> CO

m<OU 166260 >m

^ CD 1< CO





First published in Qreat Britain 1057

All rights reserved

Printed in Qreat Britain by

The Pitman Press, BatH


ROSLI For Being



factual, sociological, and historical material, in a subject often no- toriously without dates, to provide adequate guideposts without at the same time cluttering the discussion with superfluous or dis- tracting detail. For this procedure the author had two reasons. First, the book is designed as a survey of contemporary religions, not as a complete compendium of any one of them. Second, it seemed more important to deal with the nature and development of the religious impulse itself, than to describe meticulously some or several creeds. The subject of the book is the nature of that religious impulse and of what happens to it, under varying cultural conditions, as it solidi- fies into a creed.

Few of the world's living religions are completely autochthonous. Most of them betray many mingled influences. In general, however, we have on the one hand the Semitic-Judaic-Christian tradition in the West. This tradition includes Mohammedanism, that faith which derives both from East and West, but which conquered part of the former and was forced to give up its conquests in the latter. On the other hand, we have the religions of the Orient, a great many of which are an extension of, reaction against, or intermingling with those extremely ancient primitive religious practices that the Aryans brought with them when they invaded India. The general back- ground of our own Occidental world we may be presumed to know fairly well. The general background of the Oriental world we do not. Therefore this book commences and deals at some length with India, for much that we have to say would be incomprehensible did it not.

Comparative religion, in common with all comparative studies, is extremely diverse, not only in its subject matter but in its ap-



proach. It is essential to realize that it is a comparative study, de- voted to the consideration of relationships and similarities, as well as differences, and that it is free of moral bias. It is concerned on the one hand with the nature of that impulse that animates religion; and on the other, with the form, ceremonial, ritual, and social or- ganization to which that impulse gives rise. It is perhaps a pity that it is usually more concerned with the first than with the second; but the first is elusive, and the second within the measurable boundaries of the factual. It is the intent of this book to deal primarily with the first in terms of the second.

Today, when we approach the subject, we can automatically clear away a vast underbrush of material that for us has passed from the realm of the unknowable into the realm of the knowable. This transi- tion is particularly true when we deal with primitive religions and with the primitive origins of religions, which subsequently become extremely abstruse and sophisticated in their thought. The subject matter of faith is the unknowable; but it becomes confused with the merely factually unknowable or unknown, which of course varies from age to age. Yet, if we were in imagination to project the study of theology back to the time of Herodotus, we would see approxi- mately the same process of comparative evaluation going on, on the basis of what was then considered the subject matter of religion, the unknowable; and if we pushed it back even further than that, to some stone age community, at least in theory the subject would still deal with the same type of subject matter, if not with the same amount of it.

It is extremely important to remember that the subject matter of religion is the nature of the unknowable, for in looking back on cultures more naive than our own, we perceive the gap between what is unknowable to us and what was unknowable to them, and mark whatever fills the gap as superstition. We should remember that it was not superstition at the times and that in future ages our attitude towards our own gap will be subject to the same leveling charge.

As we study the religions of the modern civilized world, of which there are, in general outline, surprisingly few, we immediately be- come aware of one outstanding phenomenon that the Occident and the Orient are apt to conceive the basic concepts of which the human


mind is capable in diametrically opposed ways. The absolutely basic concepts that make thought possible to us at all and that are the elementary tools of mental investigation are extremely few in num- ber, but they are indispensable. They deal with such ideas as mass, direction, volume, cause, finality, and number. For instance, if we do not know that to the Egyptians our up was their down and their down our up, because of the direction of flow of the Nile, we shall have considerable difficulty in understanding some of their notions of cause and effect.

