A Partly Tongue-in-cheek Look at “Ultimate Reality” ?????
Zip Dobyns - October 1996
How many conceptions of ultimate reality and power are possible? The three volume Encyclopedia of American Religions by J Gordon Melton lists 1,500 different religious bodies. Melton would not include Atheism or Agnosticism or Scientific Materialism in his listing since they are not represented by official religious bodies, but they are also religions. Your religion is your belief system defining the nature of truth, reality, morality, etc. Whether you call it a world view or weltanshauung to use a German term; whether your beliefs about the world are shared by millions or are your unique conceptual system, they determine your value hierarchy, your goals, what you trust, where you look for meaning, and where you end up in life. The following are just a few of the belief systems accepted by humans in different times and places, including brief statements about the logical way to deal with each of them if we accept it as TRUTH.
1. Random physical forces without inherent meaning have created and control the world. They are unknowable and unpredictable. There is no existence other than the physical life here.
Response 1: Hope for luck while you are alive and hang on to life as long as you can.
Response 2: Agree with Sartre that to be human is to choose, that later choices are determined by an unmotivated original choice which is absurd. Express your freedom by doing what you please, but to be moral, also respect the freedom of others.
2. Lawful physical forces without inherent meaning have created and control the world. They are partly random but at least partly knowable and predictable. The physical brain creates consciousness, so it ends when the brain dies.
Response 3: Learn as many of the laws as possible and control as much as possible. As with Response 1, hang on to life as long as you can. Multimillion dollar medical treatments are justified even if they prolong life just a few more weeks. This is the belief and response of modern western science which includes A: Atheists who know they possess final truth about reality and no god or gods could exist. B: Agnostics who believe that final cause and the nature of ultimate reality is unknown or unknowable.
3. A personal God created the world and went on to other interests, leaving the world to keep running according to the way it was originally organized.
Use Response 3 but with some respect for consensus morality since there is a good chance that there might be some kind of existence after the physical world, and it might be affected by our actions here.
4. A personal God created the world and laid down a set of rules for humans, including rewards for compliance and punishments for disobedience. No excuse for ignorance. The rewards or punishments continue in a spiritual world for eternity after this physical life.
Response 4: Obey your religious teacher or book and stifle any doubts. Pray a lot! Staying with others who have the same beliefs and staying very busy will help you avoid dangerous doubts which might lead you astray.
Variations on Belief 4:
A: Though the God who created the world is good, He is allowing an evil angel (the devil) to control the physical world and to tempt humans. This has been going on for some thousands of years, but eventually God will collect all His worshippers in heaven and the devil will get to torture everyone else forever.
Use Response 4 and really put your heart into it!
B: God has already decided who He will save who will go on living in heaven, and who will be sent to Hell. Your material success in this physical world is a clue to which is your destiny.
Response 5: Work very hard to be successful in the physical world and hope that you are one of the “elect” who will get to heaven.
5. A number of Gods who have human personalities but with much more power created and rule the world. They demand obedience, worship, and offerings. Their power continues in other worlds where you go after the death of the physical body.
Use Response 4, but watch out for the danger of old Gods being replaced by new ones with different demands. Different gods might be in control in different areas or times.
Variations on Belief 5:
A: the planets are the gods which rule the world.
Use Response 4, including rituals, offerings, and prayers, and wear appropriate gems and charms. Also, part of Response 3 can be helpful. Learn the “laws” of the planetary patterns and do as little as possible on the “bad” days and do what you want on the “good” days.
B: The planets create or control physical forces which rule the world.
Use Response 3, as described in the preceding statement. Stay in bed on the “bad” days (e.g., when Mercury is retrograde or the Moon is void of course), and do what you want on the “good” days. You don’t have to worry about offerings and prayers. If you are smart enough, or have a smart astrologer advising you, you can be as successful in the physical world as the hard workers using Response 5. For anything beyond the physical world, you will have to consider one of the other belief systems. In case there is continued life in non-physical worlds, consensus morality could be advisable.
6. A malevolent god created the world and humans are largely helpless victims, a state which might continue in other worlds after physical death.
Use Response 4 if you can find a teacher who is “making it,” suggesting he or she has figured out how to cope. If he or she has lots of followers, that might be a good sign, but it might just mean he or she is very persuasive.
Variation on Belief 6.
