we try a broad-brush assessment of our modern world. On the plus
side, there have been gains in physical well-being, gains in personal
freedom, and gains in the ability to think more clearly and critically.
Because of increased communication, a wider perspective is available.
And there have been helpful insights and useful discoveries in
science. On the minus side, the gains in freedom, economics, health,
and access to ideas are uneven; the mental pace is too fast; there
is too much psychological dis-ease; there are small pleasures
instead of deep satisfaction; there is little vision; and there
are rabidly held beliefs.
of the minuses, there are many negative ways in which our world
could evolve. The disruptions caused by terrorists and rogue states
could increase. The global economic or energy systems could collapse.
The majority of people on the planet could subscribe to the materialistic
view that more stuff is better. Friendship could wane and
do we avoid these negative outcomes? What positive visions can
we substitute? And how do we bring these visions into being? The
answers lie in a healthier form of religion and in the spiritual
art of personality. Before we can accept these answers, however,
we must be persuaded that there is something beyond this apparent
physical world, something that implies more to life than me
field of expertise is physics (I was on the Rutgers physics faculty
for 30 years), so I will outline how physics can help to break
the grip of materialismthe belief that this physical life
is all there is. This approach has the advantage that it uses
the language and wisdom specific to our time to corroborate and
extend the insights of ancient and modern mystics. After establishing
that physics supports the existence of the nonphysical world of
the mystic, we will briefly describe the spiritual art of personality
and the mystical society of the future.
see what insights physics has to offer, we must see how it works.
Physics uses experiments and mathematics to gain an understanding
of the physical universe. A simple example, first done by Galileo
around 1600, is to carefully observe falling objects. A little
experimenting shows that (neglecting air resistance) all objects
fall at the same ratea remarkable "universal" law! More
detailed experimenting shows that if one object falls for twice
as many seconds as another, it will go 4 times as farexactly
4 times as far; or, if it falls for 3 times as long, it will go
9 times as far, etc. Around the same time that Galileo was experimenting,
Kepler found by observation that planets followed exact elliptical
orbits around the sun.
two investigations established a large part of the paradigm of
physics: (1), perform experiments or make observations that are
as numerically exact as possible, and then (2), find simple mathematical
formulas that agree as closely as possible with the results. Because
of this methodology, in which mathematical theories are checked
many times and in many ways by exact numerical comparison with
experiment, the theories of physics can be trusted to a very high
third idea in the paradigm of physics is that of generality and
unity. In the 17th century, Newton discovered a very general theory
for treating the motion of objects. It was general enough that
it included Galileo's and Kepler's results as special cases, and
it could explain many, many other observations as well. Newton's
mathematical theory (he had to invent calculus before he could
discover his theory) unified physics, with each particular problemfalling
objects, planetary motion, how strong a bridge has to be, the
generation of electricity, the shape of a wing that allows an
airplane to flybeing a special case of the general theory.
Newton's mathematical "model" of the physical universe was deterministic;
once the universe was set in motion, the futureincluding
our thoughts and actionswas determined forever. But even
though Newton's model did (and still does) extremely well at describing
our daily world, it didn't properly describe all the attributes
of matter. For example, it predicted that an infinite amount of
energy should radiate from the white-hot filament of an incandescent
light bulb. And it had no explanation for why neon atoms emit
red light of a certain wavelength. To explain these and other
results, the scientists of the early 20th century had to discover
mechanics does extremely well at predicting the properties of
the physical world. For example, it predicts exactly how much
light the white-hot filament of a light bulb emits. And it gives
the exact color (wavelength) of the light emitted by a neon atom.
In fact, there are an enormous number of observations that quantum
mechanics accurately predicts, and there are no known instances
where quantum mechanics fails! Because of this unqualified success,
because of the incredibly large numbers of experiments (many millions)
that have been done to check it, and because of its amazing unity
and very tightly interlocking internal consistency, we can surmise
that the essential ideas in quantum mechanics will never
be superseded. Thus we can use quantum mechanics to deduce something
about the fundamental nature of existence.
