My Pilgrimage, continued
growth, namely the philosophical writings of Bishop George Berkeley. Berkeley, who was Bishop of Cloyne in Ireland, and lived from 1685 to 1753, was probably the “purest” example of a metaphysical “Idealist” in the entire history of Western thought. According to Berkeley, this Universe, i.e., the whole of Reality, is 100% spiritual. In other words, Berkeley’s view is that so-called matter is only something that people mistakenly imagine to be in existence. For Berkeley, there is --strictly speaking -- no such thing as matter. This whole Universe of Being is nothing other than a vast multitude of “spirits” (specifically, the one Infinite Spirit, God, and an immense community of finite spirits that includes human souls and angels).
Now, in fairness to Bishop Berkeley, the following point needs to be stressed: In order to make people understand that this pan-spiritualist view of Reality might possibly be true, it is first necessary to bring them to a correct understanding of sense-perception. What actually happens when we perceive things by our five senses? More specifically, what sort of process is involved when we SEE THINGS? The truth is that seeing is not at all the kind of direct process that it is commonly believed to be. The common belief about seeing (i.e., visual sense-perception) is that seeing involves a direct confrontation with a world of “external things” existing separately from our minds. Moreover, unless we make a STRONG effort to really think our way into this issue deeply, we will most assuredly have the feeling that Bishop Berkeley’s claims are utter insanity. We commonly speak and think along the following lines: “I’m standing here in church. In front of me there is a pulpit, and there is a lectern on the pulpit. I SEE THE LECTERN. I SEE THE PULPIT. Both the lectern and the pulpit that I see are really out there, external-to-my-mind, along with many other material objects. They are all located out there in physical space.” Briefly, according to the common view of sense-perception, it would be absolutely ridiculous to say that the things we see exist entirely within our own minds.
However, the truth is: Although we habitually speak and think about SEEING in above-described fashion, in doing so we are greatly mistaken. The entire “visual field” that we experience when we’re awake is actually just as much “in the mind” as are the many “visions” that arise in our consciousness during a vivid dream. Once we come to understand that the real universe is actually hidden behind the “veil” of our own visual experience, it will become much easier to arrive at the all-important insight that we live in a Spiritual Universe; in other words, it will then be much easier to accept that what is concealed behind this “curtain” of visual imagery is 100% Spirit. That is the reason why -- prior to fully publishing his views about a totally-spiritual universe -- Bishop Berkeley first wrote at great length concerning his “theory of vision.” He published his work on vision in 1709 under the title, An Essay towards a New Theory of Vision. My study of this book was tremendously helpful, in that it enabled me to see more clearly how my deeply-felt inclination in favor of the “primacy of Spirit” could in fact be rationally defended.
This “Idealist” worldview (i.e., the belief that we live in a spiritual universe, and that matter does not really exist as a “separate substance”) was precisely the position that I had instinctively believed to be correct from my earliest childhood. This, then, was the point in my development at which I made a decisive transition from a merely intuitive awareness of Spirit to what can be described as “Spiritual Science.” (As I use the expression “Spiritual Science,” it is not limited only to Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy, but is rather a descriptive, “umbrella” term for the whole field of the science of Spirit, that is, my use of this expression is entirely non-sectarian.) Accordingly, what I had previously “felt” in my soul instinctively was now becoming increasingly rational.
During the years following this transition to “rationality,” I studied extensively the pan-spiritualist tradition of Western Idealism. The idealist thinkers of the West who contributed to my spiritual growth are far too numerous for me to list them all here. However, I would like to mention the debt of gratitude I owe to the German thinker Gottfried Leibniz, the Austrian “philosopher-clairvoyant” Rudolf Steiner, and the “Personalist” Idealism developed here in the U.S. (for example, by the so-called “Boston Personalists”). Moreover, as a result of steeping myself in the study of Idealism, I gradually came to realize that the doctrine of eternal damnation could not possibly be correct. It became transparently clear to me that the very nature of God (Spirit/Reality/Truth) amounted to an inexorable GUARANTEE that all souls would eventually be saved. This, then, marked the halfway point in my journey to Universalism. The final missing component would now be relatively easy to obtain.
After graduating from high school, I eventually enrolled as an undergraduate student at the University of California, Riverside. Here, while working toward a B.A. degree in Psychology, I continued to study and expand my knowledge of metaphysical Idealism. These philosophical investigations ultimately led to my delving into the Hindu and Buddhist spiritual traditions. It is to Hinduism, paradoxically, that I must give credit for my finding a way back to my Christian roots. My studies within the Western philosophical tradition up to that point had done very little to help me bring about a reconciliation between traditional Christianity and rationality, but as I entered ever more deeply into Eastern Philosophy, my own Christianity became increasingly comprehensible. In fact, it seems to me that certain insights that I acquired through the study of Eastern Wisdom are what enabled me truly to understand Christianity for the first time (although some of these had also been remotely alluded to by Mary Baker Eddy in the Christian Science literature). My study of Hinduism in particular is what “opened my eyes” to the deeper dimensions of spiritual Truth within the Bible. I came to understand that there was profound esoteric content within the Bible, even though the vast majority of Christians remained “blind” to this content, not even suspecting that it might be present. I came to see that Christianity was a religion of boundless spiritual treasures, but that its vast stores of spiritual Wisdom were hidden behind thick “clouds” of sensual imagery, metaphor and symbolism. When meditating on Christian references to such things as the “cross,” “the shed blood of Christ,” “the Lamb of God slain from the foundations of the world,” etc., I now saw that it was a mistake simply to stick to the surface imagery and interpret these things ONLY literally. (NOTE: Apart from Hinduism, the Swedish thinker Emanuel Swedenborg -- whose work Heavenly Secrets I began to study during this period -- was also helpful to me in this regard.)
However, even though the sensuous “pictures” of Christian symbolism per se cover up the deeper spiritual Truth, I also came to understand that this concealment itself was an expression of Divine Wisdom / Providence. For a literal interpretation of the Bible -- which latches on to the surface, and clings to the images or symbols -- can be salutary to “fledgling” souls, and can nourish these souls toward the higher stages of growth that are required for spiritual/mystical contemplation.
After earning a B.A. degree in Psychology from the University of California, I remained at the same University for my graduate studies toward an M.A. and PhD, but I changed my major at that time to Philosophy. I persisted in my study of Eastern thought throughout my years as a graduate student at UCR. Furthermore, it was Eastern thought, and in particular certain works published by the Vedanta Society of Southern California, that nurtured my spirit into toward full appreciation of what would prove the be the “missing piece” for a comprehensive universalist perspective. That missing piece was the unity of religions. Among these works from the Vedanta Society, two books stand out in my memory as especially salient, namely The Spiritual Heritage of India and The Sermon on the Mount according to Vedanta. Both of these books were written by a highly erudite monk of the Ramakrishna Order; his name was Swami Prabhavananda. Finally, I should mention that it was my study of Hinduism that led me later to embrace the Baha’i Faith, which lays great stress on the religious unity.