Prologue: The Religious Life

When you are faithful, to say what is fitting is not of greater value than to listen.  –  The Sentences of Sextus

In the course of my studies, I have aimed to seek out the classics.  I have tried to identify the most cherished sources of philosophical and religious knowledge in the possession of mankind that I might find some unity in which I could take solace, knowing that it is not only I who have come to believe in these principles, but many who have similarly, or better, to a greater extent than I, dedicated themselves to such a pursuit.  I have not chosen for the present work any position which I do not myself endorse, and I did not simply and blindly choose from the positions of these great humans, but I did come to think of it as folly insofar that I should refuse to overlook these wonderful contributions out of a sense that I ought to arrive at my destination entirely independently of them.

For too long, I privileged the notion of making these discoveries my own.  I thought it proper that any fundamental moral obligations I may have must be discernible independently of outside sources, for I did (and continue to) recognize that one cannot be obligated to some end which one is incapable of attaining.  In matters of religion, therefore, it seemed to me that a just God would have, by necessity, given me those resources through which I could arrive at the proper ends under any circumstances which may befall me, including a dearth of reference material for my consultation.

That fundamental understanding continues to guide me and has prohibited outright the consideration of many modern mainstream systems of religious thought.  Wherever it may be proclaimed that some other person or source of information is necessary for one’s own moral standing, it is my estimation that one must immediately hold the system of which that proclamation is a part with the highest suspicion.  It must not be dismissed in its entirety, for as the saying goes, even a stopped clock is correct twice a day, but it must be assessed with the utmost caution, for it seems to me that any such system is, at a crucial point, predicated on nonsense.

The treasures of antiquities are perhaps stacked most high in our libraries.  To see them all, or even only those which might rightly be judged to have the greatest value among the rest, in a single lifetime is likely an utter impossibility.  Let that also be another warning against the adoption of the position that one’s moral value rests upon any one of those treasures, glorious though they may be.  It seems to me that it is in great part because of this overwhelming flood of treasure in which modern man finds himself that there appears to exist the peculiar and counterintuitive blight of spirituality and moral direction among us, today.  To even begin to assess the merits of the mainstream systems of thought, alone, seems an impossible task.

It may be that I am blessed with a rare and stubborn incapacity to disregard this venture.  As I age, and in the course of discussions with others, it seems to me that most people express to me agreement in nearly the entirety of what I have stated above, and yet, the conclusions left them without motivation to pursue the very studies to which I was motivated thereby.

It is my hope, insofar as this understanding is accurate, that I may produce something of a handbook for those who share my aims.  I recognize that it is but one of myriad such offerings, but, as I stated above, I find that most of the mainstream, so to speak, offerings in these matters are beset by critical flaws at their outset.  They tie moral value to strange, seemingly irrelevant precepts by convolutions of thought which have been generated and sustained across millennia, and when they reach beyond those knots they frequently drown in dogmatism.

So it is my hope that I may provide a sort of alternative wherein I outline those discoveries I have made in a fashion similar to those mainstream offerings.  Too often, I find that those who do commit their lives to these studies are condemned to increasingly narrow works which, of critical importance though they are, fail to provide this most important resource.  If those who study philosophy and religion cannot make available some semblance of their findings to a general audience, then whatever critical advancements are made in their works will be doomed to obscurity.

To this end, I hope to produce the sort of guide that a tourist might seek when entering a museum.  In this work, one shall find no final refutation, nor any ultimate argument, nor perhaps even any new assertion.  It is an attempt at brief synthesis, demarcating broadly and plainly that system of belief which has been developed in this one man’s pursuit of truth.  I will attempt to organize those disparate sources of authority which have contributed so greatly to my present state into a cohesive whole which will give some sense to the reader of the ideas I have discovered which might bring them some value or solace relevant to their own concerns and inquiries.  Perhaps it will remain only a small reminder for myself, but I could think of no reason to maintain it privately, for though small, a costless potential to benefit others is worth actualizing.

These are words and thoughts that have served me well, and I wish to put them forth in one concise volume that they may continue in their good service with others.

