the human quest
a reflection on the human search for the superhuman
At present, in Munich, you can choose between approximately 10 different Buddhist groups, at least 20 different schools with a Hindu or Yoga background, some Sufi people, some resident and a lot of visiting Satsang teachers, shamanic practitioners and lots of syncretic groups, which are combining various traditions. Many of them promise you immediate results or quick help that make you feel better, without really exploring deeper into your original quest. Add the hotchpotch of offers from the media and you will get a confusing variety of possibilities, where the danger of getting sidetracked is immanent.
The Bhutanese lama, filmmaker, and writer Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche says in an article on his Facebook page “…Even more dangerous are the self-made gurus who use mindfulness and other Buddhist practices to turn the essence of the Buddhist path into techniques for increasing our love of samsara. By doing so, they utterly destroy the entire purpose of the Buddhadharma, which is to liberate suffering beings from samsara. If this perversion of the Buddha’s teachings is not demonic—the ‘devil incarnate,’ as Christians might say—what is?”
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that “liberation from samsara” is the good solution and “increasing your love of samsara” the bad one. But these two approaches are indeed often opposed to each other and it’s easy to get lost. One has to chose, which direction to take. Trying to follow both directions simultaneously will get you into frustration and confusion, no matter how noble your causes may be. For example, if you have a desire for world peace, you can take action or pray for it. You might achieve something temporary and it may give a meaning to your life, but you are still caught in a subject – object duality, which distracts you from the realization of your transcendental nature – always present without any purpose or projections of future achievement. Perhaps your meditation has positive effects on your health or on your environment, so I’m not saying that meditation can’t lead to improvement. But that positive side effect is not guaranteed and would disturb the meditation rather than support it, if it became the main purpose. It’s often a subtle difference, whether you are trying to improve samsara or be liberated from it. Not seeing the difference clearly has a long history within the human quest, because leaders often benefit from the lack of clarity of their followers.
This reflection on the human quest attempts to show how the two currently predominant approaches “liberation from samsara”, which is the essence of the non dual matrix, and “improvement within samsara”, which is the priority of the Abrahamic matrix, have taken form and consequently shaped the history of mankind and our present situation. I’m not recommending any choices for you. But by looking at the “bigger picture” you might be able to find out for yourself, what your choices are today.
First we look at the historical development of the human quest, with its various transformations in time and space. Later we shall try to get an overview of the present situation, and finally we will look to the future.
Misunderstandings are in the nature of our subject, as we are talking with a mind of limited possibilities about the realms beyond mind and language. You are welcome to ask any questions to the author via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A diagram displaying the development of the matrices and systems, which shaped the basic principles of the human quest:
We can divide the various approaches into matrices, which are defined by some common fundamental concepts. Within a matrix there are certain systems, and within the systems we can talk about subsystems, movements or streams. As an example: the Abrahamic matrix is divided into three main systems, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and within Christianity there are Catholics, Protestants and so on, as subsystems.
Animistic and shamanic matrix: we are looking at a time from about 100000 years ago to about 10000 BC. This period is widely regarded as part of the Stone Age and humans lived as hunter/gatherers. Naturally the quest of our ancestors from this period was very practical. It is highly unlikely that a person from this period found the time to think about some hidden meaning of life. You had to be constantly on the lookout, whether something edible came within your reach, or another living being came along, who might classify you as edible for them. Besides, a consideration of the meaning of life required a language with abstract terms, which from all we can guess only slowly developed during this period. But certainly the search for entities existing beyond the sensual perceptions started during the Stone Age and the ideas of spirits, ghosts and other supernatural entities were passed on verbally from generation to generation. The step from animistic to shamanistic practice happened when some humans developed the ability to see and contact these entities, and managed to influence them in favor of their tribe or members of their tribe. These people became specialized as healers, mediators, spiritual leaders and general advisors. Originally, shaman was their name only in Siberia, but today the term is used globally.
Polytheism: When some nomadic tribal bands form larger groups and settle in groups, human interaction became more organized for practical reasons. In these early cultures, the first forms of organized religion with emperors and priests creating their own polytheistic pantheon with special local protective gods emerged.
