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Ours is a unique age because it presents us with a unique challenge. The development during the last two hundred years of a rationally based science has brought about an unprecedented technological revolution, resulting in a welcomed rise in the material standard of living for much of the world's population. At the same time, however, this science has also undermined or destroyed our ancient religious traditions-traditions which, historically, have been the primary carriers of those transcendent spiritual and moral values that are as necessary to human welfare and happiness as any of the material necessities of life. The challenge of our age in a nutshell, then, is: how to recover those transcendent values without abandoning our science or our reason?
The Center for Sacred Sciences, founded in 1987 as a nonprofit, tax exempt organization, tries to respond to this challenge by fulfilling three major tasks:
To demonstrate that, despite their outward diversity, all religions share a common inner or Gnostic Truth to which the mystics in every tradition testify; and furthermore, that, although this Truth transcends the truths of reason and science, it is not incompatible with them.
To help foster a New World View in which both spiritual and scientific truths can be seen as different but complementary ways of describing a single, underlying Reality.
To develop and maintain a community of spiritual practitioners for those who wish to receive teachings and instructions in various spiritual disciplines presented in a contemporary form, but adapted from the Great Traditions of the past.
This pamphlet spells out these tasks in more detail, and describes some of the specific services which the Center for Sacred Sciences provides both for its members and the public at large.
What separates science from religion in most people's minds is an apparent difference in their approach to truth. Whereas science insists that any truth worthy of the name should be verifiable by experience, religion seems to demand that we accept its truths on faith alone. Unfortunately, this view is reinforced by the fact that many people who call themselves "religious" hold it as well. To them, religious teachings are valid simply because they have been spoken by an inspired prophet or written down in some holy book. This is enough to establish them as unquestionable dogmas, requiring no further means of verification. Faced with such an attitude it is not surprising that when those of us who reject dogmatism hear the word "religion," we close our minds to the whole subject.
If we take the time to examine the world's great spiritual traditions more closely, however, we find that the same criteria which differentiate scientific from dogmatic truth also differentiate two approaches to truth within the field of religion itself-the approach of the mystic and that of the mere believer. Thus, while the mere believer is content to accept whatever his or her religion teaches as literally the "word of God," the mystic understands spiritual teachings to be but crude verbal expressions of a Profound nonverbal Insight or Gnosis (direct Realization) of a Unified Reality or Consciousness which underlies all the apparent multiplicity of experience. Moreover, because this Gnosis is nonverbal, mystics recognize that all attempts to describe it in words (including those spoken by prophets and written in holy books) must ultimately prove inadequate. The real purpose of spiritual teachings, then, is not to lay down any dogmas, but to help awaken this same Insight or Gnosis in anyone who aspires to personally verify what the teachings themselves can only partially convey. "You must Realize for yourself!" declared the great Hindu sage, Shankara, a millenium and a half ago, and in one form or another this exhortation has been echoed down the centuries by the mystics of all traditions.
Yet even if we recognize that mystics are no less insistent than scientists on the necessity for personal verification of their teachings, our difficulties in trying to understand these teachings are not at an end. Because most of us have been raised in a scientific culture, the truth claims of science sound to our ears quite plausible (even if we ourselves have never bothered to verify them.) The truth claims of mystics, on the other hand, can seem, well, quite mystifying.
What, for example, are we to make of the traditional Hindu assertion that you and I and every other apparently individual 'self' are, in reality, identical to Brahman, the Absolute and Unqualified Ground of all Being? Or the Buddhist claim that nothing-including your 'self'-actually exists? Or Jesus' repeated admonition that we must 'die' to our mundane selves in order to become "one with the Father?" Such baffling statements certainly seem incompatible with our everyday experiences. Consequently, we are apt to dismiss them as being, if not completely mad, at least quite unintelligible.
But what about the following?
To most of us this scribble is far less intelligible than the pronouncement of any mystic. In fact, it is Schrodinger's equation which, according to quantum mechanics, describes the behavior of all unobserved matter and, thus, represents one of the most comprehensive truth claims of modern science. The problem is that only someone trained in the disciplines of science can understand what this equation means, let alone personally verify whether or not it is true.
