This is a summary of the fifth chapter of Bede Griffith’s book A New Vision of Reality. It develops the material covered in the fourth chapter The Christian Vision of the New Creation but also prepares the way to explore the connections between his own tradition and the other great religious traditions of the world. (All text in italics are direct quotes from the chapter).
He does this in two ways as I see it. He brings forward the role of Spirit as fundamental and central to his understanding of the human story; and he claims that all the great traditions arose within a personal universe.
The original condition of humanity was an undifferentiated unity, as with a babe in the womb; ‘oneness with the mother, with the earth, with creation and with the Spirit who is present in the midst of creation’.
As consciousness developed they became conscious of themselves as separate from the body and separate from the mother. In that state they could open themselves to the Spirit and allow the Spirit to guide them, but they could equally separate themselves from the Spirit. They could fall away from the Spirit and centre on themselves.
Bede sees the familiar Genesis story from the point of view of the Spirit. What he does not emphasise is how this separation is confirmed by the foundational murder of Abel by Cain, out of which culture is seen to develop. This is another story worth discussing at some time.
But in Bede’s mind not following the Spirit has enormous consequences.
Once you have fallen from the Spirit into yourself, your separated self, you are divided….. It is a very little crack to begin with but as human beings develop consciousness and all their powers, this capacity to separate increases progressively.
He does hope that reason and intelligence in our day will re-open us to the Spirit, to a re-integration of humanity. This hopefulness undergirds his whole book.
He then discusses the consequences of this inner fragmentation by reference to Ken Wilber’s book The Atman Project. Atman is Sanskrit for Spirit.
As one’s consciousness and sense of a separate self develops, one loses the sense of a spiritual power beyond oneself. Everything centres on the self and one becomes God for oneself. Every human being wants to be God in this way. We all have in us the instinct for God, for the Ultimate, but we have lost the sense of the Ultimate beyond.
This is a fall into a state of division and duality.
It is a fall from the unified or non-dualistic mind into the dualistic mind, that is, into our present mode of consciousness……. All our science, philosophy and theology are products of this dualistic mind….. Yet there is always something in us which yearns for unity…. and every religious system attempts to offer a way to rediscover the lost unity, to return to Paradise. But there is no simple way of return…. There are forces in the unconscious which block the path.
Bede implies that the way of separation led to external forms of religion. The way forward from such religion is seen for instance in the ancient Hebrew prophets.
This is the beginning of that passage to an interior religion which every religion has to undergo if it is to survive, and which is so clearly the call of religion today. From reliance on external rites and doctrines religion has to pass to the experience of God in the heart, and this movement of interiority has to be constantly renewed.
The tension with external religion is always there.
As a religion feels itself to be threatened, it clings to its old traditions and centres on itself, so that it becomes incapable of further growth or of responding to the movement of the Spirit.
You can see just how important the Spirit is in Bede’s thought. In the case of Jesus, it is the Spirit that delivers us from the bondage of the law, one of the central themes in the New Testament. We can say also that it is the Spirit that delivers us from a religion of violent sacrifice.
What (Jesus) communicated to his disciples was the gift of his Spirit, which was to lead them into all truth. The essential mystery of the Gospel is this gift of the Spirit, that is, the opening of humanity to the life of the Spirit, which had been lost at the Fall, and its return to the communion with God in which the meaning and purpose of human existence is to be found.
This for Bede is the basis of the new humanity.
We must never forget that in its deepest reality all humanity is one being, just as the whole creation is one being…… The whole of human history is a passage from our present mode of existence and consciousness into the eternal world where all the diversities of this world are seen in their essential unity. Our present mode of consciousness is dualistic, but as the mystics of all religions have discerned, the ultimate reality is non-dual. This new mode of being and consciousness is the nirvana of the Buddha, the brahman-atman of the Upanishads, the al haqq of the Muslim mystics and the kingdom of heaven of the Christian Gospel. It is here and here alone that we can find the meeting place of all religion. (my emphasis)
For Bede, ‘the sin of humanity had been their separation from the Spirit, their falling back into the separate self, and thereby coming into conflict with nature, with their fellows, and with God’.
We are always either open to the Spirit and take part in the work of redemption, or we close in on ourselves and settle for substitutes for the Spirit in which case we isolate ourselves from God, from the truth.
For Bede this process finds fulfilment in the person of Christ.
It is significant that nearly all ancient people saw the ultimate Reality in terms of a person. In Hinduism we have the purusha, the cosmic Person, in whom the whole universe comes together. In Buddhism we have the tathagata, the one who has reached Reality and who is the supreme Person. In Islam there is the ‘universal man’, al-insan al Kamil and in Christianity we have Christ as the cosmic Person in whom all things were created…… In the next two chapters we will trace out this theme of the cosmic Person in Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, for it is one of the great themes of all the major religions.
For the great religions the universe is profoundly personal.
Some Discussion Pointers:
1. If Bede is right, and religion is relating to the world and the universe personally, what are the implications of this for us?
2. What are other ways we may relate to the world?
3. What or Who is Spirit for you? Do you experience Spirit?
4. How do the great religious traditions see Spirit?