Abrahamic matrix: While the majority of humans in the Middle East worshipped either shamanic or polytheistic deities, a rebellious shepherd in Mesopotamia called Abraham introduced a new concept with a single almighty god and moved with his small tribe to Judaea. Henceforth the system created by him and his descendants is called Judaism. Later this system was reformed by a son of a Jewish carpenter into Christianity, and another six hundred years later it was further developed by an Arabic camel caretaker into Islam. All three religions have been built on a monotheistic belief system based on the mythological events from the Old Testament. In their practical implementations there are big differences between the three, and within their fold there are often contradictory and competing subsystems. Countless wars have been fought between the three main groups, but also amongst the subgroups there have been lots of conflicts.
Non-dual matrix: In various areas in Eurasia, a few exceptional individuals started searching within themselves and reached upon a realization beyond the borders of individual happiness. In some cases they decided to share their realization. Some impressed their fellow human beings so much through their extraordinary radiance, that they attracted large followings and devotees. In the cases of Mahavir, Buddha, Lao Tzu and others, their talks were memorized and later written down as sacred revelations, but the emphasis has been and still is the nonverbal transmission from the master to the disciple. I’ve only included the three biggest groups in the non-dual matrix in the illustration to keep it simple, but there are other systems like Jainism, Sikhism and Yungdrung Bön, which are also part of the non-dual matrix.
All belief systems do include various concepts and patterns as guidance to their followers, just like a doctor temporarily offers a stick to a patient, who is slowly regaining his eyesight. The systems of the animistic matrix, have, in most cases, no explicit pointer towards the beyond, but the possibility to dissolve into the unknown is not ruled out. The Abrahamic matrix negates officially any possibility of transcending the-god-versus-sentient-beings-duality, and only in the non-dual variant is there is a possibility of transcending the concepts of the matrix to achieve liberation from samsara. If one decides to take that path, one has to go beyond all concepts (like morals and ethics) and beliefs to realize the unspeakable and unthinkable truth.
2. early movements
Chart of the early human migrations between 100000 and 10000 BC.
Even though our knowledge about this period is based solely on archeological and genetic research, which is sometimes contradictory, we need to start by looking at the origins of our quest. Even without written testimonies we can certainly say that the first ideas about an existence of a transcendental reality beyond the material phenomena occured in this period and these ideas found their expression in the original forms of animism and shamanism.
The scientific estimate for the whole world population around 10000 BCE is between one and ten million, which is about one thousandth of today’s population of 7.5 billion. These few millions, which could be squeezed into the area of Paris or Berlin nowadays, were spread over all continents. People lived as hunters and gatherers. Movement happened for various reasons: climate changes, overpopulation and the migration of the prey were likely motives. The map shows only some of the main moves, but a lot more movement happened in reality. .
Migrations out of Africa across the Sinai peninsula occurred definitely a few times, and perhaps quite frequently. There are also traces of reverse movements back into Africa. .
Also the crossing of the Bering Strait was done more than once.
The central Eurasian steppes offered great possibilities for hunting. So many nomadic tribes move around between today’s Ukraine and the Lake Baikal region.
Some transcontinental sea journeys took place, even though we do not know exactly how or when. Our main consideration here is that a lot of migrations happened in the paleolithic period. When tribes or groups of tribes moved, they took their knowledge and habits with them, so by 10000 BCE animistic practices were spread over all continents.
Myths about the creation of the world, the creation of gods and their relationship with each other and humans, were formulated and passed on by word of mouth. So within a few generations, the contents of a myth might have changed gradually according to the inaccuracies of oral transmission, but commonly used themes and simple symbols (circle, triangle etc.) spread globally. Ritual practices, chanting, dancing and the use of psychedelic substances developed in the tribal communities and evoked trance states amongst the members. The trances were primarily used for practical purposes like healing diseases, influencing natural deities like the sun, the winds or the water for environmental changes, talking to ancestors and preparing warfare. In short, the functions of the human mind, which distinguish its capacities from other mammals, started to evolve. Humans were learning to manipulate themselves and others and the environment.
