Deepak Chopra and Intent

Deepak Chopra and Intent

Five Spiritual Mysteries: #2 Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen? (Part 2)

posted by Admin

 

 

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for people who want to believe in God is the existence of bad things in our lives.  The evening news carries enough stories about war, crime, famine, oppression, and much else that a loving God wouldn’t permit. But as we saw in the first post, such a God is formed in our own image. He, or she, is envisioned as a human being on a supernatural scale. This is just one of the assumptions that needed to be cleared away before seriously asking the question of why God permits bad things to happen.

 

Once you accept God as formless and not a copy of human qualities, his relationship to events on earth changes radically (the most immediate change being that God no longer has a gender). The alternative to a deity created in our image is a deity who is still a creator but not a judge. God can be envisioned as pure consciousness, the source of the creativity, intelligence, love, truth, and every other possibility that becomes embodied in the universe – and in ourselves.

 

Such a deity would solve many mysteries while also holding many. The chief mystery is that God-as-consciousness is inconceivable. Being the source of the universe, this God is beyond space and time. Our minds work in space and time, so linear thinking is limited. But the world’s wisdom traditions have all held that there is a transcendent domain that the human mind can access. We experience it as silent mind, the background of experience, or awareness itself. When a person shifts his attention away from mental activity and focuses on the silent background, it turns out that this apparent “nothing,” is the womb of creation.

 

The second mystery about God is that pure consciousness reconciles opposites.  The system of dualities that structure our lives – life and death, light and dark, positive and negative – merge into a single unified system that organizes itself, not by juggling these opposites but by transcending them. Once again, if a person pays focused attention to silent awareness, the reality of such a unified consciousness becomes evident.

 

This synopsis has been too truncated to explain the convincing nature of God as pure consciousness, a concept with thousands of years of actual experience behind it, both East and West. But let’s jump ahead. Good and evil are among the most important dualities we all struggle with. One reason for our confusion is that we look at only the manifest side of God/consciousness/creation.  With one-eyed sight, there is no end to evil, no rationale to justify it, and no escape from it.

 

Which is why the great spiritual teachers, including Buddha and Jesus, pointed to the other side of consciousness, which transcends duality. At this second level, good and evil are part of the setup, the karmic drama that we each inherited at birth.  Like every duality, this one follows an internal logic we can’t fathom, but we don’t need to. The solution is to go beyond duality, at which point we have walked away from the drama. When this happens, we become detached, in two senses. We are no longer engaged in the play of karma, and it cannot reach out to grab us back.

 

God, then, is present in both states, the manifest and unmanifest.  In the created world the deity is the basis for morality and its promise that being good leads to good results.  For millions of people, this side of consciousness suffices. They may suffer when bad things happen, but they remain convinced that God is good and just. Another large swath of people jettison religion and accept a secular morality based on manmade rules and laws. How many people accept the way of transcendence?

 

There’s no answer to this question, since someone can be deeply involved in such a path with no outward sign. Yet two thoughts seem irrefutable. The problem of a God who permits evil in the world has never been solved through reason or religion, while on the other hand, a transcendent God has been open to personal experience since the dawn of spirituality.  The way of transcendence alone can bring a person beyond duality – in fact, that has been its chief attraction in every age, including ours.

 

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Five Spiritual Mysteries: #2 Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen?

posted by Admin

In every spiritual tradition, different as they are, God is taken to be the moral compass for human beings. He may or may not be a punisher.  He may or may not sit in judgment, watching and weighing our every move. He may or may not be a He, since the God of Judaism, for example, is without form. But in some way the notion of good and evil, right and wrong, the light versus the dark, goes back to a divine source.

 

In secular society this link isn’t as strong, and for someone with no religious beliefs, morality has no connection to God. Yet the connection has been crucial for at least two thousand years in the Judeo-Christian world. In the Indian spiritual tradition, particularly Vedanta, God is not personified. The deity is conceived as cosmic consciousness. One of the strongest arguments offered by atheists is that a just and loving God doesn’t exist.  If God did exist, why do bad things happen to good people? If there is divine love, how can the Holocaust even be conceivable? For opponents or religion as well as mild, everyday doubters, a God who sits back and permits wholesale suffering is on shaky ground.

 

Is there a deeper mystery here, or have we been duped into accepting a myth, as militant atheists insist?

 

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We must approach the question without assumptions, and as it happens, both sides of the debate stubbornly cling to a large number of assumptions.  Sometimes these preconceived notions overlap, which further muddies the waters. Here are some preconceived ideas that you may well believe:

 

1. God is human and has human traits.

2. God shares our human sense of time and is watching us minute by minute.

3. God’s reasons cannot be understood by human beings.

4. The divine notion of right and wrong is the same as what we call morality.

5. There is an eternal cosmic war between God and Satan.

6. God and Satan represent absolute good and absolute evil.

7. God doesn’t need to justify his judgments to us here down below.

 

I think most people have been exposed to these seven assumptions one way or another. Each one is a double-edged sword, offering proof of God to believers and a source of ridicule for militant atheists. Yet none of these assumptions stands up to the demand for proof that we’ve become used to in the age of science. They are articles of faith; in some cases they are the inheritance of archaic ages. Insofar as militant atheists accuse religions of fostering cultural mythology, their case is pretty credible. What is Satan, for example, but an inherited myth?

