These are strange times indeed. God is appearing at the top of the news bulletins alongside Tony Blair and William Hague.
The reason is that in his new book, The Grand Design, wheelchair-bound cosmologist Stephen Hawking writes that God is not necessary for the creation of the universe. All it takes is gravity and the laws of physics.
He is, of course, writing theoretically — the curse of our age — but really, he will have to do better than that. If gravity is a pre-condition, where did it come from? And “laws” by definition are mental constructs. Whose?
He’s not the only one. A whole clan of experts in “particles” that have yet to be proved to exist, are using them to underpin a similar view of the universe.
Richard Dawkins continues to grumble away at all things Godlike, as if he’s been hard done by in this world. Perhaps he can’t bear to contemplate a being superior to himself.
Author John Gribbin had a major piece in the Telegraph the other day suggesting that “our” universe was created by slightly superior folk, very like ourselves, in a different universe. Where is William of Ockham when you need him?
They would, naturally, require a slightly larger version of our Large Hadron Collider. God help them.
So there we have it. God is not only dead, but was never needed in the first place. The ultimate example of built-in obsolescence.
Now here’s my view. What, you might ask, are my qualifications for having any view at all on this subject?
First, I’ve spent most of my life seeking an answer to the question posed in the title of this piece. Second, I’ve been looking in a direction completely at variance with that followed by the new breed of cosmologists and particle physicists together with a bunch of science fiction writers who often seem indistinguishable from each other.
Decades spent poring over the world’s mystical texts — West and East — have not only produced a radically different world-view, but also direct experiences that confirm it.
A problem here is that in the lands of the Book religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, any deviation from a strict orthodoxy was/is severely punished by the authorities, often by death. No one was allowed to think outside the Book and the priestly interpretions of it. The result was that many alternative texts are written in a code that only inducted followers could understand.
This was not so in the Hindu and Buddhist lands, at least in the early days. The ancient Upanishads are wonderfully explicit and insightful. For example, “consciousness within and space without are identical.” A Western version of this is the magical, “As above, so below.” This refers to the Unity of Being, the greatest insight of mysticism.
Let’s start at the top. What and where is God?
The word “God” is now so contaminated by usage, false meanings and downright hostility, it would be better to use a different concept. I like to think of it as the Universal Consciousness, which is how it appears more or less in the world’s mystical literature.
The Universal Consciousness is the Unity of Being in which we all participate. We rise and fall within it, share its characteristics, and even its immortality. St Paul wrote something similar about God, if you recall.
But where is it? Can we access it consciously? What precisely comprises it?
To answer these questions we need to look closely at time. There are three fields of time we are all conscious of:
1. The Past: made up of memories and images passed on to us by books, films, education etc. The past is psychological time because it relies on often inaccurate memories and thoughts, which are offshoots of consciousness, to bring it alive.
2. The Future: which is often emotion-based, with anticipations, anxieties, even terrifying visions, such as catastrophic climate change, asteroid strikes, losing one’s job, house and family and, worst of all, illness and death. Because the future is potentiality only, it too is part of psychological time. We waste so much of our lives agonising over our future, when 90 percent of it probably never happens. “Pay no heed to the morrow …” were wise words from an adept.
3. The Present: Now we’re into real time. The present moment is all we have. The real past is a succession of present moments, although it’s actually infinitely variable rather than granular in nature. Science’s major error of judgement is to see time and space as granular, hence the multitude of particles it creates from nowhere. The truth about the universe is that it’s analogue not digital. It’s not the inside of a giant computer, as some geeks have suggested.
Stated bluntly: God is now. The present moment, stripped of all its memories of the past and longings and fears for the future, is where the Universal Consciousness resides. We pass over it (no gender could possibly be ascribed) every day as our minds wander back and forth between then and tomorrow. The mind (ego) hates the present moment because when thought and emotion are bypassed, it ceases to function.
You can see how God is so easily passed over by our eager mind’s propensity to create castles in the sky and a glittering future as a rock star or footballer.
This is the jewelled insight that all genuine mystics have known about for millennia. And it’s so simple and open to scrutiny that anyone can prove it for themselves. There’s no mystery here, as Einstein intimated: “The incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” He wasn’t talking about science, but direct experience.
In my latest book *, I’ve written at length about the processes of proving this one simple thing, and included many examples of very credible figures who have seen through the veil to the truth. I myself followed this path and can vouch that the old texts were right.
Let’s now look at this process, which is outside any organized religious creed or system of worship — although is subtly alluded to in many of them. It is purely experiential and relies on each person’s portion of consciousness.
The clue to it lies oddly in the Catholic theologian Meister Eckhart’s profound statement: The eye with which I see God is the eye with which God sees me.