We said earlier that, from the modern standpoint of knowledge and insight, comparative religion as a study is liable automatically to clear away much underbrush, matter peripheral to the problem of religion, but not its central concern. This is not to say that we have no underbrush of our own. We might also define the religious im- pulse as the worship of those things we believe to be true about the ultimate nature of things, which no amount of reason, proof, or even emotional self-doubt, can persuade us to disbelieve. Each of us retains many of these, inherited from whatever faith we were brought up in. Whatever our attitude towards these beliefs may be in the light of reason, they are firmly wedged in our subconscious minds and so color all our thinking. There are also the -isms of our day, all designed to evoke emotional belief, of which the less said the better. Some of these are political, and therefore dangerous to our bodies. Others are ideological, and therefore dangerous to our minds. The difference between science, a discipline, and scientism, an irrational belief, is vast.

Unfortunately, ultimate values are indefinable, but the ways in which we seek to express them are not. There is no substitute for insight; but if we can at least agree that insight exists, we have ac- complished much. We are concerned here with the fact of the existence of such values, and also the ways in which a realization of the fact of their existence has taken shape in dogma, belief, and methods of attaining spiritual insight, according to the particular society involved. It is as if the ineffable were a fluid which, though it by no means changes its nature in the process, yet takes the shape of the vessel into which it is poured. By comparing the shapes of the various vessels, we may be able to cancel out those apparent shapes which the ultimate assumes on various levels and in various cultural


matrixes, and so be left with the fluid and ultimate substance of belief, a universal and unvarying thing common to all faiths, peoples, and times.

It is needless to say that a faith is valid for those who believe it. It is holy to them and therefore should be respected by us. Besides, it provides a social discipline that facilitates the smooth working of a society. But any organized religion is essentially a piece of social, rather than spiritual machinery, a machinery, however, that is based upon spiritual insight. The more we strip away the social machinery, the more we perceive that the faith which is its fuel is common to all faiths.

So it is our purpose to explore the nature of an experience com- mon to all men and to set forth the form that that experience may take. This form is conditioned by the social pattern of the society in which the great prophets, or originators, lived their lives. Yet such an investigation must be pursued with empathy. To see a system from the outside is by no means to experience it from within, and this gap between learning and experiencing must never be lost sight of. It is not the object of th§ study of comparative religion to demolish the underbrush of any faith, for the underbrush is essential to the balance of life within the forest. But it is the object of com- parative religion to discover a kinship among the community of trees. The seventeenth century English poet, Henry Vaughan, speaks of a forest as "continuous trees." It is the intent of this book to estab- lish such a continuity.

Unfortunately, in purely temporal terms, this continuity is at the mercy of the course of world history, so something must be said about the organization of this book. Were it not for Islam, we could treat the two cultural mainstreams of the Occident on the one hand and the Orient on the other in an orderly fashion. It seemed better, under the circumstances, to ignore the place of Islam in the develop- ment of Hindu thought, insofar as that place occurs historically, and to place those religions whose common ancestor is to a certain ex- tent Zarathustrianism after a discussion of that religion. This method has certain disadvantages, since it defers a discussion of the impact of Islam upon India and the rise of Sikhism, but of the various or- ganizational methods that are possible, it perhaps seemed the sim- plest.









/, JAINISM 216 8* BUDDHISM 226






13. SHINTO 354

14. TIBET 370




l8. JUDAISM 435








The Object of Religion


a recent branch of knowledge, for formerly, inquirers in this field were more concerned with the problems of their own faith than with the nature of faith in general. Science and faith, which oper- ate, as we shall see, in separate realms, were once seen to be mutu- ally contradictory. Thus we have in Western culture the symbol of Faustus, the man who has sold his soul in return for knowledge and who is therefore damned. The Faustus legend is of late medi- eval origin, and with the slow rise of science it came to be inter- preted in various ways. Marlowe's Faust is utterly damned by his search for knowledge:

Regard his hellish fall,

Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise, Only to wonder at unlawful things, Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits To practice more than heavenly power permits.1

But by the time we reach the Faust of Goethe, we are con- fronted by the philosophical man who is tolerant and somewhat wistful about the problem of faith, chiefly regretting that his search for power, knowledge, and truth forms for him a barrier to that degree of belief which comforts others. Thus in the sixteenth scene of Faust, Part I, we have the following dialogue:

1 Christopher Marlowe, The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus.




Please tell me, Heinrich . . . Faust:

Anything you wish. Margaret:

Tell me, how do you feel about religion?

