During the last six years, and not only here on Medium, I talked repeatedly about the same concepts, though in many different (symbolic) languages. Scientific, Atheistic, Judaic, Christian, partly Buddhist, Vedic, or Shamanic, and very marginally also Taoist (if you are curious, search through my profile for details :).
I didn’t speak in Muslim parlance as Muslims understand the Judeo-Christianese pretty well, and the same is equally true for all other derivatives of the ways mentioned above and their respective pivotal concepts. I also didn’t bother with the plethora of other “traditions” since they don’t lead anywhere, perhaps only to bank accounts of their respective “gurus” or priests.
The reason for that detour was simple. In order to convey as much as possible in the shortest amount of time, it was beneficent to use the already established symbolic maps, despite the risk that the message might get buried in propaganda, superstition, and incorrect (or incomplete) interpretations that abound in, and plague, each and every one of those, mostly ancient, systems of thought.
The point was to demonstrate that since time immemorial, or more precisely for at least the last hundred thousand years, human cognitive effort is directed toward the same goal using basically the same psychosomatic tools. Moreover, I was trying to highlight that that effort always leads to the same singular tangible and definitive result, which is in turn the only source of a mental state that leads to a sustainable way of human life and, subsequently, human society at large.
No, it does not mean that human is by nature religious. It only demonstrates that we are inherently curious. We want to know what is this place, we want to know who we are, and we want to know it without a shadow of the doubt. Partly because our human lives depend on it, partly because it simply tickles our fancy.
For sure, most people never go beyond the pragmatic part of the equation. Those are the sorcerers of the old and transhumanists of today, obsessed with control and power over nature and world at large. And although the latter are doomed to fail exactly as the former because they don’t embrace the formula in whole, that’s not the point of this article.
What I wanted to show is that humans for a pretty long time already not only search for definitive answers in the form of absolute truth, but also that a way to attain it was already discovered. Although different traditions put emphasis on different tools in our psychosomatic toolkit, all of them can be distilled into few basic rules.
Probably the most important condition on the path to knowledge of absolute truth is the admission of possibility that such truth exists and is knowable. Call it faith, trust, or simply an open mind, you must allow for the possibility that the path exists and that it has a goal. Exactly like Columbus had to believe that there is a western passage to India, that’s the only leap of faith you will ever need to make. (Funny as it may be, the fact that Columbus arrived to America and was ignorant of it, plays no role in this case — in principle, his belief was not misplaced.)
This is the reason why Abrahamic Ten Words start with positing the existence of God as a fact, why Hinduism makes the same claims about Brahman (unified / non-dual existence-consciousness-bliss or reality-knowledge-infinity), why the fourth noble truth of Buddhism requires faith in the existence of Noble Eightfold Path, why opening verse of Tao Te Ching states as a matter of course that “The Tao that can be told is not the Absolute (Unvarying) Tao”, or why science didn’t reject the possibility of Grand Unified Theory.
Thus, those who don’t suspend their disbelief and reject either the possibility of existence of absolute truth as such or existence of a way to know it (treating it as an eternal mystery or what have you) are by definition agnostics. At best. At worst, close-minded. To put it mildly. In either case, they sentence themselves to permanent ignorance.
When we talk about the actual path, then, it’s probably best to start with the tool of acceptance. After all, the whole of Islam basically revolves around submission to Allah, the same submission Judeo-Christian tradition dubs as obeying the will of God. It’s the same concept as that of bhakti yoga, or the path of devotion, which is most probably the most widespread form of yoga you can find in Hinduism.
At first glance it may seem dogmatic. Especially when people are told to obey the whims of priests without any questioning whatsoever as is many times the case (and oftentimes leads to blatant abuse). But in practice it simply means the absolute acceptance of natural causality of universe.
That’s why you encounter the commandment to honor your mother and father in the Bible, that’s why second noble truth of Buddhism calls for acceptance of dependent origination of dukkha, not to mention that rigorous acceptance of causality, taking the results of experiments even if they contradict one’s expectations and wishes, is what empirical science is all about.
Acceptance, that is to say, coming to terms with brute facts we are subject to, leads in effect to acceptance of our mortality, which is in turn crucial in application of the rest of the tools in an unbiased way. And that’s the actual point and also the reason why this facet of self-realization is more often than not stressed above all.
In other words meditation. There is no reason to go into details here as there are thousands of tomes written on this subject and literally millions of teachers who deal with it in one way or another. Meditative observation is simply “the thing.”
Buddhism is essentially one big meditation exercise, raja yoga (or hatha yoga as meditation in postures) is what is in the West known as the yoga and is the epitome of spirituality, and the whole of Jewish mysticism hinges on Kabbalistic meditative trance. Similarly, you will find meditation in Tao Te Ching, in the words of Jesus in New Testament, as well as Islam and its mystical offshoot, Sufism. That’s why Biblical Ten Words command to keep Shabbat, a day of non-doing, or wu-wei as it is called by Taoism. And of course, detached observation is nothing foreign to science either — heck, it’s its bread and butter.
