Cosmic Awareness – Through the Lens of Religious Genius

Question for consideration

Each cluster of texts is comprised of contributions from authors of different religious tradition. Each text has a brief commentary by a scholar and one or two questions to assist you in focusing on its particular approach to the theme under discussion.

It is recommended for those not so familiar with text study that each of the texts is read guided by the accompanying question or questions. However, advanced readers may not need the guidance and may prefer to encounter the texts without the mediation of the questions.

After reading the individual texts, consider the following general questions in relation to the theme.

For each cluster of texts on a particular theme ask the following questions:

1. In what way do each of the texts reflect a unique cultural/ socio-religious setting and to what extent are they reflective of a universal human quest for meaning?

2. What unique contribution to our understanding of the theme does each text make? Can the unique contributions resonate with followers of another religious tradition?

3. Identify any understandings of the theme that are common to all the selected texts. Do these understandings appear more prominent in one tradition than in another or are they likely to resonate equally across all traditions?

4. How do these texts enhance your appreciation of their authors as ‘religious geniuses’?

Cosmic Awareness

Sources 81, 36, 57, 40, 52

Read the texts and the commentaries, if you desire, guided by the accompanying questions. After reading the texts, respond to the questions above, which represent a synthesis of the four questions on the previous page with respect to the theme of ‘Cosmic Awareness’.

Source 81 (Christian): Thomas Merton, “Final Integration: Toward a Monastic Therapy,” CWA 225-31

Final integration is a state of trans-cultural maturity far beyond mere social adjustment, which always implies partiality and compromise. The man who is “fully born” has an entirely “inner experience of life.” He apprehends his life fully and wholly from an inner ground that is at once more universal than the empirical ego and yet entirely his own. He is in a certain sense “cosmic” and “universal man.” He has attained a deeper, fuller identity than that of his limited ego-self which is only a fragment of his being. He is in a certain sense identified with everybody: or in the familiar language of the New Testament … he is “all things to all men.” He is able to experience their joys and sufferings as his own, without however becoming dominated by them. He has attained to a deep inner freedom – the Freedom of the Spirit we read of in the New Testament. He is guided not just by will and reason, but by “spontaneous behavior subject to dynamic insight.”…

Again, the state of insight which is final integration implies an openness, an “emptiness,” a “poverty” similar to those described in such detail not only by the Rhenish mystics, by St. John of the Cross, by the early Franciscans, but also by the Sufis, the early Taoist masters and Zen Buddhists. Final integration implies the void, poverty, and nonaction which leave one entirely docile to the “Spirit” and hence a potential instrument for unusual creativity.

The man who has attained final integration is no longer limited by the culture in which he has grown up. “He has embraced all of life… He has experienced qualities of every type of life”: ordinary human existence, intellectual life, artistic creation, human love, religious life. He passes beyond all these limiting forms, while retaining all that is best and most universal in them, “finally giving birth to a fully comprehensive self.” He accepts not only his own community, his own society, his own friends, his own· culture, but all mankind. He does not remain bound to one limited set of values in such a way that he opposes them aggressively or defensively to others. He is fully “Catholic” in the best sense of the word. He has a unified vision and experience of the one truth shining out in all its various manifestations, some clearer than others, some more definite and more certain than others. He does not set these partial views up in opposition to each other, but unifies them in a dialectic or an insight of complementarity. With this view of life he is able to bring perspective, liberty, spontaneity into the lives of others. The finally integrated man is a peacemaker, and that is why there is such a desperate need for our leaders to become such men of insight…

Source 36 (Hindu): Ramana Maharshi

Once a female monkey tried to bring her new-born baby through a window near Ramana’s couch. The attendants were preventing her. Ramana chided them as follows: “Don’t all of you bring your newborn babies to me? She also wants to do so. Why should you prevent her?

Once a snake slithered over Ramana’s body. He remarked that snakes seem to know when they need not be afraid. “It did not strike me either that I should be afraid or do anything to it.” Another time, noticing that a snake was near the hall, people were shouting, ‘beat it, beat it.’ Ramana protested but the snake was killed. Then Ramana remarked: “If these people are beaten like that, then they will know what it means.” Regarding snakes that infested the asrama, Ramana said: “We have come to their abode (Arunachala Hill) as guests and so we have no right to molest them. Let us leave them in peace.”

Commentary by Anantanand Rambachan: Ramana’s consciousness of life’s unity was not anthropocentric. It extended to all beings since the self to which he was awake existed in every being. His consciousness of a unity with all beings was exemplary and rarely seen among religious teachers. He demonstrated this is an special affinity with animals and was constantly instructing his disciples about this truth. Biographical accounts record numerous stories of an extraordinary identity with animals. There seems to be a mutual communion and understanding. Here are some examples.

Source 57 (Hindu), Mata Amritanandamayi, Man and Nature, 19-21

“Because of his selfishness, man today sees Nature as being separate from himself. If a person receives a cut or a wound, it is certainly the awareness that both the left and right hand are ‘mine’ that prompts the one to comfort the other. We don’t have the same concern when an injury happens to someone else, do we? This is because of the attitude that ‘It is not mine”. The wall of separation between humans and Nature is created mainly by the selfish attitude of humans. They think that Nature has been created only for them to use and exploit in order to fulfill their selfish desires. This attitude creates a wall, a separation and a distance…

It is high time to give serious thought to protecting Nature. The destruction of Nature is the same thing as the destruction of humanity. Trees, animals, birds, plants, forests, mountains, lakes, and rivers – everything that exists in Nature – are in desperate need of our kindness, of the compassionate care and protection of man. If we protect them, they, in turn, will protect us.