You are a very good man,

However I feel you don't think very highly of it. Faust:

Let us not talk of that, my child.

You know that I love you

And for my dear ones I would give body and soul.

I do not want to deprive anyone of his faith and Church.


Do you believe in God? Faust:

My darling, who can say: I believe in God.

You may ask priests or sages

And their answer will seem mockery of him who asks. Margaret:

Then you do not believe? Faust:

Do not misunderstand me, my darling.

For who can possibly name Him;

Who can possibly say: I believe in Him?

Who can possibly say: I do not believe in Him,

The all-container, the all-sustainer?

Does He not carry and feed you, me, and Himself?

Is not the sky there over us?

Is not the earth secure beneath our feet?

And do not the eternal stars ascend in friendly smiles?

Do we not look into each other's eyes?

And does not everything in you also aspire to highest heaven?

And is not everything around you also so inspired, though invisibly,

And isn't your heart ready to burst with the joy of all that?

And since that feeling makes you full of bliss,

It does not matter what name you give it:

Call it bliss, heart, love, God.

I myself have no name for it.

For the feeling is all that counts, and names are but noises and smoke

beclouding the effulgence of Heaven. Margaret:

All that sounds fine and good.

The preacher, in his own way, also says such things, but the way is somewhat different.



All men so say,

Though each in his own language, so why not I in mine?

This extract shows the attitude of an 18th century gentleman and deist, but it also represents the residue of the inexplicable to be dis- covered when we have removed the ritual machinery of any dead faith, and the original insight from which most religions, and all major contemporary systems of belief, have developed. It has been given many names. In this book we shall refer to it as the Miracle of Being, for we, too, find it necessary to speak of these matters, in our own day, "with slightly different phrases/' To accomplish our purpose, we must explore the doctrine and practice of many differ- ent faiths.

By western standards there is nothing either unusual or dangerous in making available to the public a book about such things. On the contrary, we take it for granted that wisdom grows with informa- tion, and that therefore nothing but good can come of communicat- ing knowledge to as many people as possible. When it comes to re- ligious knowledge, the Christian feels it his sacred duty to give such things as wide a hearing as possible.

This attitude, however, is far from being universal. For instance, the approach of an orthodox exponent of Hinduism, a pandit or guru, is quite the reverse. Instead of going out of his way to collect as many disciples as possible, he guards his doctrine with the ut- most reserve, accepting only that handful of students whose desire for knowledge he has found sincere by rigorous test. He holds this Attitude for two reasons. First, he believes that knowledge is power and that power is not to be trusted to those who are spiritually or morally unfit to use it. Second, the Hindu philosophy of karma has one double-edged exception. In general karma implies that every man must eat the fruits of his own actions; that whatever a man does will have consequences that he will have to bear; and that everything that happens to him is the inevitable result of his former thoughts, emotions, and dreams, as well as of his deeds either in his present incarnation or some previous one. But the guru assumes the burden not only of his own actions, but also of those of his students, whose karma will be added to his own. Naturallv, in view of this responsibility, he will accept onlv those pupils who have been carefully chosen for their probity, for it is hard enough for a man to


bear his own karma, let alone that of others. For such reasons the ashrams, or spiritual schools of India, tend to be extremely small.

I mention this viewpoint at the onset to make clear that the study of religious doctrines is a far from harmless pursuit. Even to read about them, without the least intention of putting them into prac- tice, can have serious consequences, for the very ideas, let alone their execution, affect our minds in unexpected and unpredictable ways. We are familiar enough with the disastrous consequences of coming too close to radioactive substances while pursuing scientific research. Similarly, the dangers of a course in political science can be very real dangers indeed. We tend to forget that the exposure of our minds to religious ideas entails even greater risk. Religious ideas, after all, have moved and changed the world more profoundly than any bomb or political ideology.

