Comparative Theology


Transforming Power of Exploring the Spirit

Tackling the issue of what God means to you can be problematic.  It is like catching lightening in a bottle. Once the energy is harnessed, it’s hard to know what to do with it, as it is illusive and escapes quickly.  On the other hand, harnessing the lightening can reap tremendous rewards for a fulfilling experience and one that can change a life in significant ways. Acquiring such knowledge can open doors to possibilities that one hadn’t considered and expand the horizons of the mind in rewarding ways.

Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo acknowledged the power of spiritual development in their art, as did Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. Literary minds like Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Dickens have attributed great works to exploring their spirituality.

George L’Maitre, the father of the Big Bang was a Jesuit priest who made proofs for the existence of the theory. Another Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard deChardin, used his enlightened experience to make his scientific inquiries into ‘Peking Man’. He was responsible for important theories of evolution. Thomas Edison, a Theosophist, invented based on a meditative practice that opened him up in extraordinary ways.

The Beatles went to India to explore their spirituality and it opened their minds to new possibilities in music while transforming the culture.  Steve Jobs did as well in his pursuit of changing technology. These are just a few examples but there are countless others that we can point to where the examination of the issues of God and spirit have reaped tremendous benefits for humanity.


What is God?

It goes without saying that God is a qualification of something that can’t be qualified. Any attempt to qualify what God is becomes idol worship. St. Augustine noted that God is outside of time and space. Our pursuit of understanding God in this realm requires a different mindset to even attempt to understand it.

St. Anselm further complicates the issue by saying God is, “That than which nothing greater can be thought”. In other words, “whatever you think God is, that’s not it”.

Throughout history, theologians and scholars have grappled with this idea of God and the incomprehensible power of knowing and understanding what God is.

Like Augustine before him, St. Thomas Aquinas acknowledged this complex idea of understanding God but recognized through his “Five Proofs”, that God could be evidenced through our experience in life. For the sake of this column, I’d like to table those ideas for now.  Suffice it to say that many theologians suggest that God can be known through many different means.  There have been whole classes delving deeper into this realm of exploration and many a philosophical dissertation written.

Some Christians, though, seek metaphors and attributes to understand the “logos” or logic that can be known as God. Dr. Carl Jung noted that certain psychological archetypes have been made manifest throughout the ages through art, (myths) literature, and even our dreams — signs and symbols that point to common experiences and common expressions of the Divine that point to the importance of spiritual development.

Jung recognized that it is through these signs and symbols that we are able to relate and contextualize our world to help us make sense of it. It is through this context or “logos” or “word” that we can come to know a transcendent experience through our humanity.


Non-Duality and Unity Consciousness

The great mystics in all the world’s great religions recognize the idea of God as Oneness, Divine Goodness and Non-Duality or Unity Consciousness.  Muslims have 99 names for God.  What they’re saying with these qualifications is there are attributes of God. Those attributes we use to point to God are ideas like love, harmony, beauty and truth.

The Sufis have a prayer that says, “Toward the One, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty. The only being united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the Master — the spirit of guidance”.

The Taoist faith recognizes these attributes when it talks about the power of Nature moving toward One Source.  “All things carry yin and embrace yang.  They reach harmony by blending with the vital breath. (Tao Te Ching Chapter 42).

The Hindus recognize the power of Brahman or the all-encompassing power of One Being. “He who perceives me everywhere and beholds everything in me never loses sight of me, nor do I lose sight of him.” (Bhagavad Gita VI:30).

Understanding these attributes can point us in the direction of something greater and ground us in deeper realizations for our everyday life. These attributes are the poetry of life and they can be found in all sacred literature. The pursuit of understanding these attributes is an exercise in exploring the depths of our being and has richer psychological implications. This exploration brings us closer to helping us understand the world around us and relate to it in a way that fulfills an earnest quest for truth.

The goal in any spiritual discipline is to recognize that we are not separate and apart from the existence of this power we call Yahweh, God, Allah, or the Tao, or Brahman, which is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. In every major religion there is the recognition of something beyond us that is happening within us. These religions would be Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam to name a few.