The legendary dinosaur and many other living species have been completely wiped out from the face of the earth, because they could not live in the changing climatic conditions. In a similar manner, if man is not careful, when his selfishness has reached its peak, he too will have to succumb to the same fate.

Only through love and compassion is the protection and preservation of Nature possible. But both these qualities are fast diminishing in human beings. In order to feel real love and compassion, one must realize the oneness of the life force that sustains and is the substratum of the entire universe. This realization can only be attained through a deep study of religion and the observance of spiritual principles.

Commentary by Amanda (Huffer) Lucia: In 2001, Amma founded Green Friends, a global environmental initiative. GreenFriends is one branch of Amma’s larger humanitarian efforts enacted under the initiative, Embracing the World (ETW). (See GreenFriends hosts seva days wherein devotees work with the public to plant trees and build sustainably (erosion prevention, rain water catchment and so on) and coordinates environmental educational workshops (permaculture, pruning, grafting, and so on). There is also a significant initiative for the reuse of products, which are then sold at Amma’s international programs (for example, the crocheting with plastic bags project). Many of the local satsangs across the United States host strong GreenFriends components wherein AYUDH (Amma’s youth organization) members participate in significant numbers. In India as well, GreenFriends has undertaken significant responsibilities, sometimes in collaboration with the Indian government, to clean rivers and develop sustainable environmental initiatives and to raise awareness of the perils of environmental degradation. In this passage, Amma suggests that it is love, compassion, and ‘egolessness’ that drives the intention for environmental sustainability and rehabilitation. In her view, if we truly see ourselves as one with all of existence, part of the same substance, then just as the right hand comforts the left if it is injured within our own bodies, we too will suffer if the natural world surrounding us suffers.

In Amma’s discourses she relates the world of nature to our very bodies, suggesting that we should develop a relationship with nature in which we realize that harm done to our environment is just the same as harm done to our own physical bodies. In this reasoning, she expands her conception of self to encompass all living beings (including plants and animals), feeling as they feel, suffering as they suffer.

Source 40 (Jewish): Rav Kook

40a. The great souls feel in the depths of their being that they belong to all the reality, and certainly to all the people that they know, and certainly to every man. These ideas, that are powerful and very inclusive, give strength to rising and falling power that examines the most individual lineage, of them and their families, their people, and such lineages. The details of the genealogies join together and generate a new way of life.

(Shemoneh Kevatzim 1:203 [vol. 1, p. 81]).

40b. The great righteous ones include all in their soul. They possess all the good of all and, also, all the evil of all; they suffer tribulations on account of all, and they derive pleasure from all; they transform all the evil of all to good. By force of their being elevated by means of the sufferings they endure, all is elevated by them, for in the root of their soul are all the very vast branches of all the souls, of which the righteous are the foundation.

(Shemoneh Kevatzim 1:210 [vol. 1, p. 82])

Commentary by Dov Schwartz: The saint contains all. On the epistemological level, he absorbs the different perceptions, even if they contradict one another or are inconsistent. Furthermore, his ability to embrace also extends to notions that do not suit the style and nature of his character. Such an approach indirectly assumes that the saint seemingly contracts his personality, in an act of withdrawal, in order to contain all. On the religious, social, and national level, this saint also receives those who have cast off the yoke of religion, with its attendant observances.

The individual with a “great soul” undergoes a process of ascents and descents. He descends to the particulars, examines the general dimensions within them, and thereby succeeds in containing them. The descent to particulars causes him to suffer, and their inclusion, that is, revealing their shared root, heals this suffering. To a certain degree, we have here the Sabbatean and Hasidic notion of the righteous one who descends to the husks [the surrounding evil] to extract from them the sanctity within them. In another place, Rabbi Kook states that the service of some of the righteous lies in their occupation with particulars and their rectification, while others act in a more general realm.

Source 52 (Muslim): Rumi

Source: Masnavi 5:3854-9, trans. Lewis, Swallowing the Sun, p. 161

It’s waves of love that make the heavens turn
Without that love the universe would freeze:
no mineral absorbed by vegetable
no growing thing consumed by animal
no sacrifice of anima for Him
who inspired Mary with His pregnant breath
Like ice, all of them unmoved, frozen stiff
No vibrant molecules in swarms of motion
Lovers of perfection, every atom
turns sapling-like to face the sun and grow
Their haste to shed their fleshly form for soul
sings out an orison of praise to God

Comment by Carl W Ernst: In a very Neoplatonic vision of the universe, and language recalling his younger contemporary in Europe, Dante, Rumi sees love as the force animating nature on every level. With another allusion to Mary, Rumi offers this portrait of all creation worshiping God and seeking to transcend the physical body. This is another example of the universal reach of Rumi’s symbolism, which makes him accessible to a wide range of readers.