In this connection a Czechoslovakian novelist once wrote a story about a German professor who specialized in Tibetan studies. The professor was everything a German professor should be; thorough in his subject, oblivious to all else, and certain of the absolute vir- tues of the scientific method. He was minutely preoccupied with the phonetics of the Tibetan language, and in particular with its pronunciation in the eighth and ninth centuries. After many years of study he found that only a few words eluded him, and these hap- pened to include a magical formula whose enunciation had the prop- erty of turning those who heard it correctly uttered into purple jellicones. This, of course, was nonsense, but still the professor wished to discover the phonetics of the key word in the formula, which eluded him. He spent years consulting ancient rhyming dic- tionaries and collated every use of the word he could discover. At last he appeared before his class in a mood of pedantic triumph and announced to his students that he had at last discovered the correct pronunciation of the elusive word. His happiness was pro- found. The syllable was gastop, and he illustrated it and the formula with relish. The reaction to his discovery was distinctly disappoint- ing, and thinking that perhaps in his enthusiasm he had started his lecture before his students had assembled, he glanced at the room over the top of his glasses. On each seat was a quivering purple jellicone.

The moral, needless to say, is that we should be beware of what the French call la miserable vanitt des savants of the pitiable


pride of pedants such as our professor, who imagined that reli- gious and magical formulas are of interest only to the anthropolo- gist; for the scholar is too apt to regard an interest in the content as well as in the form of a religion to be an obstacle to sound schol- arship and as such regrettable. We should not confound indiffer- ence and tolerance, nor should we forget that all ideas have conse- quences; words, particularly religious words, have a certain power. Surely most of us are aware of the strange discomfort, the queer emotional impact that the solemn utterance of such words as "God," "Our Heavenly Father," and "Jesus Christ" evokes. We may well discover that there are other words, such as Brahman or tao, which will work upon our minds in ways stranger still. Remembering that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and that specialized knowl- edge is often the enemy of insight, we must keep in view the tre- mendous potentiality of religious ideas if we are to venture safely upon them.

In addition, the study of comparative religions has been looked upon as dangerous for reasons quite other than those just stated. For many centuries orthodox Christian circles have regarded it as a sus- pect subject, for some theologians have seriously objected to the identification of anything save Christianity as a religion. It is not at all unusual to encounter the view that the entire science of com- parative religion is in this sense impious, insofar as it places Christi- anity upon a par with Buddhism or Hinduism, implying that Chris- tianity is only one, but not the One, among faiths. It is characteristic of such a standpoint to insist that Christianity is nothing if it is not unique. Other religions have claimed the same distinction for them- selves. It is only natural that those who feel this way should also feel that the study of comparative religion imperils their unique status, for it does. It shows nothing more clearly than that no claim is more ignorant, questionable, or ridiculous than the claim that any idea is unique. Solomon was correct in saying that there was noth- ing new under the sun. Again and again the pride of the ingenious creative mind in some new idea is crushed by the discovery that it is not new. That the validity of any idea should be in any way diminished by its lack of novelty is a proposition more proper to psychology than to logic.

The great Swiss psychologist, C. G. Jung, has pointed out that the first session of a course of psychotherapeutic treatment involves the


patient in a peculiar disappointment, which he terms "a double dis- appointment." The alarmed patient reveals what are, to him, unu- sual and outlandish symptoms uniquely his. After a few minutes the analyst is able to say, "Oh, but there is nothing strange or out- landish in all this. You are almost exactly what we call type "AB," A person with your symptoms will have these other symp- toms, which you haven't mentioned yet." For the patient this is a double disappointment, the first part of which is positive, for the pa- tient discovers that he is not alone in his state of mind, and so be- gins to believe that after all he may not be going insane. It is im- portant for us to remember that none of us, however peculiar in his inner feelings or imagination, is unique, but that many others are in precisely the same state. The second part of the disappoint- ment is negative, for the patient is disappointed to realize that what to him were unique symptoms were to the analyst quite ordinary manifestations. One has but to study anthropology and mythology to find prototypes for enough freaks or monsters of the imagina- tion to crowd a lifetime.

