‘This delightful book is a prolonged meditation on the seminal question ‘Who am I?” The author, whose academic background is in physics and philosophy, here explores spiritual wisdom from the perspectives of the Judeo-Christian heritage on the one side and the Hindu-Buddhist tradition on the other. He is looking for commonalities that will shed light on the spiritual quest as it has stirred the aspirations and imagination of countless individuals in the past, and as it continues to do so today at least for those who are neither sound asleep nor fully awake but strangely troubled by the human condition. This is a lucid and sensitive introduction to the perennial philosophy that at times soars to poetical heights. ‘Georg Feuerstein, author of The Philosophy of Classical Yoga, Yoga and Beyond and other books.
On Ravindra’s earlier book, The Yoga of the Christ, Father Thomas Berry wrote ‘The Yoga of the Christ is superb in every way! It catches the tone and spirit of St John and this gospel’s profound coherence with other traditions, particularly the Hindu tradition in India and of course the Bhagavad Gita Professor Huston Smith, the author of The World Religions, hailed the book as ‘a landmark in interfaith dialogue’. Professor Robert Ellwood, author of the Cross and the Grail, found it ‘a dazzlingly brilliant spiritual and cross-cultural study of the most mystical of the books of the Bible, the Gospel of John... Few will finish this book unchanged, either intellectually or spiritually’.
Ravi Ravindra was born in India and received a BSc and a Master of Technology from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. He came to Canada where he obtained a Master of Science and a PhD in Physics from the University of Toronto and a Master of Arts in Philosophy from Daihousie University.
He was a member of the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton in 1977, and a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla in 1978 and in 1998. He was the Founding Director of the Threshold Award for integrative knowledge and Chairman of its international and inter-disciplinary Selection Committees in 1979 and 1980.
He has lived in Canada since 1966. At present Ravi Ravindra is Professor Emeritus at Daihousie University, Halifax, Canada, from where he retired as Professor and Chair of Comparative Religion, Professor of International Development Studies and Adjunct Professor of Physics.
We are happy to publish an Indian edition of Professor Ravi Ravindra’s insightful book Whispers from the Other Shore. The several topics dealt with ‘The Spiritual Quest’, ‘Religion as a Living Experience’, and so on all contain the possibility of stimulating and drawing out the perceptive faculties and hidden spiritual energy of readers. Dr Ravindra combines in his writings academic knowledge with understanding that has arisen from his own spiritual explorations and contacts with varied spiritual teachers.
We recommend this book to all earnest seekers with the hope that it will help them to proceed nearer to the truths of life.
It is useful to repeat here a pare of what was written in then Acknowledgments in the first edition of Whispers from the Other Shore which was first published in 1984 by Quest Books.
My own spiritual quest has been nurtured and sustained by many influences both in India and the West, the two geographical and cultural regions where I havc spent almost an equal amount of rime in my life. I wish, with particular fondness and gratitude, to recall my meetings with three wise people: J. Krishnamurti, whom I met one magical afternoon two decades ago in his temporary abode, perched over the sacred Ganga near Varanasi, and many times since then; Lama Anagarika Govinda, whom I visited on several days in his beautiful Kesar Devi Ashram in the Himalayas; and Mrs. Louise Welch, who gave me so much of her time and attention in New York and elsewhere, in helping me understand the teachings of G.I.Gurdjieff, and who made it possible for me to work with Mme. Jeanne de Salzmann in Paris. They have been like the angels of the Lord with whom I have felt inwardly obliged to wrestle. The fact that I have remained recalcitrant has nor diminished their love for me nor my gratitude for them.
All the people mentioned above have died since this was written. Many other helpful reviewers and guides, some of whom were acknowledged in the first edition, have also departed. Each one of us now alive will die and there will be many a dawn which will be seen by eyes not yet born. The great dance of life continues in rime, while the faces of the individual dancers change.
