Spirituality is the experience of one person’s, one culture’s awareness, where life experience universality. This awareness is our core consciousness that is beyond our mind, intellect, and ego. In religious traditions this core consciousness is referred to as the soul which is part of a collective soul or collective consciousness, which in turn is part of a more universal domain of consciousness referred to in religions as God. When we have even a partial glimpse of this level of awareness we experience joy, insight, intuition, creativity, and freedom of choice. In addition, there is this awakening of love, and kindness; there is a renewed compassion, a real sense of happiness at the success of others. As the troubling thoughts of our mind settles down, our body also begins to heal itself because it also quiets down. The body’s self-repair mechanisms are activated when the mind is at peace because the mind and body are at the deepest level inseparably one. However, it has been throughout mankind, which religion in every form has always been hard to experience and hard to understand, never giving us the answers to questions that lay within the reach of human reason. People in all cultures discovered that by pushing their reasoning powers to the limit, and living as selflessly and compassionately as possible, they experienced a transcendence that enabled them to affirm their suffering with serenity and courage. There is not one human or any other life form that stands alone. People (the self) are always in a relationship with others and the world around them. In Karen Armstrong’s essay “Homo religious”, and Robert Thurman’s essay “Wisdom”, they explore those relationships between religion, self, the universe, and knowledge.
When people believe in something with every fiber of their being, they make sacrifices and live their lives in ways that others on the outside looking in may not understand. Sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zones and do something that we normally would not do to find what is right for ourselves. Stepping out “ekstasis” is a term used in Homo Religiosus, written by Karen Armstrong (p. 27). She writes of a universal principle of most religions, that implies, the only way to truly connect with the “sacred energy” of the universe is to let go of one’s self totally and to put aside preoccupation with promoting one’s own ego and selfishness. However, when a person becomes selfless, that person is then open to what can truly be obtained by doing away with personalities, egos, and other obstacles that tend to limit one from true release; The Greeks referred to this process as kenosis or emptying” (page 34).
In the excerpt “Wisdom” taken from the book Infinite Life (2009), Robert Thurman describes the meaning of “selflessness” in relation to the Buddhist beliefs. Thurman (2009) writes, “Selflessness” does imply that any one person is considered nobody. “To find true “selflessness” we must let go of self-preoccupation and self- centeredness” (Page 464). It is by letting go that the self can find true “enlightenment”. Similarly, Thurman writes that the Buddha was happy not knowing who he was because this “selflessness” made him more compassionate toward others. (Page 463) To know true “selflessness” and “enlightenment” we must remove the “I” from our existence. Thurman (2009) goes on to say; “that when we find true selflessness we discover a true connection between ourselves and others. In addition, we see everyone as equal to ourselves but at the same time different in their own ways” (Page 473).
Karen Armstrong view is that religion has always been a matter of doing rather than thinking. People were able to become more creative and draw on their inner self. Yet, “it is through the experience of “nothingness” that we discover the depths of one’s own being” (p.36). Armstrong expresses the central concern of the self and its connections to the universe as a whole. Energy starts as a consciousness, a self-awareness that nearly every religion in the world experiences, and every scientific theory and or conclusion have based their beliefs on. Self-emptying connects the individual core within our mind and soul with the “sacred energy” of the universe. This is when our senses are no longer our main focus, freeing us and also brings us closer to our soul and our deep thoughts. Nothingness puts creativity into people’s minds, because the presence of nothing means that there are no wrong ideas or beliefs. One of the ways that self-emptying connects the individual with the sacred energy of the universe can be explored, possible through the energy of deep meditation. Armstrong (2009) quotes: “You had to acquire the knack of thinking outside the ordinary” (p. 35). Thinking outside the ordinary is to prepare us for the nothingness, when through our spiritual purification; we will find the reason for our being, and our purpose.
On the other hand, Robert Thurman, author of “Wisdom” shares his knowledge on the Buddhist tradition, and explains what he has learned throughout the teachings by the Buddha. It is with words such as: “Selflessness,” and “Enlightenment,” that we learn why this tradition is followed by so many. What exactly is Enlightenment? And how does it differ from salvation? According to Thurman (2009), enlightenment means to look deeper into yourself, to find out what you’re existence means to life, finding the ultimate answer, the moment that will finally free us from the unhappiness that one feels from everything negative in life, which keeps us a prisoner within our conscious mind and soul. Reaching enlightenment means to finally experience the quiet and oh so calming sense of peace: “Being in the zone.”
Armstrong suggests that through the history of past civilizations, religious beliefs have always been and still is the link that connects us all. Whether spoken through different tongues or through art, the same message has been conveyed: “religious discourse should not attempt to impart clear information about the divine, but should lead to an appreciation of the limits of language and understanding” (p. 38). However, it is the proof in religion throughout mankind that not only feeds our beliefs, but provides the essence of knowing that there is another dimension that could ultimately prove that there is a “Supreme Being.” By exploring the bases of religion in human culture, Armstrong suggests that from ancient times to modern culture mankind’s beliefs have changed and evolved. Humans have gone from believing in many gods that govern our world to a belief in one superior being who created and controls all things. Armstrong also points out that by believing in a “Supreme Being “one loses the ability to understand the all-encompassing, wholly transcendent reality around them” (Pg. 38). This “being” is not one that is in the form of man, but instead encompassed all of what man could see, knowing that life was continual yet, more importantly, it was what he could not see. It simply was a matter of knowing that something bigger than man, in fact, does exist.