In some indigenous cultures, which have survived until today, there is the concept of a supreme divine principle, which is the cause of everything that exists. I.e. the Lakotas of North America speak of Wakan Tanka (the Great Spirit) and the Mongolians talk about Munkh Khukh Tengri (Eternal Blue Sky), which are both precursors to concepts within the non-dual matrix like Brahman, Nirvana or the Tao. All these terms describe the Eternal or Ultimate, which was and is and will always be there. But we cannot find out if these super-concepts were already termed in the Stone Age, or if they were named later. There might have been some individuals aspiring for and realizing a unification with the supreme principle, even though it wasn’t named in those days. There are no reliable testimonies available, as there was no writing in the Paleolithic. But some of the deities, which have been and sometimes still are venerated in polytheistic or non-dual systems, might go back to prehistoric and legendary awakened humans, which later became deified through the embellishment of oral transmissions. That might apply to Shiva and Krishna from the Hindu pantheon, Hercules from the Greek myth, Osiris from Egypt, Inanna from the Babylonian tradition and others. Even less certain we can be about how often such awakenings might have occurred within the animistic communities.
3. the emergence of polytheistic systems
Within the first larger human civilizations, various polytheistic pantheons came into existence at different times and locations
The estimated world population at the time of Christ is about 150 to 300 million, that is about fifty to a hundred times more than 10000 years earlier. In certain areas with favorable living conditions, people became sedentary and formed bigger settlements; new forms of social organization evolve, and food production and livestock breeding were replacing hunting and gathering of plants. The newly arising states were organized very hierarchically. The ruling elites enjoyed their status and started to exploit the commoners, who sometimes even became the property of the aristocracy. Communication with the metaphysical world was changing as well, as the deities were now used to control and manipulate people.
Generally speaking the term “polytheistic” applies also to the shamanic matrix, as it simply means “with many gods”, but we are using the term here especially for polytheistic systems, which include deities created by humans and having human appearances with special powers and abilities. The animistic deities, like sun gods, moon gods or animal spirits were still worshipped, but new gods, like Isis in Egypt, Indra in India or Zeus in Greece, came into being and gained superior influence. Some shamans turned into priests and oracles, who mediated between gods and humans. Cities and empires often had their own special protector gods and sometimes kings claimed to be of divine origin to justify their leadership. Around the year 1, the polytheist religions were dominant in the most densely populated areas around the globe. Only India had turned Buddhist after emperor Ashoka the Great converted to Buddhism in 258 BC.
On the esoteric level, wise man and women established the first mystery schools like Pythagoras in Greece, but also in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Rituals, dance, chanting and other practices were adopted from the animistic matrix. We do not know if the liberation from samsara occurred in some of these mystery schools, as we don’t have any written testimonies about awakened people from those days.
While the areas, where cultures developed, look like isolated islands on the map. In reality there was a lot of intermingling happening; a flow of ideas and interaction, which had been going on throughout history. Even back in the days of the creation of our myths, there are some interesting similarities which hint to a connection between far distant areas, for example:
– The storyline of the Ramayana and the Iliad is about a royal couple (Sita/Ram, Helena/Menelaos). In both cases another king or prince (Ravana, Paris) kidnapps the woman and takes her to a far away kingdom across the sea. The original husbands gather large armies to rescue their spouses. They besiege the capitals of the foreign kingdom (Lanka, Troy), fight a long war, conquer the cities at last, and take their spouses back.
– The wife of the biblical A-BRAH-am is called SARAh, while in Hindu mythology the creator deity is called BRAHma and his wife is SARAswati.
So probably, even in the ancient days, there were connections between geographically distant cultures. Later, in the days of the Achamaenid empire and Alexander the Great, we know with certainty, that the Zoroastrian Persians were influenced by Jewish pundits, Buddhist monks and Greek philosophers. Around 250 AD the Iranian visionary Mani founded a new movement, which combined Christian, Zoroastrian and Buddhist elements. Manichaeism spread quickly as far as North Africa, Italy and China. The meeting of Christian values with Celtic traditions lead to the myth of the Holy Grail. Indian Buddhism was transformed into Vajrayana Buddhism through the meeting with the Tibetan Bön tradition. In Japan, Buddhist mystics met Shinto shamans and Zen Buddhism was created. In India, Islam and Hinduism had been competing for centuries, but mystics like Guru Nanak and Kabir combined and transcended the old traditions. In Central and South America, where Christian missionaries had met with animistic systems earlier, slave trade lead to unique new syncretic combinations.
As you can see, in the wake of wandering nomads, conquering armies, and busy traders, religious traditions often met and inspired the creation of new systems.