And in this dance, each person faces and responds to questions about the meaning of life and about the sense of the cosmos and the role one must play in their own way. We can hear what others have said in response to these questions and we can be much helped by them, bar the questions remain, inviting a quest, a journey towards a larger understanding, a fuller life, which each one of us must travel.
For a long time 1 have been persuaded that no tradition has a monopoly of either great wisdom and insight or of hypocrisy and betrayal. Each of us can be heir to the wisdom of the whole world and each of us can be helped by sages and saints everywhere, if we listen to them with a cleat mind and an open heart. Although members of a particular religion can easily find fault with other religions and traditions, which may give a sense of satisfaction about belonging to the one true religion, this satisfaction is obtained by a lack of impartiality and of self-reflection. It is true that different traditions have different emphases and are quite different from each other on the surface, but something deep in our souls is nourished when we hear the vibration of a higher level of insight and truth, no matter from what tradition the insight arises. I hope this celebration of the wisdom from the many traditions I myself have been touched by, will help to sustain and enrich your own search for a larger and deeper understanding.
The Kingdom is within you and it is without you,” said Jesus Christ in the Gospel According to St.Thomas. “When you know yourselves, then you will be known; and you will know that you are the sons of the Living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty, and you are poverty.”
Central to the spiritual search is the question ‘Who am I?’ Asking this is to open oneself to the mystery of one’s being with all its confusion and pretensions as well as its aspirations and possibilities. To be alive to it now is to be present at the creation of this moment. When I am not in question to myself, I do not exist except as a memory in unconscious time.
Since it is of perennial significance, this question has been raised repeatedly, in various idioms and various forms. At different periods in history, spiritual search has been expressed in philosophy, psychology, art, and above all in religion. Seekers have been called and helped in sustaining and deepening their quest trough these expressions. But with time, wayfarers and pilgrims are in general replaced by believers and officials who prize the security of their positions. Rather than the path leading to openness and to a vulnerability to truth, we find too many frozen statements and doctrines claiming to provide the answers.
With the inescapable influences of the family and society, we are some sort of socio-philosophical religion. Whether we are believers or doubters, this religion can become a veil between ourselves and what is, at the same time as it acts as a bulwark against forces of chaos and darkness. If we would penetrate this veil, we must understand its peculiar fabric and colouration. A comparative study of different traditions can be of immense value in this. It may even be possible to hear, in the interstices of religious forms, whispers and hints from the other shore, clarifying and deepening one’s search. Religions are like life itself, full of haunting promises, massive failures, and occasional illuminations; they contain the possibility of searching for truth but generally settle for secure formulations. Ultimately however, religions are what they are. But the meaning of our own existence is at stake; we must ask questions about the nature and purpose of our being for the sake of our own deepest self: Who are we?’‘What do we seek?’‘What help, if any, can we find?’‘Why are we here?’‘What must we serve?’
In looking at what religions have brought to us, it is useful to view religions at three distinct levels: quantitative, theological, and transformational. Scientific studies of religion are concerned with the quantitative aspects of different religions. Included in these are academic studies of rhe histories of religions and of the social and political consequences. Within specific religious groups, church officials worry about the declining attendance in the pews and in the seminaries; they devise schemes of social relevance and organize interesting groups to attract people. To be sure, these institutional forms of religion serve many functions, but rarely is it the nurturing of the spiritual search. At the level of temples, officials, numbers, policies, sermons, and services, all religions basically amount to the same: believers are provided with solace, rituals, and dogmas by which their existence can be made bearable; the harsher aspects of reality are filtered out and the faithful are left with the comfortable illusion that they are especially entrusted with truth here and chosen for great glory in the hereafter.
At the theological-philosophical level, with its focus on logical and systematic discourse, there is a pronounced divergence between the two traditions to be considered here. The Hindu-Buddhist tradition is almost exclusively inward-oriented with enlightenment as the goal for each person, to be attained by their own efforts, whereas the Judo-Christian tradition is generally other-oriented and based on revelations to especially chosen prophets of God. For the former, the starting point is the individual suffering, searching and seeking deliverance. The latter starts from God who reveals His commandments to which a human being responds. However, the verbal, discursive, philosophical point of view, like all other points of vie is partial: for spiritual becoming is not merely a matter of rational examination of doctrines and propositional truths however recondite and quintessential.