It is through the studies of Buddhism that Robert Thurman relates his experience in his essay, “Wisdom.” Thurman speaks of his journey into enlightenment, selflessness, the Buddha, and nirvana. He explains that enlightenment is different from “salvation” as salvation is the deliverance from harm, strife, and struggle. Another view of salvation is the acceptance of Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior. On the other hand, “enlightenment” is the realization of selflessness. Selflessness is the awareness that you are now more perceptive; aware, that you have “opened up your wisdom, and you’ve realized that “knowing who you are” is the trap, an impossible self-objectification” (p.462). In contrast, the fixation with wanting to “know thyself” or self-knowledge “is actually a fundamental misunderstanding, a delusion”, this revelation is what became a defining moment for the Buddha, thus is at the core of the philosophy of Buddhism (p 466).
“The meaning of religion has never really been understood. In order to learn the meaning of religion and what mysteries it has to offer; many cultures present their beliefs through forms of art, music, or poetry. Where science is concerned with facts, religious truth is symbolic and its symbols will vary according to context; they will change as society changes, and the reason for these changes must be understood. Like arts, religion is transformative” (Nielson, 2011). Karen Armstrong elaborates in great length and detail in her essay, “Homo Religiosus,” that some places were in deep caves that had writings on the walls and sometimes they were written over the previous ones. “Like art, the truths of religion require the disciplined cultivation of a different mode of consciousness. For many cultures, keeping religion sacred was to keep religious beliefs secret and holy; for instance, by hiding them in the catacombs and bowels of the earth. Karen Armstrong shares her knowledge of such art by sharing her experiences in the “deep caves located in the Lascaux labyrinth, she comments that there are about six hundred fresco and fifteen hundred engravings there” (p.22). Art, such as these paintings on the walls of caves that date back thousands of years ago, has helped people of all ages throughout the world, ask the same ageless questions: Is there a god? Why are we here? And what is our purpose? Other questions like is there a meaning to our lives? How do we live in peace? Is there life after life? People have come to realize that religion is man’s creation, but the quest for spirituality is the eternal search for a supreme being, the divine and the connection that binds all living beings. However, in order to find the meaning or close to a meaning of religion, we need to keep searching through the many works of art for the deeper meaning to these questions. True art can take a number of forms, but the question we need to ask is this: “Does it do something to me? Does it stir my soul?”
In Native cultures, objects were decorated with the symbols of their tradition. The art and spirituality in the native traditions were intertwined, so they became one. Even so, many religions tried to portray their dogma and biblical stories through the use of art. “Look at the works of Michel Angelo, Leonardo DaVinci and many others.” To this day, we try to see beyond the obvious for clues as to the meanings and secrets contained in the art. Armstrong see’s religion as an expression of art. Still, with some of us, we can have that out of body, in the conscience sense experience and never consider that this would be a privilege, the unknown or the self -emptiness revealing itself. Armstrong states that “people become more alive and creative through the experience of nothingness because it is comparable to a rebirth or rejuvenation of one’s entire being-both spirit and body” (p.27). Life is all around, as is creativity. Armstrong goes on to say that nothingness, is the moment when one’s conscious mind and body becomes the “sacred energy” that holds the breath of life that explains everything you had questions about. Yet, many times in order to experience this nothingness; a person needs to experience a tragedy, the death of a loved one, or face death themselves. In order to feel and understand the meaning of which we are, what is; and accept that there may be nothing more, we need to experience nothingness, and understand enlightenment.
According to Robert Thurman, “Wisdom” he writes: “The Buddha called his failure to know who he was “enlightenment.” that selflessness kindles the sacred fire of compassion; “the inner self is energized with compassion and the infinite life becomes your ongoing work of art” (p.463). This could mean, that helping others will become an art form, that will continue to blossom in various ways. It is through unselfish acts of love and kindness shown to all forms of life, that we feel happiness: “enlightenment.” In Buddhism, the main focus is the mind. “Enlightenment consists in realizing that Buddha-nature exists in everything and everyone” (Lieberman). Buddhism leads you beyond your body, senses, breath, conscious mind, unconscious mind and then to the center of consciousness which is called the soul within you, the main source of light and life within you. Selflessness is to understand that you do not know your inner “self.” the conscious thought that defines your spirit. Whereas, know thy self, defines the outside shell, your persona. This then will lead to discovering selflessness, which is the way to enlightenment.
The overall conclusion is that humankind is by nature linked through the bloodlines of religion. Since recorded time, men and women have demonstrated their beliefs by reaching out to whatever-is-out-there. We have been taught to believe that there is a force greater than ourselves. Yet it is our instinct, or consciousness that ensures us that it is religion that will comfort us, to solve the unexplainable, and enable us to live in peace. Karen Armstrong contends that eventually ultimate reality took on an “approachableness, a holiness, and an everything-ness” that defied definition and abstraction. Whereas, in “Wisdom” by Robert Thurman he only talks about how different Buddhism is and how is does not associate itself with the Christian views, that there is a God. Buddhism teaches how to meditate in order to find the nothingness that will surely bring you to the enlightenment. Nevertheless, people will go on trying to find out if there is a Superior being – “God.” Finally, religion in every form has always been hard to experience and hard to understand, never giving us the answers to questions that lay within the reach of human reason. People in all cultures discovered that by pushing their reasoning powers to the limit, and living as selflessly and compassionately as possible, they experienced a transcendence that enabled them to affirm their suffering with serenity and courage.
“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest-a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. Our task must be to free from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty” (Einstein).