It’s worth to mention that usage of psychotropic plants falls into this category, too. However, only if the plants in question are used as a magnifying glass and not merely as an escape pod. (Which also explains e.g. all those dumb stoners who, judging by the amounts of weed they consume, should know the absolute truth several times already, but nope, they are still those ignorant youngsters who they were before they took their first puff.)
And just to remind you, accepting what we perceive without prejudice and bias is what meditation is all about. Hence, the importance of the previous tool. Suffice to say, meditation is crucial for tools that follow.
This is the jnana yoga of Hinduism. Here’s where the magic happens. Here we contemplate the Torah, Lord’s Prayer, or infinity. Here we ask questions about our identity, about the nature of existence and our notion of being a subject. Here we recollect our past and heal our traumas. Here we ponder hypotheses and arguments. Here we imagine and dream. Here we actively experiment with our mind.
It should be obvious why mastering detached meditative observation and unbiased acceptance of causality is essential. Without the former the depth is shallow, without the latter the former is tinted with biases and illusions.
Inquiry is where insights happen, and those can in turn influence the efficacy of observation and acceptance.
But at its core, inquiry is a tool for finding the observer. Upanishads will instruct you to discard everything that is observed as that obviously cannot be observer. Three commandments of Judeo-Christian Ten Words prescribe an attitude where one does not have any images of the absolute, and similarly, Tao Te Ching starts with the statement that anything nameable is not the true Tao, while Buddhism stresses that no level of meditative absorption is Nirvana itself — while you perceive it, it’s not It. And while science has no such tool per se, consciousness is considered a hard problem and God is clearly nowhere to find as a distinct form. All the same stuff.
Whether we like it or not, we must act. If nothing else, we have to move in order to eat and excrete. We are simply bound to interact with our surroundings. Here is also where the traditions discussed diverge the most. It’s rather understandable, because here is where all that propaganda, wild superstitious concepts, and incorrect (or incomplete) interpretations that I mentioned in the beginning materialize. Here they are realized into palpable forms, causes of further effects.
However, it’s also striking that all traditions in question also come to an unprecedented consensus: no killing, no stealing, no fucking around, no lying, no envy or other insidious thoughts and feelings — you will find those everywhere. If not literally set in law, at least on a well accepted consensual level. All across the spectrum from orthodox religious to rabid secular. Well, as you will eventually find out, those restrictions will help you with eliminating distractions that may interfere with proper use of the rest of the tools.
Also, whether it’s Vedic karma yoga, Shamanic or Abrahamic tradition, or even secular psychology, you will be advised to not concentrate on the outcome, but to simply perform to the best of your abilities. You will be told to not base your acts on fear or craving and ambition. You will be also advised to put your knowledge to practice (or test), which, again, is one of the cornerstones of science, too.
As is obvious, and as was the case with all previous tools, doing hinges on sharpness and accuracy of inquiry. It simply matters a lot what was realized, and what people subscribe to can be seen by the fruits of their actions. What is less obvious, but is a blatant truism, is that actions can trigger insights equally as inquiry, and they do so with identical aftereffects. Well, people don’t say for naught that only those who see knowledge and action as one, see clearly.
To put it plainly, this singular path, no matter its flavor, unambiguously ends with enlightenment. It ends with recognizing the absolute infinite unchanging existence as all that is, was, and will ever be. Empty of essence, just as it is. It also pinpoints the source of our subjectivity, that is, unitary consciousness and its similar lack of properties.
It may not resolve the conundrum whether consciousness is primary or just an epiphenomenon, but it clearly reveals its absolute spatiotemporal uniformity across lifeforms, which, frankly, renders the whole dilemma completely moot. Perhaps it’s because I simply cannot imagine how that would be possible, if consciousness was a by-product, but also because at this point it’s utterly inconsequential as there is no separation and whole manifested world lives in you.
So, there you have it. An universal path to liberation. Spirituality in a nutshell. A simple guide to self-knowledge. A blueprint for knowledge of the world. An absolutely natural way to know who you are and what is this place. It’s the end of religion, spirituality, faith, belief, ritual, reincarnation, souls, spirits, and anything transcendent and immanent. It’s the end of value and importance, a recognition that everything was always as it should be because it could not be any other way. And yet, free will and responsibility for it are impossible to ignore.
So yes, even atheistic materialists can attain the absolute without being religious, spiritual, or having any inclination toward “supernatural.” In fact, atheists will have an easier time as they are not burdened by all the fantasy superstitions and wishful dogma of ancient traditions. Provided, of course, they have an open mind as I described it above.
Well, and now you truly have all the keys to the eternal peace. Enter, however, you must by yourself.