God as the Ground of Being

Many times in religion people look for God outside themselves, but the great religious faiths teach us that it is not a God outside ourselves that will meet our needs, but it is acknowledging the power of love in the presence of Godly attributes within that satisfies our yearnings for understanding (truth).  Dr. Paul Tillich has called this, “God as the ground of being”. How does he arrive at this conclusion in his theology? Tillich found his answer in the teachings of Jesus, but there is also evidence that this can be found in Buddha’s teachings as well.

One of the most important lines in Jesus’ teachings states, “The Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). In this phrase Jesus alludes to the fact that there is a place in our hearts where Heaven resides.  Where there is Heaven there is truth and goodness.  Where there is truth there is God.

Jesus also said, “I and the Father are One” (John 10: 30)… “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know the Father who sent me. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14: 6-7).  In other texts, Jesus said, “He who drinks from my mouth will become like me, and I will become like him, and the hidden things will be revealed to him (Gospel of Thomas 108).

These are important statements from Jesus because he asserts that one can know something greater and experience something that is transcendent through the study of scripture and knowledge of him and his teaching. Some theologians suggest this transcendent experience of conversion takes place in our hearts, but others would suggest it takes place in the soul.

The Buddha said it a different way. “When watching after yourself, you watch after others. When watching after others, you watch after yourself.” The Buddha also suggests, “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves”.

In other words, Buddha, like Jesus, understood that one can have a transcendent experience that can attune us to a creative expression that inspires us and even feeds us in our growth as human beings and this expression can be witnessed in another.

In Christianity we call this mindfulness Christ consciousness.  In Buddhist philosophy it is called Buddha consciousness.  Like Jesus, the Buddha had an experience of liberation through his spiritual work.

Both Jesus and the Buddha had transcendent experiences through prayer, ritual, meditation and contemplation, and service to others.  As a result of this experience they were able to establish a code of conduct and context for their disciples that helped others discover their place in this world.  Their ideas shaped their disciples’ intuitive abilities, their psychology and helped teach them how to cope with the challenges of survival in a world of suffering, conflict and confounding duplicity.

This conscious recognition or awareness is the key to unlocking powers within the psyche that can serve us well in life. The recognition of consciousness is the key to tapping into the creative expression that is God and can help an aspirant in growing through wounded experiences of life.


The Great “I AM”

Jews recognize that God is nameless, but the faith also implicitly expresses that spirit needs to be qualified, so an individual can form a spiritual identity of goodness and righteousness. This recognition of Divinity of self is known as the theological concept, “The Great I AM”. This concept is replete throughout the Bible. When Abraham asks God, ‘who shall I say that you are?’ The response is “I am whoI am”.  When Moses asks, ‘who shall I say that you are?’ The response from God is, “I am thatI am”. When Jesus is confronted about his Divinity he responds with the words “I AM”. This recognition of the spirit of the God within one’s self is the key to unlocking the door to wonder and infinite possibility, and the establishment of personal identity with the notion of Divinity.

What is this I AM? It is not something that can be examined under a microscope or studied in a laboratory. “I AM” is a reverence for that which cannot be seen, an aesthetic that is one to be experienced mainly through fasting, ritual, contemplation, prayer and meditation.  It is the act of participating in Mystery, in wonder and awe. It can be cultivated and nurtured. I AM is divine infinite potential in spirit. This is why Jesus said to Nicodemus, “God is spirit and must be worshipped in spirit” (John 4:24).

When an aspirant cultivates the spirit within himself he is establishing a connection to the Divine that is palpable. “I AM” a manifestation of God. I AM one part in the life of God. In Hebrew teachings of the Kabala, I AM is a manifestation of one spark of God’s fire or in other disciplines one blade of grass in a vast pasture. I am an expression of God’s creative essence expressing myself through the experience of life. I AM an artist expressing the depth of my being artfully on the grand canvass of life – co-creator with a higher power and one character in a greater story.

