7. Consciousness as God
The soul is in itself a most lovely and perfect image of God.
St. John of the Cross
To many, the statement "I am God" rings of blasphemy. God, according to conventional religion, is the supreme deity, the almighty eternal omniscient creator. How can any lowly human being claim that he or she is God?
When the fourteenth-century Christian priest and mystic Meister Eckhart preached that "God and I are One" he was brought before Pope John XXII and forced to "recant everything that he had falsely taught." Others suffered a worse fate. The tenth-century Islamic mystic al-Hallãj was crucified for using language that claimed an identity with God.
Yet when mystics say "I am God," or words to that effect, they are not talking of an individual person. Their inner explorations have revealed the true nature of the self, and it is this that they identify with God. They are claiming that the essence of self, the sense of "I am" without any personal attributes, is God.
The contemporary scholar and mystic Thomas Merton put it very clearly:
If I penetrate to the depths of my own existence and my own present reality, the indefinable am that is myself in its deepest roots, then through this deep center I pass into the infinite I am which is the very Name of the Almighty.
"I am" is one of the Hebrew names of God, Yahweh. Derived from the Hebrew YHWH, the unspeakable name of God, it is often translated as "I AM THAT I AM."
I am the infinite deep
In whom all the worlds appear to rise.
Beyond all form, forever still.
So am I
Similar claims appear in Eastern traditions. The great Indian sage Sri Ramana Maharshi said:
"I am" is the name of God God is none other than the Self.
In the twelfth century, Ibn-Al-Arabi, one of the most revered Sufi mystics, wrote:
If thou knowest thine own self, thou knowest God.
Shankara, the eight-century Indian saint, whose insights revitalized Hindu teachings, said of his own enlightenment:
I am Brahman I dwell within all beings as the soul, the pure consciousness, the ground of all phenomena... In the days of my ignorance, I used to think of these as being separate from myself. Now I know that I am All.
This sheds new light on the Biblical injunction "Be still, and know that I am God." I do not believe it means:: "Stop fidgeting around and recognize that the person who is speaking to you is the almighty God of all creation." It makes much more sense as an encouragement to still the mind, and know, not as an intellectual understanding but as a direct realization, that the "I am" that is your essential self, the pure consciousness that lies behind all experience, is God.
This concept of God is not of a separate superior being, existing in some other realm, overlooking human affairs and loving or judging us according to our deeds. God is in each and every one of us, the most intimate and undeniable aspect of ourselves. God is the light of consciousness that shines in every mind.
I Am the Truth
Identifying God with the light of consciousness brings new meaning and significance to many traditional descriptions of God.
Whatever is taking place in my mind, whatever I may be thinking, believing, feeling or sensing, the one thing I cannot doubt is consciousness. Consciousness is my only absolute, unquestionable truth. If the faculty of consciousness is God, then God is the truth.
The same applies to other people. The only thing I do not doubt about you is that you are conscious and have your own interior world of experience. I can doubt your physical formindeed, modern physics tells me there is nothing really there, no material thing, that is. All that I perceive of you is a projection in my mind. I can doubt what you say. I can doubt your thoughts and feelings. But I do not doubt that "in there" is another conscious being like myself.
Like God, consciousness is omnipresent. Whatever our experience, consciousness is always there. It is eternal, everlasting.
When I say "I am," I do not mean a separate entity with a body as its nucleus. I mean the totality of being, the ocean of consciousness, the entire universe of all that is and knows.
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
God is omniscient, all-knowing. So too, consciousness is the essence and source of all our knowing. It lies behind all understanding.
God is the creator. Everything in our world, everything we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch; every thought, feeling, fantasy, intimation, hope, and fear; it is all a form that consciousness has taken on. Everything has been created in consciousness from consciousness. I, the light of consciousness, am the creator.
I am the God of my universe. And you are the God of yours.
God is Almighty. What greater power is there than the power of consciousness to appear as the myriad of forms we experience, everything in the world we see, hear, taste. touch and smell.
This pure Mind, the source of everything,
Shines forever and on all with the brilliance of its own perfection.
But the people of the world do not awake to it,
Regarding only that which sees, hears, feels and knows as mind,
Blinded by their own sight, hearing, feeling and knowing,
They do not perceive the spectral brilliance of the source of all substance.
The Materialist Mindset
Not only do traditional descriptions of God make new sense when God is identified with the faculty of consciousness, so do many spiritual practices. The key is the way we create of our personal reality.
In earlier chapters, we considered our construction of reality in terms of our sensory perceptionthe sounds, colors, and sensations we experience. The way in which we produce this picture of the world is more or less hard-wired into the brain. How we interpret this picture, however, varies considerably. You and I may assess a persons actions in very different ways. We may read very different meanings into a news story, or see a situation at work in very different lights. These varying interpretations stem from the beliefs, assumptions and expectations we bring to the situationwhat psychologists call our mind sets.