And just how does one get such training? First, one must apply to a school staffed by qualified teachers (those who have themselves mastered the disciplines of science.) Next, one must study appropriate textbooks which explain scientific truth claims, define the terms in which they are expressed, and describe the procedures by which great scientists of the past have verified them. Finally, one must repeatedly practice these procedures in a laboratory, learning first hand how to carry them out. Only after one has gained some minimum proficiency in these disciplines will one be in a position to understand and test the truth claims of science for oneself.
The same principle applies to the truth claims of mystics. If one wishes to understand and test mystical teachings, one must avail oneself of a qualified teacher (a mystic), study appropriate texts, and train in those procedures (spiritual practices) by which the great mystics of the past have verified these teachings. In other words, like the physical sciences, mystical traditions not only insist on the possibility of a personal verification of their claims, they also have well-defined methodologies for accomplishing it. For this reason, mystical traditions have rightly been called "sciences of the sacred."
Presenting this view of religion as a sacred science to the general public constitutes one of the major aims of the Center for Sacred Sciences. To this end we maintain a library of mystical teachings selected from all spiritual traditions, host speakers, show videos, and provide a regular series of Sunday talks. Through such educational programs we hope to show that, while the ultimate insights of religion do indeed transcend the reaches of science, they do not stand in opposition to it or its demand for well-defined verification procedures.
To point out certain similarities between the physical and sacred sciences, however, is not to imply that they are identical. There are major differences, not the least of which is the focus of their respective investigations. Whereas the physical scientist tries to understand the objects perceived in consciousness, the sacred scientist (or spiritual seeker) concentrates on the subject to consciousness-i.e., the 'self' or 'I' that is doing the perceiving. Because the 'self' or 'I' is more elusive than any physical phenomena, spiritual investigation is, in some ways, more demanding than the investigations of physical science. On the other hand, because the 'self' or 'I' is a more or less constant component of all our experience, spiritual seeking is generally far more accessible to the average person than a career in physical science.
A scientist, for example, usually requires a laboratory full of expensive equipment, but the spiritual seeker's laboratory may consist of nothing more than a meditation pillow. And while a scientist may have to travel long distances to conduct a particular experiment (say, to observe a solar eclipse), the spiritual seeker's experiments are fashioned out of the material of his or her everyday life. Thus, though few of us may have the resources to become scientists, virtually everyone has the potential to follow a spiritual path if so inspired.
For those who are so inspired, the next question is: which path should I choose? This question can be especially puzzling in our own time when so many different paths seem available. It is not too difficult for anyone living in a western country today to find teachers representing a variety of authentic mystical disciplines-Hindu, Buddhist, Christian or Islamic. And while some people will be quite comfortable following any one of these traditional paths, others will not.
This is due in part to the fact that most traditional paths were developed in prescientific cultures. Consequently, many of their teachings are expressed in terms of cosmologies or worldviews which we no longer find relevant. Semimagical rites, miracle tales, dress and dietary codes, for example, may seem quite out of place in a science-oriented society, and those who adopt them often end up leading a kind of schizophrenic existence. They rely on a scientific worldview for the conduct of their daily affairs, but look to a different, perhaps contradictory worldview to guide their spiritual life. The question then naturally arises: Is it possible to incorporate both science and mysticism into a single, coherent worldview?
We believe that it is, and this for three reasons. The first is that up until the first quarter of the twentieth century science was wedded to a materialist philosophy which was inherently antagonistic to all forms of religious insight. With the advent of quantum physics, however, this materialist philosophy has become scientifically untenable. That is, the evidence of science itself contradicts a purely materialistic account of the universe. Something else must be taken into consideration: the role of consciousness. More specifically, according to quantum physics, it is no longer possible to conceive of the objects of consciousness as being fundamentally separable from the subject which observes them. This situation has led to a series of paradoxes at the very heart of modern scientific thought. As a result, science has had to abandon its materialist philosophy and is currently in search of some other explanation for its own findings.
