Disillusioned with organized religion, millions of people turn to secular humanism, neo-atheism, New Age thinking, Eastern religious practices, and mysticism—while others retreat from spirituality altogether. A more satisfying and transformative option is to embark on a quest to discover what is real to you. Using time-tested tools of investigation into your own sense of self, you can examine your present beliefs, explore the nature of reality, and ultimately expand your identity and awareness.
God Without Religion introduces this age-old approach to self-inquiry for today’s readers. Step by step, it offers a bridge between organized religion and self-realization for anyone questioning traditional dogma or its legacy of divisiveness. It also assists in overcoming limitations and notions of exclusivity promoted by modern-day movements. Included are seventeen universal techniques for developing a personal understanding of the underlying substance of existence and broadening your view of yourself, others, and all of life.
This updated edition includes new details about the author’s personal experiences with each technique. These highly relatable new passages will help you connect with each concept in a personal way, so that you can discover—or rediscover—your own spiritual path to clarity.
|Publisher:||BenBella Books, Inc.|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
After four years as a monastic in the Self-Realization Swami Order of yogis, two years studying Hebrew in Israel and writing the book Yoga and Judaism, studying aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan, and the classical guitar at the Manhattan School of Music, Sankara Saranam graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University as a student of religious studies and Hebrew. He went on to complete his masters in Eastern texts and Sanskrit at St. John's College in Santa Fe.
Saranam is the author of the multi-award-winning, internationally published, and groundbreaking "spiritual masterpiece," God Without Religion. He is also the author of the mystical science-fiction novel, Permanent Waves.
Saranam lives with his two children in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Read an Excerpt
WORSHIPPING BY WONDERING
* * *
"WHAT IS GOD?"
God offers to every mind a choice between truth and repose. Take which you please — you can never have both.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Wonder is the gateway to knowledge. A person entering this gateway seeking self-knowledge would ask penetrating questions about the historical and spiritual nature of God, and the more questions the individual asked, the more profound the answers would be, leading to deeper questions. Constantly challenging our conclusions and refining our understanding of God prevents us from stagnating, both intellectually and spiritually. Simultaneously, these acts of wonder keep us perpetually engaged in a sophisticated form of worship.
It is also possible to worship by believing other people's theological conclusions, but this approach often erects barriers to intellectual and spiritual growth. Individuals who unquestioningly accept their inherited beliefs about God end up harboring a narrow view of themselves, humanity, and the natural world. Others tend to challenge their inherited provincial beliefs, hastily adopting the conclusions of a teacher whose answers to spiritual questions are more universal, encompassing expansive love, more people, and broader knowledge; but without testing these answers firsthand, worshippers are unable to personally experience them. In both instances, the unchallenged acquiescence to precepts pronounced by others inhibits progress.
Worshipping by wondering does the opposite, continually revealing the next step forward. While wondering about and raising questions within the vast subject of God, a person advances because of the liberating knowledge gained through personal exploration. And the more questions asked, the more inclusive perspectives will be because renewed questioning inherently erodes the barriers posed by beliefs. This means that each time the questioner integrates a more refined answer, not only will ideas of God expand but also the sense of self. Step by step, refined answers broaden our personal and social identities by catalyzing intellectual and emotional freedom.
A good starting point for wondering about God is to ask the question "What is God?" Answers to this question have historically incited violence between religious followers with clashing replies. However, seeking knowledge without religion eliminates preformulated answers that divide humanity into warring groups of people with differing beliefs. This question rouses even atheists and anti-theists, who piqued by intellectual honesty will admit to having been swayed less by the spirit of inquiry into the history and nature of God than by religion's poor answers. Though answers furnished by organized religions often lead to complacency and divisiveness, to call them unquestionably "wrong" would belie the spirit of wondering. For atheists, agnostics, and religionists alike, the anguish a poor answer engenders can prompt further contemplation, investigation, and imagination.
In asking What is God? sincere truth-seekers resist the temptation to remain in a comfort zone and instead keep reaching for new and better answers. They recognize that the solace drawn from earlier convictions prevented them from contemplating more viable possibilities. They also see many answers that once furnished a sense of security as no longer useful, or worse, as stifling or superstitious. Rejecting pat answers, they embrace the uncertainty inherent in discovery and prepare to continually exchange old comfort zones for new realizations.
Tirelessly asking questions about historical accounts and the nature of God is also a path of scientific investigation. Just as material scientists investigate the cosmos, intuitive scientists seeking a better understanding of God explore the inner space of the human mind — the source of beliefs about God. In both endeavors, hard and fast answers suppress free thinking; hence, material and intuitive scientists alike, propelled by the spirit of sincere wonder, question their own answers and even doubt them. Wonder, it turns out, is not only a sure-fire method of inquiry into the subject of God and our emerging ideas of self but also a potent antiseptic for a mind flooded with accepted truths passed down for centuries by organized religion. Though the washing away of tainted views can be uncomfortable, it leaves the intellect free to exercise its potential and the eyes cleared of inherited myopia.