When we marshal all our consciousness into the present moment, we begin to apprehend the Universal Consciousness and, better yet, It knows us.
That is the moment when amazing things begin to happen. The process initially plays out in two preliminary stages, acknowledged by most faiths and all genuine mystics.
First, we are drawn into a profound stillness which becomes tangible as a kind of light, or golden glow. This is sometimes referred to as the Divine Light. In Christian contemplation, it’s known as the Prayer of Quiet — “prayer” meaning “experience” here. Hindus refer to it as the Bliss State (of which there are said to be eight levels). In general mysticism, it has been called the harbinger of Enlightnment, which is the second stage.
The Irish poet W B Yeats, a follower of mysticism, had such an experience at the age of 50:
My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and an empty cup
On the marble table top.
As on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.
That first stage happened to me spontaneously as I was writing a book on mystical states in Spain. I believe my deep concentration on the task in hand, and absorption in the subject matter, triggered the experience, which lasted a month, rising and falling in consciousness in unpredictable ways.
The second stage is altogether more dramatic and produces a “showing” of the nature of reality, the Unity of Being.
It has been described by many very credible people. I gave an example in this column a month or so ago by the Harvard psychologist William James. Another was F. C. Happold, author of the superb book, Mysticism, who experienced it in his rooms at Peterhouse, Cambridge University. St Teresa of Avila has a long passage on it in her autobiography, written for her “superiors” rather than general publication. Her friend, St John of the Cross writes about it with great precision — if you read beyond the piety required by the Church in those days — in his masterpiece, The Dark Night of the Soul.
My own plunge into this dramatic state occurred 18 months after the first when back in England. I was engaged in my usual early morning limbering-up exercises and thinking about my failure to make further mystical progress, when — and there’s no other way of putting it — the world turned inside out.
The room and its objects were suddenly transparent, while the space that occupied it was alive and vibrant with intelligence. “I” was completely separate from my body, which continued with its exercises. I could actually see it and hear my own chattering thoughts, although I was no longer originating them.
I now had other ways of seeing and hearing away from the body — the “inner senses” as they have been called. The experience was a bit like swimming under water, and seemed similar to Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) even though I was not near death. My body continued with its strenuous exercises right in front of me.
Important intimations were made during this process, mainly about the Unity of Being — everything was part of it — and especially that everything is wonderfully fine as it is. This is similar to Lady Julian of Norwich’s “…All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” which was spoken to her during her own mystical experiences.
Although I was completely out of body, I retained a non-discursive consciousness and was aware of everything that happened. I reflected afterwards that this is what survives physical death. It was a fearless state (no emotions were present, just a kind of deep acceptance).
The world then is a pageant, a training ground perhaps, that we are plunged into as part of the evolution of consciousness. Physical “evolution” as defined by Darwin, is merely a process of following the sophistication of an evolving consciousness. It is not the driver of the world, only consciousness can do that.
Scientists are mistaking the shell for the egg, missing out on the delicious contents. The rest of us should take back what science deprives us of. It’s ultimately quite simple.
When my body had finished its exercise regime, it went into the kitchen to make the customary pot of tea. As the tea was poured, I came back to normal bodily consciousness.
So how do we get to this state of “seeing into self-nature”, as Zen masters put it?
Simply by viewing the world around you with an alert expectancy. This is the most effective meditation there is. Forget wrecking your knees in the Lotus Position or mouthing OM. They are not necessary except as part of a specific religion, and we are in non-religious territory here.
Don’t think about it, or anything else, just project yourself outwards and look at every object with an intense interest. If successful, you will experience an ever-wider Present in all its glory.
As you connect with Now, it will connect with you. As you get to know It, It will get to know you. This is the abode of God.
You have now entered the path of true Holiness, knowing and being known by the Universal Consciousness, and soon every object will light up with what has been called the Effulgence of God. The world will recreate itself as new before your eyes. You will be present at the Creation, and part of it. This is not myth, just not what we have been taught to expect.
You don’t need a priest or an archbishop to tell you this, much less a theoretical physicist. The Bible and other spiritual books are full of mystical insights if only we read them in the right way, as intended, sometimes as code and sometimes as the blazing truth artfully concealed in apparent banality.
And it’s very much simpler than the religions would have us believe. Just look out of yourself intensely and one day you’ll see it, staring you in the face.
In his famous 1960 BBC TV interview with Carl Jung, John Freeman asked him if he believed in God. Jung replied, “I don’t believe in God, I know God.” That is what he meant.
As the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas puts it: See what is in front of your face, and what has been hidden from you will be disclosed to you.
Hawking, Dawkins, Gribbon et al, please pay attention at the back there.
* John Evans is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face?
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