Similarly, there is nothing really novel in religions or in philo- sophical invention. When we consider the endless hours and years that Christian contemplatives and Indian pandits of great subtlety have devoted to the problems of theology and metaphysics, it is un- likely that we, who devote only an odd hour to such matters, will discover anything that someone else has not already turned over in his mind. It is a mark of sound erudition to recognize the unlikeli- hood of one's being able to propose a genuinely novel religion or, for that matter, so much as a new exegesis of a single verse of a single religious text.

This fact does not prevent "new" religions from sprouting all the time. Our own age has raised a crop of them as diverse as perhaps at any time since the Roman Empire. However, not one of them is actuallv new, despite the fact that sheer novelty is sometimes their only claim to fame. For example there is Existentialism. To its fol- lowers it appears in the guise of a religion. The acknowledged source of existentialist doctrine is Martin Heidegger. No one would deny that Heidegger has something to say to our age and that his is one of the best minds of the existentialist movement. Yet that move- ment is by no means as new as he and others of his kind suppose it to be, even though it is deeply intuitive and goes far beyond the


horizon of rational intellectuality, two things that set it apart from most other contemporary systems.

Heidegger has made a most effective criticism of all classical sys- tems of metaphysics and of rationalized "world-explanation." He has shown that every such system is a texture of generalized abstrac- tions that, as abstractions, neglect the most important essential real- ity of life, that "here-and-now" moment in which we live and that is the one truly concrete experience we know, insofar as we can touch, handle, and see it at first hand. Heidegger applies this criti- cism to the various systems of religious doctrine and dogma, finding them to be preoccupations with vague "mystical" notions far re- moved from the tremendous immediacy of the one reality we actu- ally do know, the "here-and-now."

This idea is the core of existentialist belief, which Heidegger states well, but it is not new. He might be quoting from a dozen or more scholastic or mystic theologians of the Middle Ages, men who likewise insisted that the hie et nunc was the whole object of phi- losophy, metaphysics, and of religion; men such as Meister Eckharti

The Now-moment in which God made the first man and the Now- moment in which the last man will disappear, and the Now-moment in which I am speaking are all one in God, in whom there is only one Now, Look! The person who lives in the light of God is conscious neither of time past nor of time to come but only of one eternity. . . . There- fore he gets nothing new out of future events, nor from chance, for he lives in the Now-moment that is, unfailingly, "in verdure newly clad." 2

Again and again we shall return to this here-and-now in our study of the religions of Mankind, for, if we do not, we run the danger of Becoming abstractionists and hence out of touch with the immedi- ate reality of that which has ever been the decisive object of every religion deserving the name.

It may sound as though I were about to propose a definition of religion. I am not. To do so would be a fatal error, for religion is utterly indefinable, as is its object. That object, the subject-matter of belief, is that here-and-now reality which vanishes into the past as soon as we try to pin it down. For definition is an a posteriori act. As soon as something is stated it becomes a part of the past. It is

•Raymond Bernard Blakney, Meister Eckhart (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1941), pp. 209-210.


inert and so immutable. Only the past is immutable. The present and the future, in being always capable of alteration, cannot be de- fined. Omnis determinatio est negatio: every definition is negation, for the only things that can be defined are words, and words, in their turn, symbolize, but never define, the real world.

