By Peter Meyer
There are two fundamental errors which are often made in thinking about God. The first (and worse error) is that God is “out there”. The second (and better error) is that God is “within”.
The claim that God is “out there” is common to the Western monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This is the most pernicious error ever to have corrupted spiritual thinking. To say that God is “out there” is to imply that one is separate from God, and renders God an object, to which can be attributed various qualities. Among the most common of these are the alleged qualities of being a ruler, a lawgiver, a judge, a delegator of authority, an interested party in the conflicts that humans wage among themselves. In such conflicts it is always asserted that “God is on our side” against those perceived as “the enemy”. Such an assertion is then used to justify acts of barbarity, such as the slaughtering of the enemy — “in the name of God” of course.
To believe that God is “out there” is to believe that God and oneself are separate. This is a basic error. There can be nothing other than God. To believe that from God can come something which is not of the substance of God is absurd. All that exists is within God. This includes everything that makes up the being you think of as yourself, including your body and your mind. Your body is not made of some kind of “matter”, basically dead and lifeless, as materialist scientists would have you believe. Your body is of the same substance as God, and insofar as we can distinguish body from mind, your mind is also of the same substance as God.
This is hidden in normal consciousness because constant awareness of this would hinder the concentration needed to survive in the physical world. An animal needs to be alert to dangers which threaten its existence, and to attend too much to the presence of God in its own body would distract from this alertness.
Christians claim that Jesus Christ was an incarnation of God. That’s true. Where they err is in denying that anyone else was or is an incarnation of God. In fact all humans are an incarnation of God, indeed, all animals, all plants and all organisms are an incarnation of God. Anything which has a physical body and which acts so as to maintain itself in existence is an incarnation of God. Of course, these various incarnations of God differ widely in the quality of their awareness of themselves and their environment. Where Jesus differed was in the nature of his spiritual awareness. To claim uniqueness for Jesus it would be necessary to claim uniqueness for this spiritual awareness, a claim which is difficult to justify.
There is only one being, here called God, and this being is one of unlimited love-intelligence-energy (since there is no other being which could limit it). There is no limit to the ways in which this energy can organize itself and manifest itself in various spaces, times and spatiotemporal structures. This divine energy can be directly experienced. It can be experienced as a high-frequency vibration. (The string theorists in physics are probably getting close to a proper description of the fundamental physical entities in the physical world when they posit vibrating “strings”.) By means of meditation, breathing practices, psychedelic drugs and sacred plants, a combination of these, or simply through divine grace, one can become aware of this energetic vibration manifesting in one’s own body. What one is experiencing is God directly.
In such experience one is not experiencing a God which is outside one’s body. One’s body is part of God, which is why one can have this experience. What is experienced is not some effect of God, it isGod. But, of course, only a part of God. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, “What is received is received according to the nature of the recipient.” So when we experience God directly we experience God only in the manner in which, as experiencing beings of a certain kind, we are capable of experiencing God. God is vastly greater than anything we can experience of God; we can obtain just a glimpse, but a glimpse sufficient to produce both awe and humility.
But this does not mean that God is anything like what the Jewish, Christian and Islamic theologians claim. Nothing in this experience suggests that God is a lawgiver, a judge of human actions or a commander sitting in heaven directing human affairs. Such notions have been foisted on the gullible to facilitate social and political control. In one’s more fanciful moments it is perhaps permissible to anthropomorphize God in the way that the Hindus do — Shiva as realizer of cosmic consciousness, Kali as (sometimes destructive) mother of all, Radha and Krishna as divine lovers, and so on — but this is simply to make it easier for those people who cannot experience God directly (as Sat-Chit-Ananda) to relate to or think of God, especially with the addition of an emotional component.
This view of God is consistent with a Buddhist view of the world, even though Buddhism is generally described as atheistic. The Buddha’s teaching of anatman can be understood as asserting that there is no individual being (atman) which is separate from that-which-is (Tathata, Suchness). It is a delusion to think of oneself as a being separate from the world, an individual. Certainly as a physical being one strives to preserve one’s existence, but identification of oneself with one’s physical body and its well-being and preservation produces all the suffering (and some joy) that flesh is heir to, but really one is not separate from the that-which-is, here called God, and abandoning this false identification is the way out of suffering, for those who prefer to go in this direction.
The other error mentioned above, that God is “within”, is not an error insofar as the assertion draws attention to the fact that we may experience God as within ourselves (since we are part of God), but it is an error if the assertion is interpreted to mean that what is “without” — the physical world that we see about us — is not also God. Spinoza was correct when he equated Nature with God (though God extends further than what we see as the natural world). All things are God, the animals, the trees, even the rocks and the oceans are a part of God, since there is nothing which is not God.
So don’t be fooled by any priest or cleric who claims that God is “out there” — especially if he then proceeds to act as if he were some kind of intermediary between you and God, or as if he knew what God thinks or wants or intends you to do. (And especially don’t buy into the fraudulent claim that you are a sinner, deserving punishment, but will be saved if you just believe and do what you’re told to.) Just say (in thought if not in deed), “No, thanks, I am (a part of) God and I don’t need anyone else to tell me how to think or what to do.”