman lineage, which we looked at last time, the other is the Judaeo-Christian line.
In the early books of the Bible God is spoken of in the plural. Some call this the Elohim, another interpretation is that it was God and his Creation, or God and his Son that created the world. This changed to the singular as a new image of God began to emerge, reflecting the situation of the Israelites at the time, and their struggle to establish a homeland. Here a more puissant God was required. From then on the God of the Bible adopts Zeus-like qualities; fiery, xenophobic, authoritarian. This is largely the one we inherited.
Christianity, in its original form, provides a corrective to this autocratic representation of God. Jesus introduced something quite radical, even subversive in his day.
The idea of loving your enemies and doing good to those who hate you was an anathema to the Jewish authorities of the time. Their god strictly commanded them to destroy their enemies. This was a common belief across all of the civilised world at the time, and so Jesus' teaching was quite revolutionary. The story of the Good Samaritan, breaking the Sabbath, mixing with Gentiles, cavorting with prostitutes, and so on, all ran counter to the law of the Jews. Hence, it's no surprise that Jesus fell foul of them. He even went as far as to declare he had come to set aside the law and bring a new one, ‘Love God and love your neighbour as yourself’.
However, in the religion that grew up around the figure of Jesus this was reinterpreted as meaning go on worshiping the old form, the autocratic imitation of ourselves that we invented. And, to love your neighbour meant to change him, to “convert” him.
Christianity, as a result, has become a meddlesome sort of religion.
I think what Jesus was doing was pointing us towards Universal Love and Oneness, as well as doing away with the psychological need for the idea of God.
It called for thinking from the heart centre, and not the head. What people thought of as "God" was merely their own invention, an image, an ideation. Jesus wanted to raise the consciousness of the world, from the human level to the God level, or what we call now, Christ Consciousness. At this level you recognise God as Love, and realise that your neighbour really is yourself. And thus, all is transformed.
Failing to understand Jesus’ message, the reaction was, first to attack him, and later to deify him. The tragedy of Jesus’ life is that he became the great exception rather than the great example. It was simply more comfortable to stitch Jesus into the fabric of the old religion, and carry on, sort of, as before. Rome remained the dominant political power, and quickly, and every efficiently, absorbed Christianity, just as it had earlier absorbed Greek culture. And, just as in the Greek case, it really only adopted its outer form, thus losing Jesus’ true message.
In many ways Judaism became the ‘other’ to this new movement that was Christianity, and the Jewish people were made scapegoats. It was as if the new religion wanted to sever all ties with its own origins, and so even parts of the Dionysian legend, such as the virgin birth, were appended to the story of Jesus.
Indeed much of what we know of as Christianity, especially Catholicism is more Greek than Jewish. Tales of hell and damnation have a certain Greek flavour. Dante’s inferno is merely a reworking of Grecian Homer in a Christian context.
When the Reformation came along a window of opportunity opened, but instead of rediscovering the real message of Jesus, Protestantism merely resurrected the fiery old God of the Israelites.
The window quickly shut.
Humanity’s child, born of Sun and Earth, of the seed of paternal fire and the labour of orgiastic intent, in time rebelled against these oppressive forces.
It sought delivery elsewhere, in science, materialism, and various forms of political expression. New leaders and movements emerged. Some were forward thinking, others tyrannical, but they all carried in them the seed of parent – protector – God. Each in turn assumed the role of parent, seamlessly.
A few decided there was no God. Life was just an accident, we are merely an animal, more intelligent than a cow, true, but essentially no different.
Don’t imagine the atheist’s perspective is less valid than the believer’s. For this person has chosen to worship God by not worshiping him. The danger here is that by denying the false images and the ‘idea of God’, she may overlook that which lies behind them too. Think of the Buddhist koan of ‘a finger pointing at the moon’.The devotee in his fervour may only see the finger, the atheist, blinkered by arguments of logic, is likely to discard both. The former chases phantoms, and uses them to oppress; the latter fights those same phantoms by claiming they don’t exist. And by doing so he’s participating in the other’s game. He’s still buying into the idea.
Everybody plays this game in one form or another.
Today many feel betrayed, their prayers remain unanswered, their hopes dashed. They live in an existentialist vacuum, believing that the parent has run away and abandoned them. With Nietzsche they declare ‘God is dead’.
We will continue this next time.
There is a voice that doesn’t use words - listen!
Reality is merely an illusion - albeit a persistent one.