Unaware of the decontamination awaiting them, many spiritual investigators start asking What is God? in the context of the religious tradition that forged their earliest impressions of God. But they soon find that penetrating inquiries directed to religious authorities are generally discouraged because the religion's continued survival depends on wide acceptance of the answers already provided. For centuries the Catholic Church, for example, excommunicated or killed members who dared to question its dogma. Today, some religious authorities still use evocative words such as heresy, devil, and Maya to undermine the human propensity for wonder. In the extreme, threats of violence are issued, forcefully coercing people to adhere to orthodoxy and indoctrinate children according to accepted truths. Organized religion routinely capitalizes on the insecurity individuals feel when their views are at odds with group persuasion.
Spiritual investigators meet with resistance from well-intentioned congregants, who inform them that the answer to What is God? emerges from faith. These encounters awaken a realization that religious faith leads to one answer only, whereas investigative perseverance ushers in a lifetime of questions and little interest in settling comfortably on any answer. It also becomes clear that faith based on religious dogma glorifies matters pertaining to destination, often resulting in a devaluing of human life and overdependence on a presumed afterlife, while sincere inquiry celebrates the journey of life.
In pursuing answers to What is God? within the confines of a synagogue, church, or mosque, spiritual investigators begin by peeling off layers of accepted truths and challenging their most deeply held beliefs. Many are startled to find the leader of the service is less a spokesperson for God than a human being with obvious biases. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, exhorted his fellow Christians to save their money and grow rich — instruction at odds with Christ's counsel to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor; spiritual investigators, however, must go a step farther and question Christ's teachings in the New Testament. Now and throughout history, many members of the clergy professed narrow ideas of God, right and wrong, and the human sense of self that their parishioners either consciously or subconsciously internalize.
While plumbing for answers to What is God? in religious texts, spiritual investigators may be equally surprised to find the printed words and phrases are like inkblot tests: interpretations of them often say more about the interpreter than about the books. To lessen the likelihood of mechanically projecting personal meaning onto a venerated religious writing, it is important to read it with a discerning eye, override any feel-good interpretations instilled earlier in life, and study the historical context in which the work was written. It also helps to recognize that simply because they were recorded, words do not carry moral or divine authority; in fact, much of the ancient mystification of words and the magical or divine power they were assumed to possess was born from little more than widespread illiteracy. When it comes to gleaning knowledge about the human sense of self, the natural world, and God, we can learn more by observing the habits of animals than by blindly accepting the information furnished by religious texts, followers, and authorities combined.
The value in inquiring about God within the precincts of organized religion has more to do with clearing and focusing the mind — the instrument of investigation — than with realizing verifiable knowledge of God. But in discovering what God is, it is easiest to begin by realizing what God is not. In firing up the burners of discrimination to warm the test tubes of reason, for instance, it becomes possible to analyze limiting interpretations of God and unravel accepted truths. As both begin to fall away and investigators bring the question What is God? to more receptive arenas, as is suggested in Technique 1, further insights await their discovery. An answer to this question may give rise to other penetrating questions. Or the mind might silence an attractive yet incomplete answer, only to find a more complete answer coming to expression in a thought or event. Or it might come to pass that repeatedly asking What is God? reveals more about the mind's conditioning than any conclusive answer ever could.
* * *
JOINING A SPIRITUAL COLLOQUIUM
A profoundly helpful technique to practice while asking What is God? involves joining a colloquium of sincere spiritual investigators. Together, participants in such a spiritual colloquium formulate increasingly sophisticated questions that challenge even those the great thinkers pondered; this becomes clear as members discover that the great books these thinkers wrote are effectively the products of colloquiums spanning centuries. Sharing ideas in this way inspires a deeper understanding of issues than is possible by contemplating the same questions in solitude.
Religions worldwide sponsor gatherings for their members. In the West, synagogues, churches, and mosques offer venues where like-minded people can hear a sermon, interact socially, and receive emotional encouragement; in the East, individuals can attend satsangas to receive guidance from a particular teacher. But in offering a supportive group identity, such gatherings tend to reinforce already shared belief systems and to inhibit innovative questioning.
In spiritual colloquiums, on the other hand, everyone is free to question, challenge, and doubt. Nonsectarian, they generally meet once or twice a week to discuss philosophical and current issues. In some, participants alternate hosting the gathering in their homes or college dormitory rooms, preparing a relaxed ambiance that encourages members to speak from their hearts. Others hold meetings in a public location such as a library reading room or a park, an arrangement that helps focus their energy on the collective purpose.
Colloquium members ensure that their meetings are conducive to intellectual and emotional growth. Instead of appointing a permanent leader to direct meetings, they take turns in the role of facilitator, who may introduce the day's topic and moderate the discussion. Whether members sit around a large conference-room table or more casually in a living room, dorm room, or park, they position themselves for maximum eye contact. The ensuing discussion is animated and thought provoking, often initiated by the reading of a printed excerpt that elicits widely differing interpretations. Most religious, philosophical, historical, or dramatic books work well in such settings, where the contents are not likely to be construed with finality.