Although it’s true that pain and suffering are part of life, the opportunity for tremendous joy is always possible; it may come in the birth of a child, the marriage of two people, the experience of a perfect day on a beach where the sun and sand are kissed by the ocean, or a holiday celebration with family and friends experiencing precious moments of love. This glimpse into something beautiful is transformative. Once an aspirant has experienced it in meditation, the goal is to hold it again. Hopefully, such an experience can birth itself in the beholder and the experience can unfold bountifully in life. Such is the power of revelation; an altered state of consciousness that is a part of the religious experience.

We experience epiphanies that change us – an experience of awe and wonder that something more is possible. In our delight there is a glimpse of the true state of love and fullness of life.  There is a wave of joy where eternity meets the world and for a moment one experiences timeless wonder and purity of being. The Buddhists call this peak experience “satori”.  Hindus call it “ananda” or “bliss”.  Abraham Maslow called it “moments of highest joy”. Some have called it a “moment of clarity”, or a “God moment” or a peek behind the “veil to another dimension of consciousness”. This moment is a form of enlightenment.

Once an aspirant has made it to the “peak”, he will not be able to stay there.

It’s important to realize that this presence of bliss is temporary.  Happiness is a glimpse at knowing something deeper, more rewarding and blessed.  It hooks the aspirant in, though, to seeing there is more here than meets the eye. This experience is honest and true in its purity of expression.

Great teachers acknowledged that this is not God in totality, but it is a subtle experience of God’s manifestation in our being.  Soren Kierkegaard, the great Christian existentialist said, “I believe I can know the truth, but I don’t believe I can know the truth absolutely”. But once the trek to the mountaintop has been made, the seeker knows the way to the top.  That’s why it’s important to work with it and explore the energy within.

In the Hindu faith there is recognition of energy that is working its way through the body and chakras, unleashing itself into the world through our gifts and talents and the totality of a sacred experience. This is expressed in Hindu art. The Sufis acknowledge it in the symbol of the fiery winged heart. Christianity gives a nod to this action in art through the sacred hearts of Jesus and Mary or in halos of saints. The Buddhists illustrate it in the thousand-petal lotus in “the crown” of the Buddha. Ultimately, though, any sacred expression we recognize as a life-giving force can be attributed to that which can be called “Holy Spirit”. The Holy Spirit emanates from the source.

This idea of non-duality or unity consciousness is expressed in each of the major religions:

Hinduism: “All is Brahman”.

Buddhism: “We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness”.
– Thich Nhat Hanh

Taoism:  “Those who are highly evolved,
maintain an undiscriminating perception.
Seeing everything, labeling nothing,
they maintain their awareness of the Great Oneness.
Thus they are supported by it”.
– Lao Tzu

Judaism: “Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One”.  The Shema

Christianity: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”… “And the Word was made flesh”.

Islam: “The only reality is God”. – Dhikr


Fullness of Life:

We are participating in this Mystery that is life in fullness of Oneness. In the act of participating with full knowledge of our blessed gifts, we serve others and recognize them as the “Holy Other”.  We cannot be separate and apart from those who are admired as sacred images of this inspired grace. In Latin this is called “Imago Dei”. We recognize that others are made in the “Image of God”. If we are witness to the presence of Christ in our own hearts, then we must be witness to Christ in others. Service to others takes on a new presence of mind.  It is not just a human being who we are serving, it is the Holy Spirit of Christ who is being served, nourished and in some cases even birthed.

The pursuit of truth is the goal on the path. An aspirant attunes to the abiding intuition that leads him to a greater good. In experiencing a transcendent reality of God, the realization for the spiritual aspirant is there is no other journey to undertake.  He turns within and finds his way, as he lights a path for others to recognize their best selves and blessed gifts — making this world a better place. He goes back to the valley to experience life but is changed as a result of being at the top and witnessing the grandeur and beauty of something glorious. He journeys to another mountaintop and invites others along the way “blessing to be a blessing”.  He unfolds in the ongoing conversation to God within and recognizes the blessings of God without.