Asteroids, Randomness and the Absolute Truth About God ~ Rabbi Gil Steinlauf

When asteroid 2012 DA14 makes its perilously close encounter and near miss with Earth, there will be plenty of people who will thank God. We all know that one hit from a big asteroid, and life on earth as we know it could be wiped out. But, as some may reason, God is not letting that happen to us. Not now. For now, God is still merciful.

As a deeply religious Jew, I must admit that I cringe when I hear people express certitude that God chooses to avert asteroids or hurricanes or any random destructive force of nature — especially if we pray hard enough. The God I pray to is a God of a 13.7-billion-year-old universe. My God is a God whose majesty and greatness only deepens for me as we collectively discover the ever-expanding mystery of the cosmos. My God is a God of a universe that includes randomness and accidents. And yes, my God is a God of a universe where, sometimes, tragically, bad things happen to good people despite our prayers, and asteroids might hit the earth and wipe almost all life out.

It’s not that my religious traditions and texts don’t affirm the classic omnipotent, infallible God who runs the show. I have come to see, however, that religious texts and rituals exist not so much to shape hardened, dogmatic beliefs about God or the universe.

The judgmental Heavenly Monarch-on-the-Throne imagery isn’t there to be taken literally. It’s there to capture the awe and mystery of our experience of life itself. When I contemplate a 45-meter-wide boulder hurtling to earth at 17,500 miles-per-hour, I am terrified and humbled. When I hear it will come right in line with the orbits of some GPS satellites — and then miss us — yes, I’m relieved. But I’m also further humbled and awe-struck that life as we know it is so precious and tenuous. And it’s right in that moment, in that uncanny experience of fear and wonder, that I truly find God. My God arises not in arrogant assertions of Absolute Truth, but in those life-experiences that inspire the greatest of doubt and a multiplicity of more questions.

In Judaism, there is a tradition that when someone survives a near-miss brush with death, they are called up before the congregation to “bensch gomel,” to say a blessing acknowledging their survival. They say, in effect, Although I am unworthy, I bless God who has been good to me. And the congregation responds together: May God continue to be good to you, Selah! On the surface, this ritual smacks of the conventional benevolent-despot God, a God who might not choose to be so nice to us next time, especially if we misbehave. But if you look deeper at that ritual, you begin to find that the imagery of a God meting out goodness to the unworthy is actually just a vessel, a technology. It’s a technology that fashions a moment in time, a moment of an individual acknowledging their humility and wonder together with their people. It’s a moment of no illusions, no answers, no certainties — only the Truth that we are together in this uncertain, imperfect, miraculous moment of being alive. The moment becomes sacred not so much in the words recited, but in our mutually felt connection to each other. I am comfortable calling such a moment, “an experience of God.” And I fully respect those who might choose not to name it at all.

The meteorite which fell in Russia’s Urals on Feb 15, 2013 injuring more than 1,000 people.

So when Earth’s gravitational field sends 2012 DA14 hurtling away from us faster than a speeding bullet, it will be a moment for all life on Earth to collectively “bensch gomel,” no matter what our religion, even if we don’t believe in God at all. It’s a moment for us to acknowledge the power of prayers, rituals, blessings and yes, even age-old notions of God — however we conceive of God — in the service of what is really Divine: In this often frightening, chaotic, deeply imperfect and perilous universe, here we are! We’re alive, and what’s more–we are affirming that life can be Good even as it is so precious and fleeting. And most importantly, 2012 DA14 reminds us that despite the terrible uncertainty of it all, we are so blessed to have each other for the time that we’re here.

From Here To Here: Turning Toward Enlightenment by Gary Crowley [updated Feb 21, 2013]

From Here To Here is a guidebook for the spiritual seeker.

It invites you to look at your spiritual path from a perspective that few consider and gives you the keys to understanding what few will ever realize. Its underlying message is that enlightenment’s only complication is its devastating simplicity. Rich with metaphors, examples, and teaching stories, the book also offers important, easy-to-understand concepts from psychology, brain science, and common sense.

From Here to Here is written for the earnest spiritual seeker who yearns to see through their illusions and encounter what already is. It guides you to a place where you can experience a message that is simple, yet profound; unique, but also ancient. It is a little book with a clear and powerful message.

The predicament of spiritual seekers can be likened to that of a man who rises each morning and faces West in hope of seeing a sunrise. Like this man “facing the wrong way,” the spiritual seeker also requires an understanding that will shift his or her orientation. With understanding, the seeker can finally turn and see that what they have been looking for has been right here all along.

Excerpt:

Enlightenment is devastatingly simple. Although questions regarding enlightenment often become complicated, the answer always remains simple: enlightenment is the direct result of freedom from the illusion of a separate self. A profound understanding of this ultimate simplicity provides all that is required for an awakening to enlightenment.