In much the same way as our various scientific paradigms are founded on an even more fundamental belief, or metaparadigm, the various assumptions that determine the meaning we give to our experience are based on a more fundamental mindset. We believe that inner peace and fulfillment comes from what we have or do in the external world.
Tragically, this way of thinking actually prevents us finding true peace of mind. We can become so busy worrying about whether or not we may be at peace in the future, or so busy being angry or resentful about what has stood in the way of peace in the past, we never have the chance to be at peace in the present.
Dont worry, be happy
The general effect of this material mindset is to put our inner state of mind at the mercy of the external world. In this respect, too, it is similar to the materialist metaparadigm of contemporary science. In both instances, consciousness is assumed to be dependent upon the material world. The current scientific worldview believes that consciousness emerges from the world of space, time and matter. This materialist mindset tells us that our state of mind depends on events in the world around us. And, like the scientific metaparadigm, the mindset that runs our lives is seldom questioned.
We do not have to perceive the world through this mindset. If we perceive things from the perspective that everything we know is a construct of consciousness, everything changes.
With this shift, whether or not we are at peace is no longer determined by what we have or do in the material world. We created our perception of the world. We have given it all the meaning and value it has for us. And, we are free to see it differently.
People are disturbed not by things, but the view they take of them.
Nothing has to be achieved in order to be at peace. All we have to do is stop doingstop wanting things to be different, stop worrying, stop getting upset when things dont go as we would wish, or people dont behave as we think they should. When we stop doing all the things that obscure the peace that is there at our core, we find that what we have been seeking all along is there, waiting silently for us.
This, to me, is Spirituality 101. It is a universal principle, independent of time, culture, or religious belief. And it is the core principle from which many spiritual practices unfold.
The conventional understanding of forgiveness is of some absolution or pardonsomething along the lines, "I know you did wrong, but Ill overlook it this time." But the original meaning of forgiveness is very different. The ancient Greek word for "forgiveness", is aphesis, meaning "to let go." When we forgive another we let go of the judgments we may have projected onto them. We release them from all our interpretations and evaluations, all our thoughts of right or wrong, of friend or foe.
Instead we see that here is another human being caught up in their own illusions about themselves and the world around them. Like us, they feel the need for security, control, recognition, approval, or stimulus. They too probably feel threatened by people and things that prevent them finding fulfillment. And, like us, they sometimes make mistakes. Yet, behind all these errors, there is another child of God simply looking for peace of mind.
Even those we regard as evil are seeking the same goal. It is just that for one reason or anotherwho knows what pain they may have endured in their childhood, or what beliefs they may have adoptedthey seek their own fulfillment in ways that are uncaring, and perhaps even cruel. Deep inside, however, they are another spark of the divine light struggling to find some salvation in this world.
Forgiveness is not something we do for the other person so much as something we do for ourselves. When we let go of our judgments of others, we let go of the source of much of our anger and many of our grievances. Our bad feelings may seem justified at the time, but they dont serve usin fact, they usually cause more damage to us than they do to the other person. The freer we are of our judgments and grievances, the more at peace we can be in ourselves.
There is nothing more painful than walking around with bitterness in your heart.
This change in perception is the essence of a change of consciousness. When I first heard of higher states of consciousness, I imagined they would bring awareness of subtler dimensions, possibly new energies, or some other aspect of reality that was beyond my everyday perception. Over the years, I have gradually realized that enlightenment is seeing the same world, but in a different light. It is not seeing different things so much as seeing things differently.
In every moment I have a choice as to how I see a situation. I can see it through eyes caught in the materialist mindset that worries whether or not I am going to get what I think will make me happy. Alternatively, I can choose to see it through eyes free from the dictates of this thought system.
But it is not always easy to make that choice. Once Ive been caught by a fearful perception, Im seldom aware there could even be another way of seeing things. I think my reality is the only reality.
Sometimes, however, I recognize there could be another way of seeing things, but I dont know what it is. I cant make the shift on my own; I need help. But where to go for help? Other people are as likely to be caught in the same thought system as I am. The place to go for help is deep within, to that level of consciousness that lies beyond the materialistic mindsetto the God within. I have to ask God for help. I have to pray.
When I pray in this way, I am not asking for divine intervention by an external God. I am praying to the divine presence within, to my true self. Moreover, I am not praying for the world to be different than it is. I am praying for a different perception of the world. I am asking for divine intervention where it really countsin the mindsets that govern my thinking.
No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.
The results never cease to impress me. Invariably, I find my fears and judgments drop away. In their place is a sense of ease. Whoever or whatever was troubling me, I now see through more loving and compassionate eyes.
