This morning I gave a 45 minute talk to the 500 or so National Satsang Weekend attendees at the Science of the Soul Center here in Petaluma, California. No, I’m not a member of a cult, no matter what my wife says (jokingly, I should emphasize, just as I fondly call her “infidel” with a smile on my face). Aside from my talks, Laurel chooses not to attend meetings of my spiritual group, for reasons I can completely sympathize with.
I look upon spirituality as a science that investigates whatever may lie beyond the physical reality with which we are familiar now. So I resonate to the “science” aspect of the Science of the Soul. But other members take much more of a religious approach, believing that the mere fact of being accepted as an initiate by the Master who heads the organization makes you a Special Soul, marked for salvation while people like my wife are doomed to a lesser quality afterlife.
Today I couldn’t resist making some remarks about this annoying attitude. I said that scientists the world over are united in their search for the truth about materiality. A physicist doesn’t care if a colleague comes from another country, another culture, another religion, another whatever. All that matters is their common commitment to unraveling the laws of physical nature through the scientific method. So science unites people.
Strangely, most religions and spiritual paths divide people, even though they claim to be devoted to the one God, or the one metaphysical reality. Thus, I observed, it is strange that a materialistic enterprise, science, is a unifying force on our planet, while a supposedly non-materialistic enterprise, religion, is a divisive force.
My main theme was the One. This is the best term for God, I argued, because it most clearly reflects an almost universal tenet of mystical philosophies: beneath all the manyness without and within us lies the ineffable, formless ground of being. Call it God. Call it the One. Trace anything in creation back to its source. There is the One.
Since the One is everywhere and everything, though also separate from everywhere and everything (statements like this are what make mysticism mystical), we too are the One. But this won’t be evident to us until we get rid of all the manyness that obscures our oneness. Meditation is the scientific practice that, theoretically, brings this about. (I say “theoretically” because the practice is darn difficult to practice, for me as for most other people).
Yet meditation needs to be supported by a person’s whole approach to life. If this is divisive, as when someone thinks they are part of a special group that has a special claim to special spiritual knowledge, that attitude isn’t going to lead this person closer to unity. I think I got this point across pretty well, though it wasn’t my main emphasis. Mostly I talked about Plotinus’s teachings concerning the One and how we are able to return to this ultimate reality.
This was the first time I’ve had a talk translated. Because many older members of the Science of the Soul group were born in India and don’t speak English well, 45 minute talks given in English get a 15 minute translation into Hindi (or maybe Punjabi, I don’t know which). The translator jotted down five or so pages of handwritten notes while I was talking, came out on stage and sat down next to me after I was done, and proceeded to summarize what I said.
It was sort of fun to listen to the cadences of a language I can’t understand, other than a few words. There were lots of “paramatmas,” which I’m pretty sure means God, or close to it. Heaven knows how some of my slang-infested English got translated, and whether “Stoic” means much to many of the traditional Indians—who also dress traditionally.
Laurel and I love the colorful attire of the Indian women, all the saris in every color of the rainbow. And the Indian food served at lunch and dinner brought smiles to our stomachs. All in all, a pleasant multi-cultural weekend, different sorts of people coming together in pursuit of the One.