The transformational-experiential level, which is quite different from the quantitative and the theological, calls for a discipline of body, mind, and soul, for an integration of all of one’s energies. The aspirant becomes a pilgrim on the way to wakefulness and being. Knowledge along this path has a transforming character, for here, as Parmenides said: “Only when transfigured and reborn in the spirit can one know the Old One.”
At this level, there are no essential differences between the two streams: both ultimately derive their vitality from the remarkably similar experiences of sages and saints. The significant feature of these experiences appears to be a surrendering to a will greater than that of one’s ego-self This will is at a higher level above oneself (Biblical tradition) or at a deeper level within oneself (Indian tradition). Linguistically this leads to markedly different theologies, but for an integrated self, which every spiritual tradition insists is high than discursive reason, our usual distinction and dichotomies of past and future, within and without, subject and object, good and evil, lose their rigidity and importance. ‘When the Spirit has taken over the guidance and authorship of a person’s actions and words, the individual ego is transcended and the linguistic and ethical opposites are reconciled. Both traditions regard this spiritual reorientation, or rebirth, as necessary for liberation—their first and last purpose.
One cannot ignore the remarkable similarities at the primary, experiential level or the profound differences at the secondary, philosophic level between these two major traditions. What one chooses to emphasize depends to a large extent on one’s point of view and purpose and on one’s social history. I was born and raised in the Eastern world, but I have spent more than half my life in the Western world. I might say that culturally I belong to neither—or to both. In any case, I am convinced that no culture has a monopoly on either wisdom or on superficiality. Every culture has had, and will continue to have, great teachers and profound insights.
It is now more difficult to be parochial than at any other time in the past. In fact, a special sort of imperviousness is required these days in order to ignore the existence of other great cultures and religions. Any one doing so is greatly impoverished, when each one of us might be enriched by becoming heir to the wisdom of all humanity.
In approaching the various religious traditions, my interest is not to prove the superiority of one or the other; one could prove anything, depending on the levels from which one gathers data. My interest in the study of these traditions is primarily practical and spiritual. I wish to discover what insight the traditions can provide into our own situation, so that each one of us could live more abundantly and rightly.
It is clear that we need help in listening to and pursuing our own questions and we need help in keeping them from becoming merely academic and verbal. Such help cannot come primarily, and certainly not exclusively, from science, philosophy, religion, or psychology. Although the truth about ourselves is not independent of the truth about the cosmos, unless we find a place of reconciliation and discernment within ourselves, we are bound to be lost in contradictions, words, and facts without meaning. The traditions, in fact, do speak about such reconciliation, but it remains for each one of us to discover which forms have become mere slogans and doctrines for us and which ones still retain the fire of genuine practical knowledge and experience.
In this study I have attempted to understand what is essential and general about the human search for meaning. Clearly the details are important; but contrary to the prevalent intellectual opinion, I do not think that one can, except in a limited context and for a limited purpose, proceed from detailed investigations of parts to an under standing of the whole. However unscientific it may appear to some, in my experience the meaning and significance of the details cannot be grasped unless one has some understanding of the central question.
‘What follows is essentially a personal attempt to meet the two major religious traditions with the basic question, “Who am 1?’ My temerity in offering it to fellow seekers comes from the recognition that this is not merely a personal question but that iris of universal concern. This effort (in the sense of the original meaning of the word ‘essay’, an attempt) had to be made; I needed to do it. In the process I gathered many insights, and many mysteries were deepened and enlivened for me. There are no theses here, no arguments, nor conclusions. To be sure, there are ideas, mostly gathered from sacred literature and arranged according to my understanding. The reader should be warned, as a helpful reviewer remarked, that this book does not lead anywhere; it is a long meditation on and around a theme. The theme is the mystery of one’s own existence, in the spirit in which the psalmist asked, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
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