 

If you think that God is like a loving Father sitting above the clouds, or a punishing patriarch quick to anger, either conception is a projection. The infinite has been reduced to the finite; a mystery has been unraveled by turning it into a human predicament. To feel that you are a good person who is suffering unjustly is a very human predicament, and it’s just as human to cry, “Why is God doing this to me?”  But there can be no credible answer if we stay within the limits of everyday morality. A loving father who arbitrarily punishes his child would be guilty of abuse – he would be a very bad human father, in fact.

 

So the question of why God allows bad things to happen isn’t a simple human question, even though the answer makes a tremendous difference to how humans live their lives. It’s a spiritual question, a mystery that requires deeper thought.  In the world’s wisdom traditions, the following possibilities exist.

 

- God knows the true nature of our souls and treats us accordingly.

- God set the universe in motion and then walked away from his creation.

- God has a larger view of good and evil than we can comprehend.

- God is transcendent and can only be understood in a state of higher consciousness.

 

Depending on which of these views you accept, God’s relation to bad things changes radically. A God who knows your soul and is treating you accordingly is a God who puts the whole burden on the believer. The believer must figure out how to avoid sin and live virtuously, while God peers through an X-ray machine into every crevice of the believer’s life, exposing secret darkness and hypocrisy. At the other extreme, a God who created the universe and walked away delivers no judgments of any good, neither punishing sin nor rewarding virtue. The cosmos operates mechanically, and we are caught in the machinery, subject to accidents and the grinding of it gears.

 

Yet all four conceptions have the advantage, if we are intellectually honest, of doing away with a God who is simply a human being in disguise, a projection of human traits write large. In the next post we’ll see which line of reasoning leads to the best answer of how God relates – if at all – to the bad things that happen to us.

 

(To be cont.)

Five Spiritual Mysteries: #1 Is Karma Fair? (Part 2)

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Even at a time when religion is declining in the West, most people remember the Biblical saying “As you sow, so shall you reap.” they cling to a belief taught in childhood, that good is rewarded and evil punished. In the first post we started to look at the possibility that what was learned in childhood is correct. The universe balances right and wrong, good and evil. In the Indian spiritual tradition this simple notion was developed into the Law of Karma. But common experience offers endless examples of good that isn’t rewarded and evil that is never punished.  So is karma really fair or not?

 

In his famous encounter with Albert Einstein in 1930, the great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore argued against the random universe of quantum physics in favor of a “human universe” where harmony prevailed despite the evidence of unruly passions and bad deeds. Tagore meant this quite literally, not metaphorically. The universe was an expression of divine consciousness, and human beings, who express the same cosmic consciousness, belong within the grand scheme. In fact, the universe mirrors human destiny and vice versa.

 

This is the classic view of the world’s wisdom traditions (with some exceptions – certain strains of Buddhism come to mind, which do not accept a divine essence or creative agency in the cosmos).  They describe a worldview that looks inward for justification, not outward at events in the physical world. A consciousness-based view of karma can take two forms (briefly touched upon in the first post).

 

* Evidence of the balance of good and evil can be found through insight and intuition.

* The doctrine of the afterlife, with or without reincarnation, can be accepted and justified.

 

 

I think both approaches have merit, but the second one depends on viewing life before birth and after death. That’s not tenable until you establish a theory of cosmic consciousness. In any event, it doesn’t benefit someone here and now who has suffered innocently; it brings no justice today, only tomorrow. So we’re left with the other alternative, looking inward for such things as divine mercy, compassion, forgiveness, salvation, and grace.  To discover whether life is fair or not requires this inner journey. Needless to say, skeptics who scoff at such a journey will continue to declare that existence is essentially determined by random events and mechanical processes.

 

What makes the inner journey viable?  It’s not viable simply as an escape, turning to some unconscious state in order to stop seeing how bad the world really is. It’s also not viable as a kind of Pollyanna attitude: Everything is beautiful if only we see it that way.  The inner journey is only viable as a means to connect with reality.  In other words, we are pointed – by Jesus, Buddha, the Vedic rishis, and many others – to transcend ordinary reality, the world of appearances to pure existence. In a state of higher awareness, the bonds of suffering are released, and one realizes that the true self, which is at the core of every person, has no dealings with good versus evil, right versus wrong, because those are products of duality.

 

To summarize what transcendence actually does:

1. It removes a person’s deep attachment of pain and pleasure. There is an eternal cycle between pain and pleasure, but it pertains to individuals who see themselves as separate.  The true self is open, free, self-aware, and a participant in the world of duality as a witness only.

2. When someone is established in the true self, there is no fear. This subdues the grip of physical suffering and death.

