What Do All Religions Have In Common?

Ken Wilber on Universal and Timeless Wisdom (The Perennial Philosophy)

The following text is a shortened version of an interview between Treya Killam Wilber and Ken Wilber in Grace and Grit, a heartbreaking and beautiful story of deep love, loss, and spiritual awakening. In it Ken discusses some of the basic universal truths found in all mystical paths.

Treya Killam Wilber: At first glance, it’s hard to see what Buddhism and Christianity would agree on. So what exactly are some of the essentials of the perennial philosophy? […]

Ken Wilber:

  1. Spirit exists.

  2. Spirit is found within.

  3. Most of us don’t realize this spirit within, however, because we are living in a world of sin, separation, and duality–that is, we are living in a fallen or illusory state.

  4. There is a way out of this fallen state of sin and illusion, there is a path to our liberation.

  5. If we follow this path to its conclusion, the result is a rebirth or enlightenment, a direct experience of spirit within, a supreme liberation, which–

  6. Marks the end of sin and suffering, and which–

  7. Issues in social action of mercy and compassion on behalf of all sentient beings. 

1. Spirit Exists

[Mystics] claims are based, not on mere beliefs or ideas, theories or dogmas, but rather on direct experience, actual spiritual experience. The mystical experience is indeed ineffable […] Like any experience—a sunset, eating a piece of cake, listening to bach–one has to have the actual experience to see what it’s like. But we don’t therefore conclude that sunset, cake, and music don’t exist or aren’t valid. Further, even though the mystical experience is largely ineffable, it can be communicated or transmitted. Namely, by taking up spiritual practice under the guidance of a spiritual master or teacher, just like, for example, judo can be taught but not spoken. […]

2. Spirit is Found Within 

[…] The stunning message of the mystics is that in the very core of your being, you are God.  Strictly speaking, God is neither within nor without-spirit transcends all duality. But one discovers this by consistently looking within, until “within” becomes “beyond”.

The you that is God, is not your individual and isolated self or ego, this or that self, Mr. or Ms. So-and-so. In fact, the individual self or ego is precisely what blocks the realization of the Supreme Identity in the first place.  Rather, the “you” in question is the deeper part of you—or, if you wish, the highest part of you—the subtle essence, as the Upanishad put it, that transcends your mortal ego and directly partakes of the Divine. In Judaism it is called the ruach, the divine and supraindividual spirit in each and every person, and not the nefesh, or the individual ego. In Christianity, it is the indwelling pneuma or spirit that is of one essence with God, and not the individual psyche or soul, which at best can worship God. […]

Obviously, if you think that your individual ego is god, you’re in big trouble. You would, in fact, be suffering from psychoses, from paranoid schizophrenia. That’s obviously not what the world’s greatest philosophers and sages have in mind. […]

3. If I am really one with God, why don’t I realize that?

Something must separate me from Spirit. Why this Fall? What’s the sin? […] The various traditions give many answers to this question, but they all essentially come down to this: I cannot perceive my own true identity, or my union with Spirit, because my awareness is clouded and obstructed by a certain activity that I am now engaged in. And that activity, although known by many different names, is simply the activity of contracting and focusing awareness on my individual self or personal ego. […] 

4. A Path exists

A Path that, if followed properly, will lead us from our fallen state to our enlightened state, from samsara to nirvana, from Hell to Heaven. […]

5. Rebirth, resurrection, or enlightenment.

In your own being, the small self must die so that the big Self may resurrect. […] Actual ego—death, yes. It’s no metaphor. The accounts of this experience, which may be very dramatic but can also be fairly simple and nondramatic, make it clear that all of a sudden you simply wake up and discover that, among other things, your real being is everything you are now looking at, that you are literally one with all manifestation, one with the universe, however corny that might sound, and that you did not actually become one with God and all, you have eternally been that oneness but didn’t realize it. […]

6. An end to suffering

[…] It’s not that after enlightenment, or after spiritual practice in general, you no longer feel pain or anguish or fear or hurt. You do. It’s simply that they no longer threaten your existence, and so they cease to be problematic. […]

7. Social Action

True enlightenment is said to issue in social action driven by mercy, compassion, and skillful means, in an attempt to help all beings attain the supreme liberation. Enlightened activity is simply selfless service. Since we are all one in the same Delf, or the same mystical body of Christ, or the same Dharmakaya, then in serving others I am serving my own Self. I think when Christ said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he must have meant “Love your neighbor as your Self.”

For more on Ken’s current philosophy, see the Superhuman Operating System (endorsed by Marianne Williamson and Tony Robbins).

Category: Belief


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