are the essential ideas of the quantum mechanical view of the
physical world? The first concerns the nature of matter. In Newtonian
physics, the physical world is made up of particlesatoms,
electrons, photons, etc. But in quantum mechanics, the world is
made up of wavessimilar to water waves or light waves
or sound waves. The second, and more important essential idea,
concerns how many (potential) realities there are! As we said,
the world is deterministic in the mathematics of Newtonian mechanics;
there is only one possible version of physical reality. But in
the mathematics of quantum mechanics, there are many possible
versions of reality! One example of this is the famous Schroedinger's
cat thought experiment; in it, the cat (in the math at least)
can be both dead and alive at the same time.
we have this strange situation: quantum mechanics never gives
wrong numerical answers, and yetviolating the simplest observationit
predicts many versions of reality instead of the single one we
perceive. How are we to deal with this awkward fact? The traditional
response in physics is that, because we perceive a single
version of reality, there must be only a single version of reality.
More specifically, physicists assume there is an as-yet-undiscovered
Newtonian-like theory of particles underlying quantum mechanics.
But there is absolutely no evidence this is true; and in
fact the evidence points the other way. So we are consistent with
physical theory if we assume there really are many versions of
reality, all coexisting together!
has enormous consequences. Since only one version of reality is
seen but many are present, there must be something that perceives
only that one version. This "something" must be outside the
phsyical universe. Because it is nonphysical, it presumably
survives the death of our physical body. One could call it our
soul, if you like.
what do we have here? At the very least, we see that science does
not show that religion is just a childish way of thinking. But
we see further that if the extremely successful theory of quantum
mechanics is taken at face value, then there is a virtual proof
of the existence of a nonphysical world akin to that spoken of
by the mystics! Thus there is nothing in science that prohibits
us from seeing the world from a spiritual point of view. And so
we are freeat least in this senseto begin the spiritual
SPIRITUAL QUEST: Traditional Religion
to begin? One possibility is in traditional religion. The positive
aspects of traditional religions are their sense of community
and care for humanity. But when you really want to pursue the
spiritual path, their ideology and methodology are usually insufficient.
Why? Most religions have historical roots related to specific
figuresthe Jewish prophets, Jesus, Muhammadwho saw
from a much wider and more accurate perspective than ordinary
people. But after the prophets died, their followers, who didn't
have real insight, codified their prophet's view. This lessened
the power of the original vision through each generation, until
now the different religions have rigid doctrines that are often
at odds with each otherand with the perspective of a thoughtful
person. So it is usually difficult for the modern person to ground
their search in a traditional religion.
SPIRITUAL QUEST: Reading
more helpful beginning is to read; read from the great mystical
traditionsthe various branches of Buddhism, the Jewish prophets
and the Kabbala, the Sufi poets, especially Rumi, the best of
the Christian mystics. But as you read, remember three things.
The first is that, as we said above, virtually all the traditions
lose their truth as they age.
remember that there are many different paths in religion. Eventually,
they all converge to the same place. But each of us starts from
a different place and has different inclinations. So as you read,
be aware of the different points of view of the various paths.
There are devotional paths, intellectual paths, compassionate
paths, paths of social reform, paths that emphasize the group
experience, paths that emphasize the monastic approach, active
paths, passive paths, introspective paths, paths where answers
are given, paths where you must figure most of it out yourself,
paths that emphasize the role of the teacher. Look for these differences,
and see which of the paths agree with you.
in reading about all these different approaches, you must learn
to trust your own judgement. In fact, trusting yourself is one
of the goals of spiritual development.
the same time as you read, it is good if you can find a group
centered around a true teacher. Because you gain strength, encouragement
and joy from them, it is an enormous advantage to be associated
with a group that has a dedicated but balanced orientation.
Reading helps, but what you really need is to do practices, for
the spiritual life is more experiential than conceptual. I will
give a practice or two here. The first is: As you go about your
daily life, simply be aware of your breath. The reasons why this
works are beyond the scope of this article.
aware that, in spite of the simplicity of stating it, this practice
is a skill. It will take a long time before you remember
to do it often; think in terms of months and years, rather than
days or weeks, for learning this skill. In the meantime, don't
disparage yourself because you don't remember, or because you
get tired of doing it. This basic practice can carry you very
far along the path. It will help you become aware of the nonphysical,
mystical world. And it will also reduce the tensions that severely
limit your freedom and sap your creativity.
SPIRITUAL ART OF PERSONALITY
are two parts to the life of one on the path. The first is one's
relationship to God (orif you don't like the concept of
Godone's relationship to the nonphysical world of the mystic).