Religions are manifold and multiform. The more we know about them, the less we are able to state clearly their common denomina- tor. Yet though we cannot state, through careful study we may come to feel or intuit that essential element which distinguishes a religion from such pseudo-religions as Communism, Nazism, and Psychologism. Pseudo-religions have the visible outward trappings, but not the inner content, of great and true religions such as Hindu- ism, Judaism, or Christianity.

In passing, we may ask ourselves why the great pseudo-religions of our day are not true ones, despite the fact that some of their more fanatic adherents believe them to be so. The reason may be that such doctrines are essentially systems of social control primarily organized for the benefit of some special group and that they are concerned with the physical condition of man to all exclusion of his spiritual condition. At their best they are no better than a sort of Confucianism, the higher etiquette of a small ruling clique. The only goals they seek are temporal, and indeed by their nature they cannot permit of religious experience, for they attempt to control society by defining it in absolute temporal terms. Whether they wish to or not, they are compelled out of self-preservation to deny the existence of that which they cannot control by definition. And religious ex- perience is indefinable.

It is indefinable, but also, since we can apprehend it, it must have a nature and a content. Obviously this content is beyond either intel- lection or verbal definition, but since we must call it something, in this book it will be called the Miracle of Being. It is the hie et nunc. Yet the Miracle of Being could easily become a mere glib formula, to be tossed around in common with such terms as "spirituality /* "the Divine," "The ultimate reality," or "The Power beyond Our- selves." What we mean by the Miracle of Being has nothing to do with such so-called "miracles." Miracles in the plural, with which all religions abound, are only the folklore of the ultimate. Ordinary miracles are essentially phenomenological. They are inexplicable exceptions to what we consider to be natural laws governing the


physical world and its events. Such exceptions to the rules of life provide a break in the otherwise secular tedium of daily life. Such historical abnormalities and misfits so fascinate some people's atten- tion that they become occultists, and run after ghosts in an effort to conjure up the souls of the dead, as though the dead had any- thing more to say about the Being of Being than have the living.

The Miracle of Being, or the Being of Being, exists in the singu- lar, and is beyond such accidental events. Pursuit of specific miracles is the easiest way to miss the Miracle, for the Miracle is not to be found in such exceptions to the laws of nature, being in itself the law of nature, if by law we mean the essential condition. The great religious traditions, as we shall see, emphasize this point time and again.

Then what is the Miracle? Primarily it is the simple fact that we are, that the whole complex that we call the World is and has being. For this complex we call the World might not have existed at all. Indeed, there are those who claim that it does not. For them the Miracle of Being takes the negative form, or the obverse of the medal. Being to them is so implausible, so improbable, that in a way it would seem easier and simpler to have had Nothing, though in ac- tuality we cannot conceive of nothing without reference to some- thing. Yet here we are, in the midst of what we can only clumsily call "Isness."

Of course we could avoid this whole issue by analyzing it away; by going into detail; by thinking about the different kinds of being, the visible, audible, or tactile. Such a procedure is not without in- terest, but that interest is a special one. It is not so catholic, so thrill- ing, so disturbing, as is the primary fact that there is Being. We can readily agree that this Being is common to all things. We can suppose that all things are common to it. But if we do grant that it exists in all the things we know; and that a part of all the things we know are part of it, then we have to take the further step that though it is particular to all things and all things are particular to it but are not in their total the nature of it, then it must have a nature of its own.

This is a logical approach. But if, by following the standard scien- tific procedure, you may reduce the Being of the world to its most minute constituents of molecules, atoms, protons and neutrons, and still be left with one question unanswered that the scientific method


cannot answer, then that unanswered question must be beyond the realm of the scientific method. Science may tell us how a thing is, but it cannot tell us what it is. It can merely give the thing a name. When you have reached the point beyond which definition is impos- sible, you cannot say what it is that lies beyond that point. In this area remains the Miracle underlying the lesser miracles of the sci- entific world. Unlike miracles in the plural, the miraculousness of the Miracle cannot be perceived by opposing it to some natural law or scientific datum. There are no data to which it may be related, for it does not exist in the realm of data. It is the Miracle of Being be- cause in resembling none of the miracles -that we have known, it is unique.