4. the emergence of the non dual matrix
The first awakenings were documented and changed the gestalt of the human quest:
Besides the rise (and fall) of civilizations and their countless gods, we have testimonies of special beings who have left a lasting impact on their fellow humans. We don’t know if all of them really existed or if some were completely or partially myth. Most likely additional legends were attributed to each of them. Yet we can safely presume that starting from the Iron Age, there were humans at various places who had extraordinary realizations which gave their appearance a special radiance. In some cultures they were called mystics, in Greece philosophers, and in India rishis or yogis. Probably not all of them went public, and many were probably forgotten soon after their physical disappearance, but a few like Buddha or Lao Tzu started big traditions, which are still practiced widely today. Similar to the shamanic traditions, there were men and women alike who questioned the common beliefs and explored beyond common ground. In the eastern half of Eurasia, the focus of these wise people was on the inner search. After having profound realizations, individuals like Mahavir, Chuang Tzu or Shenrab Miwoche started to share their wisdom through words or nonverbal transmissions. Their sayings and life stories were memorized by some of their followers and became the substratum for the systems within the non dual matrix, like Taoism, Jainism or Buddhism. While various techniques and methods (which developed into many different schools) could be practiced, the realization always happened and still happens through dissolving into the Divine. Each individual has the potential to have the same realization like Buddha or Lao Tzu. Gods and deities can be worshipped, but they are incarnations or symbols of an impersonal Divine Isness.
5. the emergence of the abrahamic matrix
The Fertile Crescent and the surrounding Middle East deserve some special attention as all three Abrahamic religions originate there:
The area between Egypt and modern day Iraq can be seen as the area of the first traffic jams in human history, as all of the early migrations out of and back into Africa had to pass through this area. Additionally this region, which is called the Fertile Crescent because of its shape and natural richness, offered excellent conditions for domestication of animals and cultivation of plants for food production. So it is not surprising that the first bigger human settlements and empires developed there. From the early days until today, the area has been highly disputed between various religious and ethnic groups who are all claiming these lands as their ancient homelands. While the ethnic heritage is still present with the present populations, the ancient religious traditions have been swept away by three men of low descent, who rebelled in their respective times against the established belief systems.
Abraham: According to the Bible, Abraham originally lived in the area of Ur which was one of the ancient fortified cities. He was a simple shepherd and apparently not happy with his environment. From Ur in Chaldea, he lead his small tribe to Haran in modern day Southeast Turkey and later to the land of Canaan in modern day Israel. According to the Koran, he rebelled against Nimrod, a legendary Assyrian king, in Urfa, which is close to Haran. He was frequently instructed by a heavenly being, who claimed to be the supreme god. Abraham convinced his people to worship this god, which they did after god performed some miracles for them. As we don’t have any other sources besides the Old Testament and the Koran, he might just be a myth and perhaps he never existed as a single physical being. But nevertheless he stands out as the original symbol and the main creator of monotheism and the main founder of Judaism.
Jesus of Nazareth: Some centuries later, when the Jewish people were quite unhappy with the Roman occupying forces, Jesus was born into a carpenter’s family, claimed to be god’s son and attempted to reform the Jewish belief system. His message was widely rejected in his homeland, but after his death, the new faith spread to Asia Minor and a became the state religion of the Roman empire a few hundred years later. From Rome and Constantinople, Christianity spread to central and western Europe and Russia, and from there with the colonization of America, to all areas of the new world.
Muhammad: Around 600 AD in Mecca, on the Arabian peninsula, a new prophet appeared who claimed to get direct messages from god. His proper name was Abū al-Qāsim Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib ibn Hāshim, but to the world he became known as Mohammed. He too, was initially not very popular with his fellow citizens. But during his lifetime he gained a big following and unified Arabia. Within 150 years his successors conquered a huge empire from Spain to Kyrgyzstan, and spread the new religion to South East Asia, Central Asia, parts of Africa and Europe.
Even though Judaism, Christianity and Islam emphasize very different laws and rules, they share a lot of concepts and all relate to a similar past, which is written down in their holy books. That’s why they are often called “the book religions” or “Abrahamic religions”. The Abrahamic matrix is also called the Semitic matrix, as all three main founders originated from Semitic ethnicities and spoke Semitic languages. The basic theme of this matrix is the relationship between god and human beings, who were created by him, but can never become god themselves. That’s why we talk about dual systems here. As god is the stronger part in the partnership, and decides about an individual’s joyful or horrible afterlife, humans strive for god’s appreciation. The principles of life are outlined in the respective holy books which cannot be questioned by the followers of the system.