Love is another quality frequently ascribed to God. This love is not to be confused with what generally passes for love in our world, which, more often than not, has its origins in the same materialist mindset that runs many other areas of our lives. We believe that if only other people would think or behave as we want them to, we would be happy. When they dont, we may find ourselves feeling upset, angry, frustrated, or some other less-than-loving emotion. When we meet someone who we think will satisfy our deeper needssomeone, that is, who matches our image of the perfect personour hearts are filled with warm feelings towards them. We say we love them.
Such love is conditional. We love a person for their appearance, their manner, their intellect, their body, their talents, their smell, their dress, their habits, their beliefs and values. We love someone whom we feel is special; someone who matches our expectations, someone who will satisfy our deeper needs, someone who will make our life complete.
Such love is also fragile. If the other person gains weight, develops some annoying habit, or does not care for us as we think they should, our judgments can flip from positive to negative, and the love vanish as quickly as it came.
The love of which the mystics speak is a very different form of love. It is an unconditional love, a love that does not depend on anothers attributes or actions. It is not based on our wants, needs, hopes, fears, or any other manifestation of the egos thought system. Unconditional love is the love that springs forth when the mind has fallen silent, and for once we are free from fear, evaluation and judgment.
When love and hate are both absent,
Everything becomes clear and undisguised
Sosan, The Third Zen Patriarch
Like the peace we seek, this unconditional love is always there at our core. It is not something we have to create; it is part of our inner essence. Pure consciousnessconsciousness not conditioned by the needs and concerns of an individual selfis pure love. I, in my true essence, am love.
As much as we want to feel unconditional love in ourselves, we also want others to feel that love towards us. None of us want to feel criticized, rejected, ignored or manipulated. We want to feel appreciated, honored, and respected. This is true not only in our intimate relationships with our partners and family, but also in our relationships with those we work with, people we meet socially, and even strangers we may encounter on the street or in an airplane . In all our relationships we want to feel cared for.
If love is what we all want, then love is what we should be giving each other. But that is not always easy. Too often we are so busy trying to get love for ourselves, or holding on to the love we have, we forget that other people want exactly the same. Before long we get caught in a vicious circle that denies us the very love we seek.
If we feel hurt over something someone says or doeswhether they intend to hurt us, or whether it is all our own creationour normal response is to defend ourselves by attacking back in kind. Its not the most noble or wisest response, nevertheless if we believe that our happiness depends on how others behave this how we tend to react. If the other person is also trapped in this mindset they are likely to respond in a similar fashion, and do or say something hurtful in return.
So the vicious circle gets set up. On the surface it may seem that a relationship is going well; both people appear friendly, theres no open hostility. But underneath a subtle game is going on. Each person, in their attempts to get the other person to be more loving, is trying to make the other feel hurt rather than loved. Its a tragic lose-lose game, which, if sustained, can ruin the best of relationships.
As easily as the circle is set up, it can be undone. The key is simple: give love rather than withhold it. What this means in practice is that whatever we say, and however we say it, we want the other person to feel loved and cared for rather than attacked and hurt.
If you can conduct yourself in a way that is not detrimental to others or that does not impinge on their freedom, then you are behaving according to dharma.
The Buddha called this "right speech:" If you cannot say something in such a way that the other person feels good on hearing it, then it is better to retain noble silence. This should not be interpreted as a cop-out. "I dont know how to say what I want to say without you getting upset, so I shall just keep quiet." Expressing our thoughts and feelings is valuable; but we need to do so in ways that do not trigger the vicious circle. So we should retain noble silence only so long as we need tountil weve worked out how to say what we have to say in a kind and loving manner.
Spiritual teachings often refer to this as The Golden Rule. "Regard your neighbors gain as your own gain, and your neighbors loss as your loss," says Taoism. The Koran proclaims, "No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself." While Christ said, "All things whatsoever that ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them."
The key is kindness, the intent to cause no harm to others. It springs from the recognition that the light of consciousness shining in us all is divine. We honor God by honoring each other. For each and every one of us is holy.
My religion is kindness.
The Dalai Lama
Unlike the God I rejected as a youth, God as the light of consciousness neither conflicts with my scientific leanings, nor does it run counter to my intuition and reason. Indeed, it points toward an ultimate convergence of science and religion. By convergence I mean more than just a reconciliation between two different worldviews. Various people have traced parallels and areas of similarity between science and spiritualitythe way that quantum theory, for example, is like some Buddhist, Hindu or Taoist teachings on the nature of reality. Or in the way that Old Testament teachings seem to predict recent scientific discoveries. These resemblances are certainly intriguing, but I believe we are heading toward a far more profound convergencea true synthesis of the two in a single, all-embracing worldview.