Gary Crowley was raised in Seekonk, Massachusetts, and lived in the same blue-collar Irish Catholic home in the same child-packed neighborhood for the next eighteen years. Then he moved to California to attend Stanford, graduating with a B.A.in Economics and another in Political Science. He now lives in Encinitas, California, which is near San Diego.

Gary is a bodyworker whose practice focuses on people with chronic structural pain. He was trained in Rolfing (also known as Structural Integration) eighteen years ago. He calls his work Functional Bodywork.

Click here to browse inside

In 2006, he published the book From Here to Here: Turning Toward Enlightenment. Gary’s website is http://www.garycrowley.com.

Gary Crowley – Buddha at the Gas Pump Interview

Gary Crowley was born in 1965 and was raised in Massachusetts as a practical-minded New Englander. He graduated from Stanford University in 1987 with degrees in Economics and Political Science.

At a young age, he was attracted to Eastern philosophy and spiritual writings that seemed to offer a glimpse of something greater than the life he had known growing up.

However, by 2001, Gary finally gave up on all forms of spiritual seeking after decades on the path. He surrendered under the weight of the many well-intended spiritual teachings he’d accumulated over the years. All the study had not caused the shift in awareness that he’d so earnestly sought and had been so often promised.

The problem, he then realized, was that he had been simply piling up concepts without addressing the very foundation — his sense of “self” — that was doing the seeking.

He discovered that it is only by dismantling our assumptions about “who we are,” rather than merely describing a state of being such as oneness or wholeness, that we can bring about a natural opening to a new way of experiencing life.

Gary’s site: http://garycrowley.com/

Gary’s books:

Pass the Jelly: Tales of Ordinary Enlightenment
From Here to Here: Turning Toward Enlightenment

Interview recorded 8/11/2010.

Advaita Made Easy ~ Dennis Waite

Who are you? What happens when you die? Is there a God? Is the universe created? Advaita is a teaching with a tradition of thousands of years which provides totally reasonable answers to all such questions. This essential introduction from the acclaimed author of numerous books on the subject will demonstrate why it is so successful

Book Extract

Chapter 7 – Has the universe been created?

Creation

Religions, together with those philosophies that accept the existence of a god, usually claim that God is the creator of the universe. When they use this word ‘creation’, however, what they invariably mean is that God is the intelligent cause of the universe. Indeed, probably the most commonly used argument for God is the argument from design and the metaphor often encountered is the one of the watchmaker.

When we look at the internal mechanism of a watch, it is said, the workings are so complex that it is inconceivable that they could have come together accidentally – there must be an intelligent designer. In the same way, then, since the world around us exhibits so much complexity and yet all of the various functions operate together with beauty and efficiency, there must be an intelligence behind its creation.

Philosophy differentiates the ‘intelligent cause’ as described here from the ‘material cause’. As an example a wooden table or chair has, as its intelligent cause, a carpenter (ignoring the complications of modern self-assembly furniture). But the material cause of both (table and chair, that is – not carpenter) is wood. Advaita is unique amongst philosophies in claiming that God (or more pedantically Ishvara) is the material cause as well as the intelligent cause. This follows from the earlier discussions on ‘mithya’, since we have seen that everything has Brahman (i.e. Ishvara from the perspective of vyavahara) as its ultimate substrate or dependent reality.

Of course, if you are really alert, you might at this point be asking how there can be a creation at all, since this seems to contradict the very basis of the statement made by Advaita that ‘there are not two things’. And you would be right to do so! Hopefully, this chapter will resolve such issues!

Attribution and rescission

First of all, it is necessary to mention one of the fundamental aspects in the teaching of advaita, namely the practice of stating something as true and then later modifying it – attribution and rescission or retraction. The technical term for this is ‘adhyaropa – apavada’. What it means in essence is that what you’re told initially may not actually be completely true! It is the intention of the teacher to address a seeker at his or her present level of understanding. By analogy, if you think of someone learning mathematics, there would be little point in teaching differential calculus to a student who has yet to learn algebra, and algebra would be of little value to someone who did not even know basic arithmetic.

Note that this does not mean that you cannot trust what the teacher tells you! In fact, many teachers will give you the bottom line right from the start, even though you will almost certainly not understand why it is so. What they will then do, however, is start from the beginning, using simple arithmetic! There is no point in being impatient. You have to take it step by step. Indeed, patience is one of the mental prerequisites for studying Advaita.

For example, there are several accounts in the Upanishads of how the world was created by God. Typically, these involve progressive creation from the basic elements but the various stories differ widely in detail. The skeptic can easily use this as an argument for pointing out the inconsistency in the scriptures. But they are not meant to be taken literally. At a simplistic level, they may be viewed in much the same way as one might tell a young child that she was ‘brought by the storks’, rather than attempting a description of the process of conception, growth in the womb and birth. It satisfies for the time being until she is ready for a more sophisticated explanation.