And the other is what you do in this world. The breath
practice is aimed primarily at the first part, the inner world,
although it certainly helps in the outer world. The spiritual
art of personality is more pointed towards the second part, although
in the end it is absolutely essential for one's relationship to
raw material we have is our selves. The personality of this self
includes our habits, our aspirations, our desires, our fears,
our perception of how others see us, our strengths, our interests,
and so on. The goals of each self are creativity, friendship and
freedom from that which limits us. Our personality should help
us towards these goals rather than hindering us (by giving in
to habits or being directed more by fears than aspirations, for
in the spiritual art of personality (which goes well beyond
morality training and the surface personality) is of the utmost
importance in our present world. For as we look at the world
around us, we see that most of our problems, from individual to
internationalinsensitivity to others, a narrow perspective,
greed, corruption, intolerant fundamentalism, wars, and so onare
caused by "defects" in the personalilties of those involved.
aware of personality, yours and otherswhat defines it, shallower
and deeper levels, what motivates people at various levels, how
fears and habits get in the way of creativity, friendship and
freedom. But don't become critical of others, and be
easy on yourself. Also, as with all practices, keep this in
perspective. Don't obsess on it, don't become introspective, don't
gossip. Keep in mind the gentle rhythm of the breath.
This is a more specific practice than the last one. Suppose you
often get angry (most of us do this more than we realize), and
that you have decided this is a habit that wastes your energy
and attention, a habit you would rather be without. To start the
process of getting rid of anger, choose one hour a day and do
not outwardly express anger during that time. Do this, at the
same time each day, for thirty days.
practice is difficult: We forget. We rationalize our right to
be angry. Or we feel that anger is not really under our control;
it is brought about by the events in our lives. But our anger
is under our control. And we can, with practice, remember.
So just stay with the practice for the full thirty days and you
will see some progress.
you're doing the practice, be easy on yourself; don't run yourself
down. It's just very difficult to break mind-sets. If the practice
doesn't agree with you, if it is inducing too many negative thoughts,
give it up. There are many other practices to try.
There are a number of other "negative" personality traits one
can use the same technique onprocrastination, negative views
of yourself, etc. There are also other, positive, ways to affect
the personality. If, for example, one concentrates on strength
of willor insight, friendship, compassion, wisdom, subtlety,
true inner beauty or strength, and so onfor, say 10 minutes
a day, you will begin to develop this quality. The concentration
will somewhat automatically stay with you throughout the day,
and you will begin to see how to develop that trait in a practical
way. Whatever you concentrate on, you become.
MYSTICAL SOCIETY OF THE FUTURE
consider the potential for society in a spiritual or mystical
sense. It is difficult to comprehend. Think of your highest moments
of intimacy, friendship and creativity, and imagine what life
would be like if everyone were in that stateand even higher
statesmuch of the time. The friction, the negativity, and
the fears of our society would fall away and be replaced by the
joy of existence. There would still be sadness, but it would not
unduly weigh us down.
would not be a belief; it would simply be the milieu in which
we lived. Its practice would not be separate from ordinary life,
as religious practice often is now.
would be emphasizednot the reading, reasoning, and repetition
which is a part of many religionsbut true experience: the
experience, before you die, of what awareness is like after you
die; or the experience of knowing Great Beings, or even of being
aware of God.
would be little dogma, and no Bible or other absolute authority,
but there would be a wealth of poetic, insightful writing that
the student could use for guidance. Teaching and advice for students
would be available, but there would be no compulsion towards a
particular belief in this mystical religion, for compulsion does
not lead to a proper appreciation of the truth.
would be no strict applies-to-all code of conductabout diet,
dress, drinking, or even pacifism, for example (although there
would certainly be mutual respect for each other). Such a code,
especially at more advanced levels, would run counter to the goal
of developing truly magnificent wise beings who are powerfully
self-sufficient, compassionate, and capable of deep friendship.
practices and outer forms of mystical religion would not remain
the same from one time and place to another. Why? Because in each
time and place, there is a mind-set that severely limits the world
view of all those who are not mystics, and so the practices and
outer forms must be tailored toward dissolving the blockages specific
to the times.
the mystical religion of the future would be natural. The mystic's
domain is the nature of existence, all of existence, so
how could mysticism not be natural?
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