This does not mean, of course, that science presently supports a mystical worldview. It does not. What it does mean, however, is that science can never return to the naive materialism upon which it once relied; thus, a major obstacle to any rapprochement between science and mysticism has been effectively removed.
The second reason is that, in the past, religions themselves often have been antagonistic to each other, each claiming that its own particular expression of Spiritual Truth was the sole legitimate one. But this situation, too, is changing. Over the last several decades, religious scholars and translators have made available an increasingly large body of original texts drawn from various spiritual traditions. From the "global perspective" afforded us by comparative studies of these texts we can begin to see that, beneath the superficial debates of the theologians, there has always been a remarkable undercurrent of unity-both of gnostic insight and methodological procedures-running through all religions.
Most remarkable of all, however, is that the starting point of virtually every mystical tradition has been precisely that paradox which so plagues modern science-namely, the relationship of the observer to the observed, of the 'I' to the 'other', of self to world. In fact, it is just the mystery of this relationship which mystics of all traditions claim is resolved in Gnosis: The knower and the known, the seeker and the sought, the Father and the son are Realized to be not two, but One!
Thus, where scientific inquiry ends in the riddle of the relationship between subject and object, mystical inquiry begins. And it is here, at this very juncture, that a hidden continuity between these seemingly disparate disciplines starts to reveal itself. Once this is grasped, the problem of constructing a new worldview reduces essentially to the question of precise formulation. Can this continuity between science and mysticism be expressed in a language satisfactory to both?
This brings us to the third and final reason for believing that such a worldview is possible. There is, indeed, a language which can express this continuity-a language which was originally developed for just this purpose by a lineage of Greek mystics stretching from Pythagoras to Plato, and which (although it has subsequently lost sight of its own mystical origins) has already become the universal language of modern science. We are, of course, referring to the language of mathematics.
In fact, a very promising start in using the language of mathematics to unite science and mysticism has already been made by G. Spencer-Brown in his book Laws of Form. Through a "calculus of indications" Spencer-Brown has demonstrated how all forms may be seen to arise from a formless "void", evolving naturally and logically into a vast dynamic display of complexity of the kind we witness everywhere in nature. If this calculus can be extended to cover the mathematics which govern modern physics (as other mathematicians are currently in the process of doing), then both science and mysticism will have been brought within the purview of a common language that can form the spine of just the sort of worldview we have in mind. In such a worldview the truths of science would flow seamlessly from the deeper truths of religion, while the various religious traditions themselves would be seen as but branches of a single Great Tradition which has been nourishing the whole of humanity with its indispensable moral and spiritual fruits since the dawn of our species.
Helping to create such a worldview is the second major purpose for which the Center for Sacred Sciences was founded. We do this primarily through offering educational programs to the general public and by encouraging our own members to become familiar with pertinent developments in science, mathematics, and related fields. However, we are under no illusion that a new worldview can be fully constructed or widely disseminated overnight. The fulfillment of such a vision is a historical task which may take generations to complete.
In the meantime, what about today's spiritual seeker-the person who is intrigued by mystical teachings but finds many of the traditional forms in which they are expressed obsolete? Serving the needs of a seeker in this position constitutes the third and most important function of the Center for Sacred Sciences.
To do this we have over the past several years developed a community of practitioners (or Practitioners' Group) for individuals who are ready to make a strong personal commitment to leading a disciplined spiritual life but have not found any of the traditional paths suitable.
Our Community rests on three pillars: teacher, teachings, and practice. It is as though we were traveling together to some unknown country. Our teacher functions as our guide, our teachings provide the map, and our practice represents the actual journey each of us must make. All three are interrelated and equally essential, but for clarity's sake we shall discuss them here one at a time.
Our teacher is Joel Morwood, the Spiritual Director of the Center for Sacred Sciences and himself a Gnostic. This is some of what Joel has to say about himself and his role:
Some people who have come to me have been disappointed to discover that I have no special powers to transmit, no magic wand to wave, no extraordinary knowledge to dispense which can make them instantly wise, loving, and happy. "Who, then, are you?" they ask. "What's your secret? What qualifies you to be a spiritual teacher?"