In each tradition, mystic schools developed, the Hasids in Judaism, the Sufis in Islam, and the Christian mystics, who overcame the fundamental duality of the Abrahamic matrix. But they remained small minorities and were often suppressed by the mainstream organizations within their traditions. The priests and leaders within the Abrahamic matrix, then and now, tend to be very controlling and stick strictly to their monotheistic principles.
6. the main differences between the matrices
Great Spirit Prayer by Big Thunder (late 19th century Algonquin):
Give us hearts to understand; Never to take from creation’s beauty more than we give; never to destroy wantonly for the furtherance of greed; never to deny to give our hands for the building of earth’s beauty; never to take from her what we cannot use.
Bible, Genesis 1:28:
And God blessed them [human beings]. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Tao Te Ching, Chapter 29:
Those who would take over the earth and shape it to their will never, I notice, succeed. The earth is like a vessel so sacred that at the mere approach of the profane it is marred. And when they reach out their fingers it is gone.
The fundamental concepts of the three main matrices (animistic, Abrahamic and non dual) with respect to who we are, what life and the universe is all about, and how to achieve lasting happiness, vary considerably. We will start by looking at the common ground, and from there look into the differences.
In most systems that we know, there is a basic three tier model:
– the below, which is deep in the ocean or under the surface of the earth, and often called the underworld. Demons and other mostly unfriendly creatures live there.
– the above, which is high in the sky or on some unreachable mountains, sometimes called heaven. Mostly deities live there.
– the surface of the earth, on which humans and animals dwell, is in the middle.
I selected five illustrations from various cultures and areas as an example; a systematic description from the Middle East, a drawing from the Chumash Indians, the Nordic universe, a Christian variation by Dutch painter Frans Francken and an Inca version:
Humans, as the inhabitants of the middle region, continuously face challenges from the superior forces above and below and are forced to find practical solutions for survival and successful procreation in the middle area. In indigenous societies, which are mostly within the animistic matrix, the basic patterns of life were established after the creation, and are continuously repeated unless there are environmental changes. Each generation repeats the tasks of their ancestors and no evolutionary impulses originate from the societies within. Major climate changes or natural disasters may lead to migration and rearrangement of a group’s life style. Shamans have the task to communicate with the spirits of the ancestors and the celestial beings. After death you might get promoted to a comfortable place in the sky or downgraded to hell for a while, but all souls remain in a repetitive cycle.
With the evolving of the Abrahamic matrix the model remains the same, but life becomes a one time only adventure. After death you are punished with eternal hell or rewarded with eternal heaven, depending on your sins and merits.
However, all examples have one thing in common, they are all inclusive. There is nothing outside of the three tiers.
The cosmic models of the non dual matrix have a similar three-tier or multi-tier structure. One example is the Wheel of Life from the Buddhist and Bön systems, which can be seen as a mural or Thanka in many monasteries in Tibet and Central Asia. It includes the three realms of the universe as in the above pictures and three more realms have been added. The different worlds are arranged in a circle (that’s, why it’s called “The Wheel of Life” or in Sanskrit “Bhavachakra”). The whole drama is tightly controlled by Yama, the Lord of the Underworld, who makes sure that nobody escapes from the wheel.
Additionally, there is something extra which is missing in the other models. There is a background, on which the Bhavachakra is taking place. The leaders and founders of religions within the non dual matrix have found that background to be our true nature, and every human has the potential to realize the true nature and attain liberation from the wheel. There are beings like the Buddha, who have managed to escape from Yama’s grip through Self realization. For an individual it is possible to attain realization with the support of a Buddha. But the solution cannot be found within the wheel, which symbolizes samsara. All our actions, without exception, keep the roller coaster going. The clue is to detach from the ego. Dissolving the “I” thought, is liberation from samsara. The disappearance of the “I” is the realization that you are unlimited and eternal consciousness. You are the screen, on which the universe is reflected. Click here for an in depth description of the Bhavachakra.