A malevolent god created this world but there is a higher “good” God who promises bliss if we learn how to escape this world to reach His heavenly world.
Use Response 4 if you doubt your own insights.
If you dare, try the Gnostic approach:
Response 6: Make a direct connection with the higher god through meditation and escape the control of the local demi-urge.
7. Spirit power is in everything, including living beings and inanimate matter. It can be helpful or harmful, partly depending on what we do. After this physical life, our spirit essence continues life in other worlds. Shamanic power, which can sometimes be acquired through proper rituals, lets us visit other worlds and communicate with many types of spirits while still in the physical body.
Use Response 4, picking a knowledgeable shaman as guru, but also look for objects with spirit power which might be helpful, such as a special rock or rabbit’s foot you can carry with you, or a tree or mountain or guardian animal or other idol you can pray to. Pray to the good spirits for help and also propitiate the evil spirits with rituals, offerings and prayers.
8. God, the creator of all, is all good, all loving, all powerful. When humans have problems such as poverty or illness, it is due to false beliefs in negatives. God wants us to be healthy and successful, and also provides a heaven after this life where everything is positive.
Response 7: If you are having any kind of problem, change your thinking. Act as if you already have everything you want, and your life will become ideal. You will have wealth, health, and love. If this does not happen, your negative thoughts are blocking your good. Think harder and stifle any doubts. This is popularly known as metaphysics.
9. God is all loving, knowing, and powerful, but humans are learning to become more like God and often fall short. Life on earth is a school, and we keep coming back until we get it right. Loved ones who are no longer in physical bodies and spirit guides in the higher levels of life are always trying to help us with love and wisdom and healing. Mediums can help us communicate with the higher levels of life, and with practice, we can all improve our ability to communicate with these spirits. This is the path of spiritualism.
Response 8: Meditate to contact God and spirit helpers and to receive their help. Help others whenever you can. Faith can move mountains, so seek faith and give love to all.
10. There is no personal god. The Infinite cannot be described with words, but we can experience it as bliss. When we learn to totally detach from any craving for this world, we will escape the wheel of rebirth and remain in bliss forever as part of the Infinite. This is the core teaching of Buddhism.
Response 9: Relinquish all attachment to attain release from the physical world.
Response 10: If you are truly empathic, consider being a Bodhisattva, continuing to reincarnate as a guru until all living beings have been released from the wheel.
11. All life forms are participating parts of an infinite power which is beyond description in words but which can be experienced. Basic Reality, the Whole or Absolute, is variously named Life, Spirit, or Consciousness (which is mostly not self-conscious). Its nature is desire, including the desire to manifest as yet unrealized potentials, plus the ability to receive, process, and respond to information which is used to seek pleasure and to avoid pain. The Infinite is an evolving process, both immanent and transcendent, and totally connected; an infinite potential in which all life forms play their roles by doing more than has been done before, manifesting ever more of the potentials.
Response 11: Experiment, watch results, and decide whether you want to do more of that. Try to expand self-awareness, especially of emotions which are the major power in life and which are connected to, resonate with, and draw to one similar emotions from everywhere and everywhen. Sooner or later, what we send out comes back to us. The sky is a mirror, helping us see our own desires at any given time. When you are conscious of the desires which are creating your life, you can change the ways you are trying to satisfy them, to become more effective. Most pain results from excesses of some kind—overdoing part of life at the expense of other parts: e.g. gaining personal desires at the expense of others or sacrificing legitimate rights trying to help others. Life is a juggling act needing compromise to satisfy many inherently conflicting desires. Character creates destiny. Character is formed of habits. Changing habits can change one’s destiny. If worshipping parts of the Whole and participating in rituals reinforce our faith, they can be helpful. Remember to enjoy the journey as a participant in the evolving potentials.
12. We will give the last word to the eclectic who agrees with part of several of the preceding belief systems but is not totally satisfied with any single one of them.. If the Infinite is beyond words, beyond cognitive concepts at this level of life, remaining tentative, open, fluid, may be wise.
Use the experimental part of Response 11: Try the appropriate response of any of the belief systems which appeals to you and watch the consequences in your life. If a reasonable effort does not change your life for the better, explore another system. But allow enough time and make enough effort for a real test. An unprecedented variety of religious systems is currently available for investigation. This is an exciting time for spiritual seekers.