What qualifies me is this: Having suffered myself, I entered the path myself. Having entered the path myself, I walked the way myself. Having walked the way myself, I reached the end myself. Having reached the end myself, I became free of my self and all its sufferings.
This is my secret. This is what I teach: SELFLESSNESS. In reality, there is no 'you' nor 'I' nor any 'self' whatsoever. There is only Infinite Consciousness-the One True God-which is what we are. All that is necessary is to Realize This; because to Realize This is Wisdom; to Live This is Love; to Be This is Happiness. So, if you really want to know my secret for yourself, look to your 'self'. In finding the source of your 'self', you will find This SELFLESSNESS. Then, you, too, will be free.
In addition, we might add that Joel wears no robes, turbans, beads or sandals. In fact, he goes about in old blue jeans, sweatshirts, and a raggedy Mexican poncho. He also drinks beer, smokes cigarettes, and insists on being treated like a "regular guy." Why, then, did we ask him to be our teacher?
For one thing, Joel speaks from his own Realization, or Gnosis. Although he makes use of stories, texts, and practices taken from many different traditions, his interpretations are always spontaneous, direct, and personal. He is never satisfied with a show of mere intellectual understanding, but continually points us to a Truth that is beyond both thought and experience. Moreover, he constantly tries to link the teachings with concrete examples drawn from our own lives so that we can see how they actually relate to our own experiences. In all this Joel displays an intuition, sensitivity and humor which could never have come from book-learning alone.
Also, the fact that Joel has no pretensions about being someone "special" makes him approachable not only as a teacher, but as a friend. He is a wonderful listener who knows how to pierce right to the heart of a problem. Often he can point out ways of viewing a situation from an entirely new perspective, yet he always insists we take responsibility for making our own decisions. Moreover, when he has no advice to offer, he doesn't hesitate to say simply, "I don't know."
Finally, Joel is a teacher who always challenges us to see for ourselves. Far from demanding blind obedience, or even verbal agreement, he encourages us to test everything against our own experience and our own experience against the hard realities of life. In his view, a true spiritual path never leads one away from reality but, on the contrary, forces one to face it squarely, no matter how ugly or painful it may appear. It is only by getting to the bottom of suffering that suffering can be ended. Beyond that, Joel assures us, there is the Boundless Joy of Consciousness Itself-and, indeed, with his guidance we sometimes catch a glimpse of this as well!
More information about Joel and his own spiritual path may be found in his autobiography, Naked Through the Gate.
Our teachings are taken from the teachings of the mystics of all traditions-Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Judaic, Taoist, etc. To help guide our own practice, we translate and summarize these teachings into FIVE FUNDAMENTALS. For example, we translate all the terms used in the various traditions for the Ultimate or Transcendent Reality (Brahman, Buddha-nature, Tao, God, Allah, etc.) with the single term Consciousness. Likewise, we translate all the words for Enlightenment (Jnana, Prajna, Devekuth, Union, Fana, etc.) by the one word Gnosis.
As has already been said, the purpose of spiritual practice is to make us capable of verifying these teachings through our own Realization or Gnosis. From the mystic's perspective, however, such a Realization does not entail the acquisition of some new, complicated form of knowledge. Rather, it is just the opposite. We must rid ourselves of years of accumulated false knowledge or "delusions" which hide Gnosis from us. Once these delusions are cleared away, the Truth, as the Hindus say, will be as obvious "as an amalka fruit held in the palm of the hand." In other words, Gnosis is not something one acquires from outside, but something one discovers already present within oneself.
Since the root delusion, which hides Gnosis from us, is the experience of being an individual 'I' or 'self' separated from the world and God, we take this experience of self as the focal point of our practice. It is not possible here to give a full account of how all the various principles and virtues relate to this focal point, but some idea of the dynamics of our path may be gleaned from the following discussion of our four basic disciplines: Inquiry, Meditation, Morality, and Devotion.