For the vast majority of believers in the Abrahamic matrix, the existence of the background is unknown and may only be found rarely in secret schools. The Abrahamic systems don’t acknowledge a beyond. They remain completely in the illusionary realms and in illusionary promises. Everything is based on the belief that the phenomena within the wheel are real. This actually applies to atheist systems like communism as well. They deny the existence of the realms of the gods and the demons. But they still declare humans and animals as separate from the rest of existence, so they are caught in the same illusionary bubble just like Jews, Christians and Mohammedans.
“In Christianity, Mohammedanism, and Judaism, however, the personality of the divinity is taught to be final—which makes it comparatively difficult for the members of these communions to understand how one may go beyond the limitations of their own anthropomorphic divinity. The result has been, on the one hand, a general obfuscation of the symbols, and on the other, a god-ridden bigotry such as is unmatched elsewhere in the history of religion.” (J.Campbell, The Hero with a thousand Faces).
If any of the three founders, Abraham, Jesus and Mohammad, showed up in Europe or North America today, and say the things they are reported to have said, I presume, they’d be sent to mental institutions in short order. But in their own eras, they found some followers who regarded them as outstanding charismatic leaders. Abraham’s group stayed comparatively small upto today, because Judaism was designed for and stayed confined to Jewish tribes. Yet the Jews created the fundamental concepts which where later adopted by Christians and Muslims, and spread them all over the world. Christians and Muslims took over large parts of the world in later times, often fighting against each other, but nevertheless they converted millions of animistic worshippers to their respective beliefs. How could the Abrahamic matrix be so successful? Certainly many factors have contributed to this development: I will just outline a few prominent ones:
– a clearly defined meaning of life
– motivation for improvement of life circumstances
– strong beliefs
– the idea that your own beliefs are superior to others
Looking at them, we can see the strength and weaknesses of the Abrahamic matrix simultaneously: following Abrahamic belief systems people are focused on practical solutions for life. The Abrahamic concepts for life are excellent strategies for survival and improvement of living conditions, and offer great consolation in case of failure. The monotheistic myth provides great motivation to tackle earthly matters.
So in terms of human evolution, the Abrahamic matrix has proved to be superior to the other matrices, but as a tool for Self realization the Abrahamic systems are very limiting. With regard to the transcendental realms we are dealing with pure fantasy. Nobody has ever witnessed the salvation, which supposedly happens after death, and nobody has ever seen hell from the inside. It’s only speculation, which creates a certain insecurity in people, which in turn creates fanaticism and extra effort from the believers. Ironically, options like “Know Thyself” (Socrates) or “Be a Light unto Yourself” (Buddha), have not been missed much, because the majority have not even heard of the idea of liberation or awakening. The world has seen quite a few Christian mystics, but they are rather seen as a weird deviation from the mainstream beliefs. “A direct encounter with absolute truth, then, appears to be impossible for normal non-mystical consciousness. We cannot know the reality, or even prove the existence, of the simplest object: though this is a limitation which few people realize acutely and most would deny. But there persists in the race a type of personality which does realize this limitation: and cannot be content with the sham realities that furnish the universe of normal men. (p.14)…Further, there is no trustworthy standard by which we can separate the “real” from the “unreal” aspects of phenomena. Such standards as exist are conventional: and correspond to convenience, not to truth. It is no argument to say that most men see the world in much the same way, and that this “way” is the true standard of reality: though for practical purposes we have agreed that sanity consists in sharing the hallucinations of our neighbors. (p.16) “ (Christian mystic Evelyn Underhill in “Mysticism – A Study in the Nature and Development of Consciousness”)
On the other hand, within the non-dual matrix, awakening has been commonly known as the supreme fulfillment of a human life. So it is not surprising that in the East, many more individuals have been focusing towards the transcendental realms and regard earthly matters as secondary. “Emptiness is the essence of all entities. This means that the most fundamental truth of things and beings is that they have no essential identity. Entities conventionally exist as conceptual designations but their identity is not intrinsic; it is situational and transitory. As conditions supporting an identity pass away and new conditions arise, the identity changes. A tree is set alight and becomes fire, then ash; eventually no trace of the tree can be found. Where did the tree go? Even our subjective sense of self is conditional, conceptually designated, changeable, and impermanent.”(Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. Healing with Form, Energy, and Light…).