Differing theories of creation

To continue, then, with the developing explanation of creation: Because Advaita utilizes this methodology of providing explanations appropriate to the level of understanding of the student, it is also natural that it should make use of theories provided by other schools of philosophy. And so it does! The next major explanation to be presented is that used by the Sankhya philosophers. It is called ‘satkarya vada’ and this means the theory (vada) that the effect (karya) is already existent (sat). More usually, it is said that the effect already exists in the cause and the metaphor that is often used to explain this is that of the sculptures of Michelangelo. It is said that he used to claim that he did not really create his sculptures; rather he chiseled away the marble to reveal what was already there beneath.

This is how Sankhya (and Yoga) philosophers envisaged creation and another name they used was ‘transformation’. The unmanifest nature was ‘transformed’ into the people and objects that we see in the world around us.

Two other schools, the Nyaya and Vaisheshika philosophies held the opposite view, namely that an effect was not pre-existing in the cause but created anew by the efficient cause (e.g. Michelangelo). And Advaita (eventually) shows how each of these theories successfully contradicts the other and that neither is therefore tenable. The first is tantamount to saying that something that already exists can be born. The second effectively says that something can come out of nothing. For example, chipping away the marble might reveal a fully functioning Aston Martin instead. (And this argument applies equally to the Big Bang theory, of course. How could the creation come out of nothing? It would, at the very least, contradict the Law of Conservation of mass-energy.)

This analysis leads on to the more sophisticated explanation of what is called vivarta vada – the theory that the effect is only an apparent transformation. The argument is that the confusion arises because of language. We give something a name for convenience and, as a result of constant use, we take it for granted that the word refers to some separately existing thing. The classic examples that are quoted in the scriptures are clay-pot and gold-ring-bangle etc. When the potter makes a pot out of a lump of clay, the resultant object clearly has a new function. It can hold a liquid so that we can use it as a drinking vessel, for example. But we quickly forget that the pot is not a new thing in its own right. In the beginning, it was simply a lump of clay. Now, it is clay shaped into a more useful form. If we break it, it will still be clay, albeit now in pieces with little use of their own. It is never anything other than clay.

Problem of language

The Chandogya Upanishad (6.1.4 – 6) says that any product is only a new word: “just as, through a single clod of clay, all that is made of clay would become known, for all modification is but name based upon words and the clay alone is real…” And the same argument applies to everything. Any given object, as we learned earlier is only mithya; its reality is always only Brahman. Its seeming difference depends ultimately on mere words. The making of the pot is simply changing the form of the clay and giving it a new name.

In the same way, then, when the world and the jiva come into being, all that is happening is that Brahman is acquiring new forms and new names to go with them. But, before, during and after, all that actually exists is Brahman.

No creation

And that brings us to the ultimate explanation for creation, when all of the earlier, provisional theories have been rescinded. This is simply that there has never been any creation at all. This is called ajati vada – the ‘unborn’ theory. If the world can neither exist nor not-exist prior to creation, the only logical conclusion is that there has not been any creation at all. This is the contention of Gaudapada, supposed to have been the teacher of Shankara’s guru. The theory is called ajati vada (ajati means ‘not born’). The world has always existed because effectively there is no world – there is only name and form of the non-dual Brahman. Gaudapada, in his explanatory verses on one of the Upanishads, says: “No kind of jiva is ever born nor is there any cause for any such birth. The ultimate truth is that nothing whatsoever is born.”

Below is the list of contents from the book (which, as the title implies, aims to give a short, traditionally authentic, and comprehensive introduction to the subject):

1. What is Advaita?

Introduction
Meaning
Origin
What does it say?
Terminology

2. How ought we to act?

Desire, Action and Results
Karma and Reincarnation
Goals of Life
Free Will

3. What is real and what is illusion?

Waking versus Dream
Mithya
Adhyasa
‘Levels of Reality’
Maya

4. Why is Self-knowledge so important?

5. Am I only this body and mind?

6. Who am I?
Jivas
Ishvara
Brahman
Who am I?
Reflected Consciousnes

7. Has the universe been created?
Creation
Attribution and rescission
Differing theories of creation
Problem of language
No creation

8. How do I become enlightened?
‘Paths’ to realization
What to do to gain enlightenment
Preparation
Three Stages of Learning
Jivanmukti

9. Why is traditional Advaita so powerful?
An arithmetical example
The Sheath Model
Discrimination between the Seer and the Seen
Arundhati logic
Method of Co-presence and Co-absence

10. What different approaches are there?
Categories of Teaching
Enlightenment
Conclusion
What should you read to find out more?

Click here to browse inside.

For more of Dennis Waite’s literary works View here.

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