Although any real religion potentially connects to the essential, one must commit to a connection with the imagery in order for it to become charged with the essential. The Tibetans know all about this technology. They call it “deity yoga”. One learns about a deity and the vision it projects, immerses oneself in it, enters into a complete relationship with it, becomes one with it, opens to the revelation of its essential nature, and is thereby “completed” through realizing as one’s own nature the essential qualities of the deity. The gnosis has happened, and the deity becomes the focus of its luminosity.
While the comparative study of religions promotes an understanding of the perennial philosophy behind all of them, it tends to be a merely intellectual exercise producing a sense of relativity. As a lifelong student of comparative religions, it has taken me a long time to understand this. A syncretic understanding of religions and “appreciation of all symbols” is not deity yoga, because the connecting and charging do not take place. Or, it takes place as an abstraction, which does not truly touch one’s existence. Syncretic understanding is trivial relative to true gnosis, and it is deceiving because it masks ignosis. To be a scholar of a religion is not to discover its true treasure. One thinks one is finding the treasure, but one is only becoming an authority on treasure maps. This shifting from the authentic pursuit of gnosis to mere intellectual enquiry, while existentially less demanding and better rewarded in academia, is in fact deeply disillusioning, an aspect of “the greater darkness” described by the Upanishad verse quoted above. In this lies the fallacy of religious scholarship — that knowing all sorts of facts about religions and their symbols somehow produces the boons of authentically engaging with one. In my experience, there is a subtle bitterness lurking among scholars of religion. Those that I have known as wise men appreciate all religions, but they tend to practice and enter one specific religious structure with childlike dedication.
Therefore, Christian “believers” have an important point: to receive the true boons of Christianity, one has to engage completely with its imagery. The Christian way of doing deity yoga is faith — believe it absolutely against all assaults of common sense, keep studying the Bible, and develop a personal relationship to Jesus Christ. This is the famous pari, or “gamble”, prescribed by the seventeenth century French philosopher Blaise Pascal as a bulwark against the encroachments of reason. Faith and its devout practice is the traditional and time honored way that this imagery and symbology become charged — that is, taps into the essential and begins to feed back into the existence of the faithful. In this devoted engagement, the immanent capacity of gnosis to reveal itself, which Christians call the “Holy Spirit”, becomes activated to illuminate the essential in moment-to-moment existence. This produces the happiness and serenity that “true Christians” enjoy.
The “truth” in this is what the Tibetans have understood to be the way the charging of the imagery is accomplished, drawing the believer into the essential. But in the case of Christianity, this is complicated, and it is no wonder that it is confusing. It succeeds, but it carries with it many dangers.
One danger is that Christianity, being a theistic religion, stops the process at the point of interaction with the deity. One sees oneself as an isolated ego separate from the deity — in this case, Jesus Christ and/or God, and in Catholicism Mary or any of the saints. The worshipper is completely identified with the ego as separate from the deity, so the process towards completion is largely stunted into a relationship of supplication. The communion is there to overcome this separation, but it is often poorly understood, especially in a culture that has lost its grounding in gnosis.
The proposition that Christianity is the only true religion is a militant truth, a claim characteristic of all three Semitic religions. Islam and Judaism are also the “only” truths. Throughout their history this has justified war and aggression. This seems to be a characteristic of monotheism. Buddhism, Taoism, and the many forms of Hinduism have no such impulse or need to defend their unique claim to the truth. Each of them is based on the understanding that every human can come to the essential only by following a unique path into gnosis.
Christianity is indeed unique, as all believers believe. Jesus was a great teacher and example of the essential. As a deity, Christ is a medium into the essential, called the logos, the primordial word or intelligence of Being, which is God. The Holy Spirit is the presence of the essential, which expresses itself intimately and imminently, in daily life. These symbols and images are unique to Christianity, but the only truth is the essential to which they give access.
In Christianity the confusion of image with fact tends to overwhelm its essential function. The biblical elements declared in the Nicene Creed, for instance, are understood to be historical and factual. This fundamental belief in “the way God works in history” comes from Judaism. In some ways, it has given strength to Christianity, but its rigid entitlement also causes its unique vulnerability and error. In the name of faith, belief gets confused with fact: essential imagery, with historical truth. When fact and historical truth is relativized, the power of the religion is neutralized.
The authority of Christianity is generally justified by words attributed by the church fathers to Jesus: “I am the truth and the way. Only through me can you come to the Father.” This is set forth as a spiritual statement, but it hides a political one. When the architects of the Church codified the Bible, they had an eye on establishing their authority in the mode of the imperial structure of the Roman Empire. They used these words to consolidate the authority that is still claimed by Catholicism. In this sense it is a political statement. But if the man Jesus (who was no Christian!) did indeed say these words, he meant that the way he had to show is the essential way to Godliness. This is the real spiritual statement. There is only one essential gnosis.
Where this confusion reigns, intolerance is justified. In egoistic zeal, the Christian arrogantly imposes this misguided version of truth and factuality upon the world as the one and only truth. In the name of an ultimate authority, the Christian Church over history became a moral dictatorship advancing the power and greed of its leaders. Intolerance leads to violence and militancy. And this breeds manifold evils: the wars of religion which have slaughtere
d more people in the West th
an any other kind of war, and the ‘divine right’ of the White Man which became an entitlement to conquer and control the world. It has made a violent mockery of the essential word of Jesus Christ, leading the West down the path of error, foolishness and depravity.
Even today, churches with grand overheads tend in this direction. The Catholic church is the star. Rather than freeing up the essential, it stifles it. Lovers of freedom rebel, but they throw out the baby with the bathwater. This, together with the misunderstanding of the nature of religious truths and the contradictory belief in the propositions of science has, in Nietzsche’s terms, “killed God”.
The function of religion should be to bring about essential truth, but this high calling in no way exempts from error the institutions of religion. True religion is the great hope for the collectivity, but false religion, rightly derided as “the opiate of the people” is its undoing.