“Know Thyself” (Ancient Greece) or “Be a Light unto Yourself” (Buddha) have been taken as the major challenge for every human being and many more liberated beings can be found within the non-dual matrix, yet it is not against or in denial of the earthly existence. There is no intrinsic connection between realization and moral or ethical values, even though this is a widespread misunderstanding particularly in the West. Ethical conduct, kindness, empathy and compassion might be used as stepping stones for realization, but they are not the ultimate goal.
“… in Buddhism the realization of the Absolute is called Nirvana, literally the `going out’ or `becoming extinct,’ since from the standpoint of the separate self it means the end of all things, though from the standpoint of reality it means the beginning of all things. Nirvana is the extinction of the craving to be the relative thing and thereby the extinction of the relative as such in the realization of the Absolute. (p. 58)The Absolute is its own explanation, its own cause, its own fulfillment and its own realization. It is That.” (J.J. Van der Leeuw, Conquest of Illusion).
Some realized beings want to share their compassion, but others are happy to stay in solitude or live a normal householder’s life. If compassion arises, it is not for material concerns, but for awakening. Or, in other words: real compassion seeks to terminate the original cause of suffering and not the symptoms.
7. the present situation
A few considerations about the spread of the matrices in our time, the distribution of the world population, and our contemporary mystics.
The countries in yellow are all predominantly influenced by the Abrahamic matrix; the red ones by the non dual matrix. The white parts are too sparsely populated to be taken into account. In many places shamanic and syncretic systems are practiced, mostly by indigenous people, but they are always in the minority compared to the followers of the main religions of a country. Countries that have been dominated by atheist systems for a long period of time I can be counted with the matrix which was dominant during long periods of their history. So Russia, with its ancient Christian tradition is colored yellow, while China, with predominantly Taoist and Buddhist influences, is colored red.
At first glance, it looks quite surprising how three rather absurd belief systems created by three simple guys from the Middle East could spread around the whole planet. While the non dual matrix, offering a much more profound approach, is confined to a much smaller area (16 % of the inhabitable land). People following the originally wide spread animistic and shamanic matrices have almost disappeared from the surface of the earth. However, as people from the shamanic systems have done almost no proselytizing, the non-dualists did a moderate amount of proselytizing, while Christians and Muslims have been the most zealous distributors of their own belief systems. The map simply shows the result of varying intentions of the different matrices.
53 % of the world population lives within the marked circle. The columns list the countries within the circle and their population. Comparing it with the first picture, we see that all of the area of the predominantly non-dual orientated countries are within the circle. While the Abrahamic matrix has gained the biggest influence geographically, in terms of population, the distribution between Abrahamic influenced people and non-dual influenced people is almost equal. The centers of political and economic power are still outside of the circle, but some shifts are in the making and the distribution of those power centers might be moving into the circle soon.
The search for awakening and the occurrence of awakened beings has been happening and acknowledged traditionally far more within the blue circle. But for about 150 years, the non-dual approach is being “exported” from within the circle to the Western world.
Christianity and Islam have been managing for many centuries to maintain and extend their areas of influence in spite of many internal fights in Europe, Western Asia and Africa. Yet with improved travelling conditions at the beginning of the 19th century, mutual influence through ideas and conversions between the Abrahamic and non-dual matrices has been happening. Especially since the 1960s, many teachings and teachers from the non-dual matrix have become very popular in Western countries. But in order to become more acceptable to the Western mind, the contents of the original teachings often get modified. The focus is shifting from accepting and understanding, who you are, to achieving and improving, who you should be. Thus, however, the non-dual approach is deflected into powerful tools for the evolutionary process and becomes devoid of its original meaning, which explains the situation described in the introduction above.
Everybody who is operating within the Abrahamic matrix, is obsessed with improving themselves or the world, as if a permanent state of paradise, a final utopian dream could be reached. Even if you meditate to improve the conditions of your life, the life of your group, or the life of the planet, you are bound to miss ultimate liberation, because you are focused on the impermanent and not on the transcendent.
8. our choices
The dynamics of change, our chances of influencing it, and the only real alternative.