The trouble with explanations is that, in being limited to the phe- nomena they take into account, they cannot deal with evidence be- yond their scope. They are of value only within the frame of refer- ence of their own terminology or point of view. Thus in some other point of view they become irrelevant. The "world formula," the theory that appears to unify the sciences and to explain the uni- verse, which seems to be emerging from the later researches of the late Albert Einstein, is never anything more than a description of shapes, motions, distances, weights, and energies, though so accu- rate as to enable us to predict what they will do under various pos- sible circumstances. Such a theory can exist only when we assume the existence of the things with which it deals. The nature of the quality of existence that these things share in common is not exam- ined, and indeed the theory of their existence, in dealing solely with an end-product, cannot deal with the process that brought them into existence, or with the cause of that process. This world formula thus assumes being, without any consideration for the unusual circum- stance that there is any being to measure or describe.

One does not at all dispose of the Miracle or problem of what being is by saying that the question is illogical or unanswerable. Every science, every system of thought, must have at least one indefinable axiom or premise as its basis. There is no such thing as a closed system of thought capable of giving a strict definition of its own axioms. Just as I cannot explain in writing exactly how the letters of the alphabet should be pronounced, words and thoughts cannot communicate or express the full reality of the world that they describe. In the words of a Buddhist poem:


It is a sword that cuts, but cannot cut itself, 6

It is an eye that sees, but cannot see itself.

"It," in this context, is the indefinable basis, whether we call it the "mind" as the basis of all experience or Being as the basis of all be- ing. "It" is the Miracle. "It" is what Heidegger would call the "ex- istential moment"; and this is no other than the final content and "object" of all great religions.

It is interesting to note that Buddhist poem and Einstein alike, when dealing with such matters, are forced to use metaphor and simile. Because this Miracle is ineffable, it can be described in no other way, for metaphor and simile are the figures of speech that al- low us, however imperfectly, to deal with experience outside our own knowledge of experience. You will therefore find that both occur often in the part of religious literature that deals with the Miracle of Being.

Religions are in one sense man's attempt to express the underlying wonder of the inexpressible, of Beang itself, beyond all its particular shapes and characteristics. We may ask why religion is necessary for this task, since it might seem that "It" is the one most obvious thing in the world. Indeed, so many of the great religious teachers of Mankind have stated time after time that "It" The Miracle of Be- ing, God, Being, Brahman is almost more than self-evident. "God," say the Christian mystics, "is nearer to us than we are to ourselves."

To see the Miracle is, in the words of the Buddhist Hyakujo, "like looking for an ox when you are riding on one." In the final analysis, what men seek is that which seeks, or, according to St. Bernard, nemo te quaerere valet nisi quod prius invenerit no one is able to seek thee unless he has first found thee. But to this precept, the same teachers have added the paradox that just as the Miracle is the most obvious thing in the world, so is it the hardest of all to see. In another Zen Buddhist text we hear that "It is too clear, and so it takes long to see."

The problem we face here is that what is most obvious is the easiest to forget and overlook. Man, as we know him today, seems able to go on living year after year without ever pausing to gape in wonder at the sheer miracle of existence itself. He lives as if all the world around him were simply a matter of course, a thing to be taken for granted, a part of humdrum familiarity that is nothing to get excited about. We exist, he says, so what?


Such strange forgetfulness of basic reality, such terrible insensi- tivity to the miraculous, may well be called a Fall, or original sin, as mythological language would have it. Man forgets to such an ex- tent that he runs around like a squirrel chasing its own tail.