In summary then, Our Path begins with paying attention to ourselves, with a quest for that separate 'I' which we believe ourselves to be. Through a commitment to meditation we free attention from its habitual distractions and carry our inquiry beyond the range of thought into the realm of immediate experience. By adopting precepts we learn to break the compulsive cycle of selfish actions and to detach from those desires and fears which fuel it. Finally, in practicing devotion we learn to surrender our attachment to the last and most formidable delusion of selfhood, the sense of 'self-will'. Quite paradoxically, however, we never do find the original object of our search, an 'I' or 'self' or any 'thing' at all. And yet, in the process, a radical transformation has occurred. What began as an inward quest for one's imaginary 'self' opens up to embrace the whole world as it displays itself in a Consciousness which Itself has no limits, no boundaries, no subject, no object, no content, no form, no beginning, and no end. And it is here, in this space, that, by the Grace of the Real, one may suddenly Realize: I AM NONE OTHER THAN THIS VERY CONSCIOUSNESS ITSELF!
This is the end of the path which is also the end of all ends and the beginning of That Life which is the True Life, without beginning and without end.
Since the Center for Sacred Sciences was founded, hundreds of people have availed themselves of our services to one degree or another. Some have simply attended our public workshops or speakers' forums to learn more about Mysticism in general or a particular tradition. Others have joined our library and become regular borrowers with no further commitment than paying a small annual donation to help defray the costs of maintaining it. Still others have become supporting members of the Center, attending our Sunday programs regularly and pledging monthly dues of whatever amount they can afford.
All these levels of participation are welcome and it is our policy never to pressure anyone to participate more than they wish. However, if you think you might want to join our Practitioners' Group, here are some things you should know.
To be a member of the Practitioners' Group means you wish to make a strong, personal commitment to pursuing the kind of spiritual path outlined in this pamphlet. Obviously, you cannot be absolutely certain that our Practitioners' Group is right for you until you have actually tried it. Still, you should get to know as much about the Center as you can before making up your mind. For this reason we ask prospective practitioners to first become supporting members of the Center, attend Sunday programs for a while, and read Joel's autobiography, Naked Through the Gate.
The next step is to request an interview with Joel. He will ask about your previous spiritual experience and assign you some catch-up reading. He will also give you a more detailed meditation instruction and suggest a specific precept to begin working on. After trying out these practices for a month or so, Joel will meet with you again to discuss them. If you both agree that the Practitioners' Group seems right for you, you may start attending our weekly meetings. At that time one of our senior practitioners will act as your sponsor to help you feel fully at home.
Whether or not you wish to become a member of our Practitioners' Group, however, we hope you will utilize the other resources which our Center provides for spiritual development. For if we are to create a new, sacred society [even as the present materialist society decays around us], the place to start is within. Each of us must rediscover in his or her own heart those transcendent spiritual and moral values which have always been the beacons of human destiny. Indeed, now perhaps more than at any other time in history, are we in need of such lights. In reviewing the upheavals of this past century, which has included two world wars, the development of nuclear weapons, and the increasing despoliation of our habitat-the great historian Arnold Toynbee wrote:
This swift succession of catastrophic events on a steeply mounting gradient inevitably inspires a dark doubt about our future, and this doubt threatens to undermine our faith and hope at a critical eleventh hour which calls for the utmost exertion of these saving spiritual faculties. Here is a challenge which we cannot evade, and our destiny depends on our response.
Most of us can imagine all too well the devastating consequences of a failure to meet this challenge. But it is harder to envision what success might bring. How would a sacred society differ from our own? The truth is we cannot know this in any detail before it occurs, for the human adventure is a living and, thus, creative enterprise. Yet we may glean some clue from the words of another prophet of long ago, whose people apparently faced a similar crisis-the Biblical Joel:
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.
The question for us is, are we capable of receiving this "spirit"? Do we dare to dream such dreams, to become vehicles of such visions? If the answer is yes, then our faith and hope are vindicated, for it means the process of spiritual regeneration has already begun.