The Bhavachakra or Wheel of Life (see chapter 6 or The Bhavachakra) explains very well how change within the samsaric cycle happens through the law of cause and effect. The intentional influence human beings can exert on these processes is limited, as we are part of the cycle and therefore governed by the law of cause and effect as well. But the evolutionary process powered by anger, ignorance and greed does a surprisingly good job. Contrary to common belief, a lot of things are actually getting better on our planet. You can check on “our world in data”, a website compiled by Oxfordian economist Max Roser. Many scientists agree to these findings. In relation to the entire world population, the percentage of people dying of violent deaths has been going down since the beginning of human history. The percentage of people who don’t have enough to eat is smaller than ever before. Our leaders are actually finding better solutions for coexisting, and people are living longer and better lives. However, the graph of improvement is not often rectilinear, but more like the flow of a river or the flow of the clouds in the sky. So, even though it sometimes looks like things are getting worse, it may just be the preparation for a new step with better conditions. The dynamics of change have a certain rhythm, but it is often difficult to understand or accept these dynamics. I will give you an example:
In most populations of a species, there is a wavelike dynamic of growth and decline. It happens, for example, in an area with lots of fish and birds, where the birds are feeding on the fish. Sometimes the bird populations grow, because they get a lot of food. But naturally, when the birds eat so many fish that the fish are getting scarce, the bird population diminishes with a little time delay, too. Once the birds have diminished, the fish have better conditions to reproduce and survive, and the next round of the cycle starts. Both species alternately grow and diminish unless an outside influence changes the dynamics. This example also reveals another important aspect of the evolutionary process – the sacrificing of some elements of the process for the success of the whole. The evolutionary purpose of the fish is to sacrifice their lives for the well-being of the birds.
One of my favorite examples of the dynamics of change, are the clouds above Lake Walchensee in the Bavarian Alps. For a period of three years, I’ve been taking videos of cloud movements. Looking at them in real time they appear almost motionless, but in time-lapse mode the constant flow of the elements is visible.
The people conditioned by the Abrahamic matrix are all part of a collective quest for improvement of the conditions of human life. Many of our efforts have been successful, but many achievements have unplanned side effects, which cause a new wave of movement in a different direction. So the actual outcome is mostly not the originally desired outcome, and yet, the overall outcome has brought fantastic results for humanity, as “our world in data” and other research show. Our present-day world is, in many ways, the best we’ve ever had. The reason is not that we have become better individuals in terms of ethics or morals, but because we have become more skilled at using greed, aggression and our manipulative abilities.
So, is all well and getting better automatically?
Yes and no, because there is one catch with the evolutionary processes – they are all finite.
Our lives are finite, the existence of humanity is finite, the existence of the planet is finite, and our solar system is finite. Nobody knows exactly when the end of a particular system or organism will come, and how much time is left. We might be able to prolong these processes for a limited period, and we are certainly capable of shortening them. But eventually, anything that has appeared, will disappear. If you understand this basic law of transience, you will see the ultimate futility of all our attempts to change things for the better. All our dreams come to an end at some point.
This is where the quest of the Abrahamic matrix comes to an end, and only the non-dual quest offers a solution, as shown in the Wheel of Life. The mystics of the world found an answer, a unique paradigm shift beyond the concepts of the Abrahamic matrix, which operates within the Wheel of Life.
It’s called liberation from samsara, or moksha, or nirvana. If you really want to be liberated, you have to let go of all attachments. Disentanglement from the mind, and non-biased observation of inner and outer processes – rather being empty-minded than mindful – are the keys to liberation. Perhaps the shift will not be noticeable from the outside. An ancient Zen saying describes this paradox: Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
Awakening is a non-evolutionary happening. The evolutionary process needs the desire for change, while moksha is independent of change. There is a popular belief within many spiritual and new age movements that meditation and awakening will transform the material conditions on the planet into a paradise of eternal dancing and singing, where milk and honey flow freely. It’s just a trick to get you involved. When the identification with transient phenomena is lost, the body-mind-system loses its evolutionary momentum. More awakened beings on this planet will not necessarily make it a better functioning one. Societies with a high percentage of awakened beings, like Tibet and Bhutan, have faced a lot of hunger, poverty and oppression in the past, because people had less collective motivation for social and technical improvement. So the emergence of more awakened beings might actually lead to an earlier exodus of humanity rather than a better world, like many new age gurus would like us to believe.
We have a classic case of “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” here, but we have the choice. And this choice is the only real choice we have in life, to choose between focusing on evolutionary development or non-dual liberation.