Anyone interested in developing their spiritual practice, or simply wishing to open their mind to the vast array of tales and teachings offered by the world’s great religions will, as I did very much enjoy this book. Whatever your level of spiritual understanding, reading this book can only deepen your appreciation of religion, faith or spirituality. This study may even lead to incorporating a little of the wisdom discovered from each of the beliefs and described in this book into your own practice. Like all Douglas Harding’s work, this handbook for the open minded is another invitation for self-discovery, an investigation of our inner being, this time by asking ourselves what the wisdom of each religion might mean to us on the inside. Each teaching is another part of the adventure, finding the whole, the truth and above all discovering who we really, really are at the centre of our real selves.
My intent in reading this book was to bring a greater clarity to the direction and purpose of my own spiritual development and to better understand myself, others and my own apparent need for ‘faith’. I have never had any inclination towards a particular belief, or any real knowledge of any organised spiritual teaching. Gaining an understanding of the world’s most important religions seems to me like a good place to start. My only belief at this point is universal oneness, consciousness as the creator and connector of all. My only practice is meditation, something I have done on and off since early childhood, which at the time answered a simple need to sit quietly in silence often focusing on ‘nothing’ for long periods without any understanding of why I was doing it. This simple practice was eventually forgotten and now in my 40s I have rediscovered its importance although admittedly I am not even close to the level of focus and depth of meditation that I was able to experience in those early years.
In this brief and sincere book Douglas Harding looks at the world’s most important religions. Most fascinating to me was to learn the difference between the Eastern and Western faiths. Hinduism and Buddism share the goal of enlightenment or liberation, cosmic unity, the all-pervading one but lack a ‘personal God’. This appears to contrast with the western beliefs held by Judaism, Christianity and Islam which is that of personal and human god, one who can be influenced by prayer, can love us and be angry with us. The western religions, it seems are more concerned with living faith, duty and morality than spiritual experience. Enlightenment in the West is reserved only for those at the highest levels. These are differences which I had not appreciated before reading this book.
I also found it reassuring to read that enlightenment when it happens is almost identical in each religion or practice which lead me to wonder if a practice needed to be restricted to ‘faith’ could it also include a vocation such as art, music or poetry for example? Joe Bray recently wrote a post on Frank Zappa the musician where he described Music as being Zappa’s vocation, something the musician answered in full, becoming himself alone. Frank Zappa
At its highest level Christianity teaches us that the kingdom of Heaven is within us. Jesus once proclaimed “that if your eye is single then your whole body shall be full of light” which is not so different from the enlightened Hindus vision through their 3rd eye, or as Zen would say, “if you look in you will find your real or original face in which your two eyes, your head, indeed your whole body, merge and vanish into sheer clarity”. According to all religions this inward focus is the highest fundamental insight and to see this steadily is to be illuminated.
The Mystic enlightenment common to the world’s most important eight world religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Zen, Judaism, Christianity and Islam is the common thread that runs through this book. The author also describes the main practices of each faith, how they arose and when they came to maturity as well as exploring the relationship between each of them. Each section is concluded with quotes which are useful for contemplation, prayer or mediation
For me the most important aspect of this book is how the author peels each religion back to its very centre to find that at its highest level every religion, faith or practice has the same fundamental message at its very core, In Hardings words this is that universal highest teaching:
“There is a reality which is indivisible, one, alone, the source and being of all; not a thing, nor even a mind, but pure spirit or clear consciousness….That is our true nature and the only way to find it is to look steadily within, where are to be found utmost peace, unfading joy, and eternal life itself.”
In his summary Harding states with sincerity that his purpose is not to favour any one religion over another but to favour the same aspect within all of them which is the basic mysticism, or enlightenment. This can be found at the core of religion which Harding sees as a universal one or whole. Harding embraces science, referring to it as an immense religious inspiration and indivisible from religion as a whole.
To finish, a few notes on the Bahá’í Temple New Delhi, shown in the photograph at the top of the post, a spiritual place I have had the good fortune to visit on many occasions over the past 15 or so years. More commonly known as the Lotus Temple because of its unique design this architectural and spiritual wonder is open to all regardless of faith. The Bahá’í laws emphasize that the temple is a gathering place where people of all religions may worship God without denominational restrictions. Since the temple was only completed in 1986 I am not sure if Douglas Harding had the opportunity to visit it. I am sure if he had, he would have approved of its intent to unify those of faith, regardless of personal belief.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more about Douglas Harding take a look at these posts: See yourself through your single eye and Douglas Harding contined. The work of Douglas Harding can be found on the Headless Way website along with the opportunity to buy, books, videos and attend workshops http://headless.org/
To be updated on our latest posts please sign up for email alerts at the top of the sidebar.