You shall not tell me by languages and titles a catalogue of the volumes you have read.  You shall make me feel what periods you have lived.  A man shall be the Temple of Fame.  He shall walk, as the poets have described that goddess, in a robe painted all over with wonderful events and experiences – his own form and features by their exalted intelligence shall be that variegated vest…He shall be the priest of Pan, and bring with him into humble cottages the blessing of the morning stars and all the recorded benefits of heaven and earth.  –  Emerson, History

When I began my graduate study of the history of religion, I was distressed to find among those at my institution a desolate landscape of uninspired, hopeful careerists lacking any genuine interest for those matters in whose evaluation they were allegedly engaged.  They were principally interested in following the latest academic fads, “deconstructing” their subject matter to the point at which it was actually proposed that the word “religion” cannot be defined.  When I pointed out that, lacking a definition, the entire sector of academia of which we were all ostensibly a part would be rendered merely as “undefined studies,” the objection was deemed an irrelevant attempt to “do philosophy” in their midst.

And so it went throughout my painful days in that program.  Therein, those treasures of antiquity amounted to so many unheeded words and endless, meaningless reinvestigation of that which is already well understood was promoted incessantly. Worse yet, where those investigations somehow rose beyond pure nonsense, they invariably yielded only the haziest of notions, in the most charitable sense, all of which were, to whatever extent they were sensible, utterly counterproductive.  Wherever steps were actually taken, they seemed always to be backwards.  And yet, nearly each staggering move was hailed unanimously among my peers as insightful new critiques of age-old, often well-established, beliefs.

This is a travesty, for the religious life is, if nothing else, a vital, vigorous pursuit of righteousness, far from such stifling nonsense.  One must not only listen and speak, but one must partake in the truth through the exercise of every available faculty.  To take up cloak and club, following in the steps of mighty Heracles, and mould this life into a radiant tower of virtue, this is the ultimate piety, and nothing less.

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.  –  James

One must live in the knowledge that these bodies endure only briefly, and that the ends of Mind are vast and innumerable.  In that light, one must spend the precious moments of one’s life accordingly.  Fundamentally, I believe it is by these means that one is properly known to be religious.  The most genuine belief in the goodness of God and the necessity and sufficiency of virtue is expressed in the entirety of one’s life; the ultimate argument for one’s religion transcends propositions and reason as the valiant life lived in accordance therewith.

Laozi said:  The vital essence of mind can be influenced spiritually but cannot be guided by talk.  –  Wenzi

It is the radiance of the righteous life by which one may effect the greatest change in the world.  This focus on the primacy of life over any accompanying text arises from clear understanding, for religious virtue is not the product of any particular learned treatise or noble act, but rather it is the cause thereof.  It is this connection between mankind and the divine cause which must be cultivated, not the texts which naturally grow from it.

Insofar as religious writing has value, it attests to this fundamental truth.  The works of all cultures can be judged by their relationship to the universal divine Mind which brings about all their creation.  Every culture I have studied displays awareness of this fundamental reality.

Now when God fashioned human beings, he planted in them emotions and inclinations, but at the same time he enthroned the mind among the senses as a sacred governor over them all.  To the mind he gave the law; and one who lives subject to this will rule a kingdom that is temperate, just, good, and courageous.  –  4 Maccabees

And so the religious life demands of its constituents no particular text or event.  The awareness and power of God is offered to every creature possessed of Mind equally.  Though wise words and histories of heroic lives stand as inspiration and encouragement for those who come upon them, there is no need for any understanding or conviction beyond that primal, simple faith in the Mind which sends every creature on its Way.  Religion is a matter of faithful devotion to the natural life rightly lived, for by nature, man channels the virtuous movements of Mind.

At the end of argument, that which ought to be is derived from that which is not by reason, but by a necessary and rationally justified faith in the divinity of Mind.

Understand who God is, and understand who thinks within you; a good person is God’s good work.  – The Sentences of Sextus

From that faith sprouts a virtuous accord which earns for that Mind the peace of righteousness, and it is therein that God is revealed to mankind.  Just beyond the boundary of comprehension, religion is earned for those who seek, for the nature of creation is a connection with that soul in whose power mankind partakes, that Celestial Mind in whose movement all is found.  It is a relationship which every creature shares with that only force any of them shall ever know to be free.  The Prime Mover moves of its own accord; it is the source of the Law, action, and consequence, and it is intimate in the hearts of the righteous.

