Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Imagery and Religion

When asked if he believed in God a famous scientist once answered, “No, what I believe in is much bigger than that. “ Religion depends on imagery. Many of the people who are rejecting the historic religions find the imagery no longer works for them. The image of an all-knowing father in the sky isn’t comprehensive enough for the scale of the world we know. Even understanding it as imagery, a way of conceptualizing something beyond our understanding, it puts the focus on who is in charge, which may benefit authority figures, but not our spiritual understanding. The archetype of the father is all about obedience and punishment. After centuries of people who were in charge and not necessarily wise and fair leaders, the image is tainted. Anyone with power or who insists they are led by a higher power can be harsh and brutal stamping out the sins of others and the world is divided into the obedient good and disobedient bad. The image creates fear and disconnection.
Many are searching for better images to represent a spiritual cosmic order, images that will harmonize with a modern understanding. Immersed in patterns too elegant for chance, and visions of wonderment anywhere you look close enough, it doesn’t make sense to call it all lifeless mechanism just because the old imagery isn’t working. The sense of being part of a larger pattern, connected to the universe, inspires love instead of fear. Grateful to be opened out of our isolation, we can reach for new ways of visualizing cosmic relationships. Finding more ways to contemplate what’s beyond understanding acknowledges the mystery, doesn’t try to solve it.
The Net of Indra is a wonderful image from Buddhism for the cosmic order visualized as an infinite net of jewels, each reflecting the whole and every part. If everything reflects everything else, then when one thing moves it moves everywhere simultaneously. This offers an interesting way of looking at a larger consciousness that is aware of us. It could be isomorphic with the concept of non-locality in quantum physics that points to correlated particles remaining correlated even with separation of great distances. If one particle changes orientation so does the other. No transmission is necessary since it happens at the same time, much like our reflection in the mirror moves when we do.
Every jewel in the net reflects everything else. This image also connects to Karl Pribram’s description of the mind as like a hologram, where the whole image is in every part of the holographic plate. Our memories and experienced reality are distributed throughout. And maybe our personal experiences are distributed throughout a larger consciousness. We offer the only information available about our space/time location. Each different position in the net is a unique reflection, a personal view of the whole like a different camera angle on the scene.
The structure of our mind reflects the structure of the larger mind of which we’re a part. This image helps us envision how the universal consciousness is aware of each and all. It establishes us as integral to the structure, everything we do having an effect on every part of the web. When someone is closer in the net we reflect more of each other on a larger part of our adjacent surfaces, and the relationship itself becomes part of the picture throughout. The sense that at some level we are all one is easier to see and understand with this image of ourselves as jewels on the net containing within us all that is, ourselves contained in every part. Thinking about ourselves as connected in this way can transform the way we act toward each other. As part of an organic whole, to not help another person in need would seem as irrational as an immune cell sensing a problem and not acting in response. To recognize our actions as far-reaching and contained in the content of the whole may tune our sense of responsibility to one another.
Looking for images that connect us is searching for more encompassing meanings, and is a spiritual act in itself. Not clinging to any one image allows us to flow and respond to different aspects of a spiritual reality as they apply to the human experience we’re having while continuing to search and learn. Let’s begin to share new images for a deeper idea of what is to be human and how we fit into the universe.

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