Approaches to Traditional Spiritual Truths


There are three different approaches to ancient awakenings: whether it is Gnosticism, Sufism, Advaita, Zen, Vaishnavism, Cabala, or whatever classical school of spirituality.

One may take them literally as the original teachers and preachers had taught them, and derive therefrom whatever spiritual fulfillment one can. It is a fact that the mutually competing schools are divergent in their formulation of Ultimate Truths, but this should not bother the committed devotee who has made a decision as to which path is the best, perhaps even the only one.

The second approach is to carefully look into the traditional systems and re-formulate them in a framework that is meaningful and helpful in the modern context. Many have done this and many have benefited from such re-interpretations.

Those who are wedded to traditionalism (a variant of which is religious fundamentalism) will have nothing of this. They will always protest that the purity of the revealed truths is sullied and its content distorted by modern thinkers who simply don’t have the spiritual wherewithal or the Divine grace to even understand, let alone handle subtle spiritual truths. Spokespeople for Eastern religions would say that the West is too materialistic and therefore quite incapable of grasping the higher truths; and their counterparts in the West would say that the people in the East are drenched in mystical mumble-jumble, and are missing out on the opportunity to save their souls by embracing this prophet or that.

And modern interpreters simply can’t escape the criticism, condemnation, even wrath of the faithful followers of the charismatic gurus and the upholders of the sacred Scriptures of recorded history.

The third approach would be to simply ignore all these ancient modes as irrelevant, quarrelsome, and utterly useless in coping with the problems and challenges of the modern world which range from racism and inter-religious bickering to AIDS and global warming. The ancient systems may be interesting and even helpful to many people, and they may have it as long as they don’t beat dissenters on the head. But there are newer worldviews relying on newer knowledge and understanding of the world which can bring one as much peace of mind and harmony as the time-honored mystical modes.

People choose one or another of these approaches, depending on their background, upbringing, knowledge base, philosophical inclination, cultural affiliation, and a variety of other personal factors. What is most important, however, is the freedom to choose from among these approaches: a freedom that is sadly not yet the precious possession of all human beings on the planet. There are forces that are striving to snatch away that freedom from whose who have.

If and wherever the members of the first group gain political power, that freedom of choice and mind will be lost. This is one of the major challenges of our time, irrespective of what Advaita, Gnosticism, Sufism,  Cabala, or Ch’I may really mean.

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About Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.
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