As the day's discussion proceeds, the facilitator keeps it on course. A useful compass can be found in the legendary distinction between a chicken farmer and an egg farmer: a chicken farmer regards fertilized eggs (generative answers) as a means for producing more chickens (questions), whereas an egg farmer views chickens (questions) as a means for producing more unfertilized eggs (nongenerative answers). The colloquium is like a chicken farm, where participants harvest new questions from fertilized answers and disregard crates of infertile answers since they are incapable of producing deeper questions. And colloquium participants know that answers alone mean nothing while questions reflect back their depth of insight.
Most towns and cities have such colloquiums. Notices of meetings can be found in the local newspapers, on bulletin boards at health food stores, and in alternative newsletters; also, librarians are often equipped to provide referrals, as are sales clerks at bookstores. Alternatively, you could start a colloquium. In seeking colloquium members, disregard such factors as age, gender, income, lifestyle, and religious background. The only criterion that matters is willingness to engage in open-minded and sincere investigation of human spirituality. Anyone unwilling to challenge their own notions, or fearful of having them challenged by others, is not ideally suited for your colloquium.
If meeting publicly with others does not appeal to you, consider participating in an online intellectual colloquium composed of people seeking to expand their ideas of God, the sense of self, and reality. Online formats allow you to either read bulletin-board messages on specific topics at the sponsoring Web site or have messages delivered to you by e-mail, to which you can then post replies. Live online chats about religion, spirituality, and society are also available. In addition to protecting your privacy, the online option allows you to link up with other sincere investigators whenever you wish; at the same time, online anonymity requires extra screening to insure participants are actively seeking to challenge their religious and spiritual identities.
The company we keep, in person or online, strongly influences the development of our ideas of self. Associating regularly with people who are bogged down in dogma can contribute to more intractable beliefs and superficial attitudes. Joining with earnest truth-seekers whose penetrating questions are no longer answered by organized religion, however, can help eradicate obstructing patterns, setting the stage for accelerated intellectual development and self-realization.
The hardest part of colloquium for me was getting over myself and the knowledge I thought I had. Even if I turned out to have a better answer, I'd initially feel defensive whenever challenged. But whenever I was successfully challenged with a better question, I felt the joy of expansion. I soon realized that it wasn't learning and growing that scared me but rather threats to anything I identified with too strongly. Once I ceased to identify with my views or opinions and instead joined others in doing my best to undermine them, my gut defensiveness vanished and I benefited immensely from every colloquium.
As a teacher, my biggest challenge was to respect every student's process. It was too easy to jump ten steps ahead in a thought by asking questions that, while valid, were unrelated to the experiences and history of the student. It took me a long time to appreciate that while quantum leaps are uncommon in colloquium, they are more likely when each person feels free to and safe in assimilating a realization on his or her own time. The beauty of life is not so much in the big leaps that often can't be maintained but in our capacity to evolve in our ideas of self, at whatever pace.
* * *
Wondering about the nature of God and the qualities and actions religions attribute to God offers immense rewards on a personal level. After undermining a poor answer, spiritual investigators will never be able to return to it with the same conviction. On the other hand, any answer that withstands rigorous testing will strengthen one's spiritual foundation. Even if without widely accepted answers investigators never stop asking What is God? they will cultivate an unshakable foundation based on honestly tested ideas. The more our sense of self is infused with personal inquiry, the better equipped it will be to support its inherently expansive potential endeavoring to identify with more and more people.
Collectively, the ramifications of sincerely wondering about God within and without the confines of religion are vast. With increasing numbers of people striving to include all of humanity in their intuitive perception of themselves, fewer and fewer zealots will be able to pervert the worship of God into violent religious crusades against people of differing backgrounds. With the passage of more time, any human being demeaned or impoverished by another's beliefs will be an affront to us all. Today, when millions of individuals are starving physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually, wonder can single-handedly combat dogma, superstition, and divisiveness — the real enemies of humanity.
GODS MADE IN THE IMAGE OF MEN
And in that Heaven of all their wish, There shall be no more land, say fish.
— Rupert Brooke
Historical images of God provide a pantheon of fertile impressions for the inquiring mind. In answer to the question What is God? each religion has its own answer based on a particular ideal — an icon, name, or state of being — coupled with historical chronicles and a series of instructions for the devout. Most religions claim that their manner of showing devotion is inspired by the will of God and therefore the best. They further assert that God or the divine laws he set in motion rewards the faithful for their piety and inflicts some form of retribution on the unfaithful.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "God Without Religion"
Copyright © 2016 Sankara Saranam.
Excerpted by permission of BenBella Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Arun Gandhi xxi
Chapter 1 Worshipping By Wondering 1
"What is God?"
Gods Made in the Image of Men
Miracles and the Mind
Revelation and Reason
Religion and Spirituality
Terrorism in the Name of God
Chapter 2 A Bigger Picture of Human Progress 81
The Cycle Theory
Moving Past the Dark Ages
Avenues to Knowledge
Chapter 3 An Alternative to Organized Religion 125
A Theory of Self
Going Straight to God through Energy Control
The Self in Society
A New Myth to Spark Social Reform
Chapter 4 Testing Today's Choices 199
Can We Know God?
Modern Spiritual Movements
Vulnerability of the Self
About the Author 279