He is born and brought up; he goes to school and college; he matures and reaches adulthood; he works at a job in order to go on working; he gets married in order to bear children who will go through the same thing all over again; he dies. What is all this about? Where are we going and why? We do not ask ourselves such questions, for they are subversive and disturb the social order. We feel it is better to keep our minds on the trivial chores of the day, on the worries and economic problems of the next few years; and that it is not wise for us to brood too much about the fact that the world will one day come to an end and that long before that happens Man as a race will be extinct. We prefer to forget that, and our subconscious orders us to forget it. Such thoughts seem to us morbid and inevitably to lead to the mental clinic.

Healthy-minded people, we believe, do not think such thoughts. Above all things we like to see ourselves as healthy-minded. When we turn over the brightly colored pages of Life or The Saturday Evening Post we see everybody in the advertisements riding in cars; cooing over washing machines; and exulting in sanforized shirts. Everyone is happy; everyone smiles; and everyone is fifteen to thirty years old, healthy, ruddy-cheeked, having a swell time, and preserved from grief by Monuments of Eternity and air foam mat- tresses. Occasionally an old timer, leaning on a stick, stands aside to watch the crowd, but only occasionally. The end of it all is care- fully and decorously hidden. It is comfortable and snug. But it is not secure. A second look is enough to convince us that the happy life so advertised is sheer, unadulterated boredom. It is a charge- account world in which the future is anchored down only by install- ments and the present is in the hands of the repair man. Yet we seem strangely able to forget that the whole fascination of life lies in our ability to live on a thin crust laid over a fathomless abyss of mystery. We are beautifully afloat, but on a deceptively quiet sea. Dr. Samuel Johnson is not usually regarded as a religious man, though he was one. His favorite term of opprobrium was that this man or that had "no bottom," referring to the old fashioned copper sheathing on wooden boats that protected them from parasites and


from decay, and that did much to keep them afloat. He was a man of common sense. Yet all his life he maintained a spiritual bottom that did much to keep him afloat.

The story of the world's great religions will bring us back again and again to a realization of this ultimate mystery which alone keeps us afloat. Where it does not underlie our lives in mind as it does in fact, we have simply missed the whole point of living, indeed "to miss the point" is the literal and proper meaning of the word that we now translate as "sin." In India, whose faiths we shall consider first the Mystery or Miracle of Being is called Brahman. There is a proverb that says, "If Brahman is known, nothing else needs to be known; if Brahman is not known; nothing else is worth knowing."

When we consider Man's relation to the Miracle of Being we find that human beings fall into two groups, those who are aware of it, and those who are not. In many religious vocabularies the latter are referred to as being in a state of "forgetfulness" or "ignorance" ( in Sanskrit, avidya, or unconsciousness ) ; and the former as being in a condition of "realization" or "awakening." Almost all religions seem to contain a duality of this kind, either opposing ignorance and enlightenment or damnation and salvation, depending upon their moral viewpoint. As we shall see, in the later stages of reli- gious development this dualism is often resolved by the discovery that it is more apparent than real. Thus in Mahayana Buddhism the truly awakened man realizes that bodhi (enlightenment) and klesa (beclouding passions) are not to be clearly differentiated.

In order to begin our examination of the nature of religion we must establish the nature of these two states and then attempt to differentiate between them. The difference was most effectively demonstrated by Gurdjieff, a Russian mystic well known to certain circles in Paris, London, and New York in the period between the two World Wars.8

It was GurdjiefFs habit to begin his lectures with a period of si- lence. This silence was not the familiar "crouching silence" people often affect at the beginning of a church service in an attempt to achieve humility. GurdjiefFs method was to look keenly at his audi- ence individually for about five minutes, for as long, that is, as any-

*For some account of this man, see Rom Landau, God is My Adventure (London: I. Nicholson and Watson, Ltd., 1935); and also P. D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1949).


body could bear. It was acutely embarrassing. He would then ab- ruptly announce: "You are all asleep. Unless you wake up at once I am not going to give any lecture at all, because you wouldn't un- derstand the first word of it. Wake Upl"

He was using more than the usual shock tactics of good lecture platform