3. Consciousness flows without boundaries, so that “I” is no longer the insecure ego.

4. Once unbounded or unity consciousness is achieved – in the state generally called enlightenment – a person is in the best position possible to help others out of the bondage of their suffering.

5. From the vantage point of the true self, the play of good and evil, darkness and light, is seen as perfectly balanced. The Law of Karma is justified.

 

It’s important to state that none of these things are intellectual conclusions. You can’t mentally jump to #5 and decide that the universe is perfectly balanced.  As the Vedas constantly repeat, this is knowledge that you become, not knowledge you learn. That human beings are capable of such profound transformation is the message of the world’s wisdom traditions.  In that light, the greatest gift of grace is that having created our own tragic circumstances, we are simultaneously capable of liberating ourselves. This, in essence, is the whole reason for the Law of Karma to exist – as a means of insuring that there is enough equipoise between light and darkness that no one is every truly lost, damned, or devoid of a path to enlightenment. Tagore’s argument for “the human universe” expresses how profoundly he understood the transcendent possibilities in human life.

 

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Five Spiritual Mysteries: #1 Is Karma Fair?

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We live in an especially dispirited time when people say, totally without irony, “Life is unfair” and “No good deed goes unpunished.”  Is there proof that life is, in fact, fair or unfair?  The question doesn’t even make sense if you believe that the universe is cold, random and devoid of meaning.  That’s the usual rationale for saying that life is essentially meaningless, sometimes posed as a scientific view. But no one experiences their own life as being without purpose and meaning, so this rationale begs the question.

 

The Indian spiritual tradition argues that life is completely fair, down to the fall of a leaf, because the universe is morally balanced by the Law of Karma.  The Vedic scriptures go into extensive detail about the operation of karma – in Sanskrit the word simply means “action” – but the gist of a moral universe is simple, as stated by Saint Paul in the New Testament:  ”Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7)

 

In this advice there is an implicit warning about not trying to fool God, who sees every good and bad act.  Jesus makes the same point without the warning: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38) The idea of God balancing good and evil goes back to the Hebrew Bible, as for instance in this verse from the Book of Job: “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.” (Job 4:8)

 

But as soon as you mention Job, you’re reminded that he was a totally righteous man who suffered horrific afflictions essentially because of a wager between God and Satan.  Job doesn’t know that God is testing him, only that the only way he can endure his predicament is to have faith and not renounce the Lord.  And the fact that Jesus, the very emblem of holiness, died on the Cross would seem, on the face of it, to defy and mock the notion that God, the universe, and life are fair. The game seems rigged to the benefit of evil, which can have its way without divine interference, and if you decide that there is no force of cosmic evil, then the alternative is a blind fate, striking down the innocent and the guilty alike.

 

Yet somehow none of this has eradicated the widespread belief that goodness is rewarded and evil punished.  Delaying the reward and punishment until the afterlife or Judgment Day is one way to patch up the holes in the law of Karma.  A similar way is to postpone them until a person’s next incarnation (this escape route is quite common in India, where ill fortune is often passed off, usually with a shrug, as the result of bad acts in a former lifetime).

 

If you want to save the Law of Karma in a serious way, one that makes a difference to how people live their lives, there are a few genuine alternatives that should be considered:

 

1. The balance of good and evil can be taken as basic morality, leading one to live a virtuous life.

2. Evidence of the balance of good and evil can be sought within, through insight and intuition.

3.  The doctrine of the afterlife, with or without reincarnation, can be accepted and justified.

 

The first option is simple and practical. It says, in essence, that the balance of good and evil belongs in the human world. It is we who do good and bad things, so it’s our responsibility to be moral. That’s why a stable, workable society values justice, sets up laws and a court system, adopts a constitution, etc. Human nature may contain much badness, but our better angels – and centuries of experience – have guided us to choose morality over immorality (with a lot of secret slippage). Even gross evils like war can   successfully fit into a model of justice, hence, the “good war.”

 

The problem with this version of karma, making it a human responsibility, is that we are left with a potentially cruel, indifferent, or absent God. We are also stuck with a dead-end universe that offers nothing but random events at its foundation.  Beneath the surface of a civilized society lurks monstrous things – crime, famine, cruelty, repression, despair, famine, poverty – that call humanity itself into question. Indeed, the weight of inhumanity and suffering in the world has been a major motivation for religions, which promise a better life, higher, consciousness, and a transformed world.

 

Which bring us to the second and third versions of karma.  They argue that life isn’t meaningless, that religions aren’t indulging in fairy tales to distract people from total misery, and that a moral creation is, in fact, the one we live in. these points seem ridiculous to many doubters and outright evil to militant atheists, who argue that surviving in the reality of a cold, meaningless universe requires true courage – accepting the nonsense of religion is pure myth and fantasy papering over the countless wrongs committed in the name of God.

 

To counter this rational, secular position requires a deeper look into the Law of Karma and why there are viable alternatives than either blind faith or blind skepticism.

(To be cont.)

 

 

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