He who devotes himself to God, is God. – Kabir

This is the foundation of religion.  It is but emphasis on the core of Cynic, Stoic, and Neoplatonic philosophy, that the very nature of mankind is holy.  It is emphasis on the core of Daoic thought, for one is to act without contrivance, joining with that flowing power of creative spontaneity within.  It is an emphasis on the core of Buddhist thought, which seeks to eliminate desire so as to leave only the unperturbed Buddha Nature, the One Mind of Huang Bo.  It is an emphasis on the core of Abrahamic thought which holds aloft righteousness, the imitation of God, as the greatest aim of man.

Everywhere a blameless life, pleasing to the Mind of God, is sought.  This alone is the aim of the religious, and it is an incontestable faith, and not reasoned argument, which is its essence.

Those divinely possessed and inspired have at least the knowledge that they hold some greater thing within them though they cannot tell what it is; from the movements that stir them and the utterances that come from them they perceive the power, not themselves, that moves them: in the same way, it must be, we stand towards the Supreme when we hold the Intellectual-Principle pure; we know the divine Mind within, that which gives Being and all else of that order: but we know, too, that other, know that it is none of these, but a nobler principle than anything we know as Being; fuller and greater; above reason, mind and feeling; conferring these powers, not to be confounded with them.  –  Plotinus, The Enneads

There shall be no explanation of this Prime Mover.  We know it cannot be understood, and yet its presence is made apparent by the conditions of experience and existence.  As the ultimate cause, it must transcend reason, for reason cannot beget reason.  It is on this account that religion, that faith in the divinity of Mind, is ultimately the foundation of all human enterprise.

Now all I do is put in motion the heavenly mechanism in me ‑ I’m not aware of how the thing works.  –  Zhuangzi, Autumn Floods

And that faith is far from ignorance, for it requires neither a foolish dismissal of fact nor a stubborn rejection of that which is plain and obvious.  Rather, it is an acknowledgment of that which is plain and obvious to each and every conscious being;  it is the loving embrace of that irrefutable and irresistible freedom of will on which rests knowledge itself.  Try as one might, it is a divinity which cannot be denied.  And once accepted, the faith of the religious is a conviction that the movement of God provides philosophers with the final answer they seek not by word or proposition, but with the peace of righteousness, itself.

We human beings take up our lives to offer in part that experience by which the character of God, the nature of Mind in which we partake, shall be judged.  We put ourselves on trial in place of the Lord of Being who cannot be so tried, that the justification of our Way is found by faithful engagement with that force through which all creation is joined in a Divine Unity.  We are myriad organs of God, that Over-Soul which extends its force of Mind into creation, shaping and moving it in inquiry thereby.

So set your face to the upright religion, the primordial nature which God has instilled in man.  –  The Holy Koran

Required of these lives is something like an intensity of focus, a drive hardly conveyed in language.  To those who partake thereof, transcending cause and effect, joining with that which is mysterious and obscure to human understanding, it is Allah, the Way, Holy Zeus, Buddha Nature, the One and Divine Mind of Plotinus, God, spread in repose, handing down Heaven’s Gifts.

It is not merely a possibility which is entertained, but a faithful hypothesis born of experience itself, that God is immanent and real, yet ineffable.  Those religious experiences which I would have been reluctant to share had it not been for the zeal which they inspired in me I shall finally admit to be without meaningful critique.  To let go of one’s fear that it is naught but foolish or willful ignorance on which turns this experience we share with those myriad heroes of history, and to instead see it to be a metaphysical intimation at the root of consciousness itself, here I am convinced one will find enlightenment.  Now, on the shoulders of giants, I see.  In line with the trajectory of Confucius, I find I am firmly established.

Say in your heart that whatever you do well, God does. – The Sentences of Sextus

And so if nothing else, let this short treatise be an exhortation to the holy life of virtue.  As God’s viceroys, it is we who have the power to create and control.  It is we who take the helm of the world and follow that injunction of autonomy which the righteous cannot neglect.  It is we who experience in this microcosm the justification of creation in the eyes of God, and it is us through whom the justification must be warranted.

We must expend of that which is provided, and come to be possessed of Mind as a result.  As a river’s bed is made soft and fertile by nature, so too shall a perfect character be honed by the holy waters of Mind.  The ultimate answer offered to the understanding is a peace, a happiness for which nothing less than virtue shall do, enjoyed by the righteous who stand for God through the power provided thereby.

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