I thought I would take the examples from a belief which is neither Christianity with its associations for us, nor Indian. This is from the Sufi classic, the Mathawi of Jalal’uddin Rumi, but it speaks of the heart of religion. The man crying ‘Allah’; no reply; and then you heard the rest. There is a heart but the heart is not visible. We know about the heart from the pulse. And if religion doesn’t have a pulse, doesn’t have a throb, in our lives, the form may be perfect but it will be like a marble statue – without a living heart.
Now we can say, ‘What is the basis of religion? We don’t see any God. Not a single reply is coming from the throne, hence we fear we are turned away from the door. Perhaps there is no God, as the Devil says’. The teachers and the different religions give us certain indications and tell us to notice certain things. For instance, we never complain about weighing, about gravity – this is quite natural. But we don’t accept the fact of suffering. We feel somehow we ought to be happy. We don’t feel somehow we ought to be light and floating in the [sky]; but we feel somehow we ought to be free from suffering, and this is one indication.
Another one is this: that the world is uniquely designed for human experience. We all know that’s nursery, that’s baby stuff. We used to be told that. ‘All things great and beautiful, the Lord God made them all’. Oh, we know that’s not true now. But it is. In the last fifteen years (I don’t want to go into this but if you look around, you will see the best-selling books now on cosmology speak of the unique combination of the cosmic constants favourable for human life. There is a huge book, The Cosmic Anthropic Principle by Tipler and there’s a new best-seller come out called ‘Chaos’. There’s a chaos at the basis of physics. There must be some control to produce the order which we see. Well, these are simply indications. We’re told, “’Look and you will see design in the world”. It’s not put in there, as the scientists used to say in the 19th Century, by the human mind, but it is there.
Other hints are that we find it difficult to imagine the absence of consciousness. A philosopher like Bertrand Russell, he makes a mock of this. He said, “It’s absurd. I can easily imagine the time when Earth was simply a blazing mass of rocks. There was no consciousness at all”. But it’s been pointed out that this philosopher of the century failed to realise that in using the words ‘burning rocks’ he’s presupposing human consciousness. It’s the human eye and human consciousness observing the fundamental particles which produced ‘burning’ and ‘rocks’ – those words. So, although he was denying consciousness at the time when Earth was simply a mass of blazing rock, he’s secretly putting it back again. And this was the great philosopher – because he wasn’t reasoning clearly then, but he was subserving a secret desire.
Another indication is the fact of inspiration in daily life and, again, it’s a good thing to take some enemy of religion, like Russell. Now in his little essay ‘How I Write’ (and he writes, or wrote beautifully, marvellous English and very clear presentation) he gives some examples and one [in] particular he says was an important work he had to do – quite a long one and he couldn’t see how to put it together. He concentrated with great anxiety on this (this was in his earlier days). He could by no means find any way to fit it together and in despair he went for a long walk. And he says, as he came back through the door, suddenly the whole thing was clear before him. He said, “This was not, I’m not saying this was perfect – but it was far away the best that I could possibly have done at the time, and far better than any idea that I had consciously”. Something came to him.
Now again, it’s very interesting to see what this sceptical, violently opposed to religion, mind makes of that. It says, “Well you see, what happens is, I suppose, by my intense concentration I planted the seeds. And then underneath the subconscious they were germinating and then they came out”. But this great philosopher failed to realise that when you plant seeds you know what’s going to come up. The order is already in the seeds. This was a new order. It’s as though he’d scattered at random seeds of white and blue and red and they’d come up in the form of a Union Jack. What put the order into that? The great mathematician Poincaré who was a rival of Einstein, he saw this. He says some of his great advances in mathematics had come in a blinding flash after he’d been completely baffled. He saw the point clearly, which Russell didn’t see. He said, “This means, doesn’t it, that my subconscious (as he called it then) is more intelligent than I am?” He says, “I should hate to admit it”, and he leaves the point open.
The teachers tell us these are little indications in our lives, and we take these dramatic cases because they’re well attested. But many writers, like Charlotte Bronte, speak of this same thing. Some of her inspirations came [after] long concentration; being baffled and then something new comes up, something entirely new. So the teachers tell us that there are little indications in life. There is a ‘Here Am I’ coming from the throne when there has been sincere and unselfish application.
But, religion takes the form, normally, popularly, of ourselves as individuals and of some transcendent power. Not a benevolent Father in heaven, as the sceptics sneer. They say, “Well you’re babies, you can’t grow up. You had your parents to look after you when you were little and now you want parents in the sky to look after you. You can’t stand on your own feet.” But they’ve never practised religion or they would know that to enter into religion means to take far greater responsibility than the sceptic can. It’s not a comfortable thing.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Hearts of Religion
Part 2: There is a problem in religion
Part 3: Bayazid, the Sufi mystic
Part 5: Keep on keeping on