Monday, December 15, 2008

True of False: All Gods are One God

In my yoga training, there's been a lot of god talk, which hasn't been easy for me. I can't help but think of the patriarchal Yahweh of history and his fundamental followers, who have, in my estimation, been one of the biggest blights on the planet. (Note that I'm talking about the fundies here - not all Judeo-Christian folks.)

Right now, I'm making my way through Paramahansa Yogananda's famed "Autobiography of a Yogi," which, in many ways, is a remarkable book, but I keep stumbling over the idea that all gods are one god - they're all emanations of one great god who is, of course, male.


I think there's something basically absurd about this idea. I am all-too-willing to say there's a whole lot about Mystery that I just don't understand, but I'm also willing to suggest that this lack of clarity is true for most humans. After all, we are human, and we live here, on this good green Earth where we deal with the concerns and magick and spirituality inherent in this lifetime and place-time.

I experience the Mysterious Ones (a term I use because it more accurately reflects my gender politics, among other ideas) as separate folks. Kali isn't just some facet of Brahma. Juno isn't part of someone else. They're different like me and you.

However, I do also see and ascribe to the idea that we are united on certain levels. As a priestess of Grandmother Spider and her peoples, I see that all of us are strands of web energy, as are our thoughts, visions, emotions, and dreams. In between those strands that make up matter and intention lie the spaces-in-between, where all experiences and all beings dissolve into a great no-thingness - Chaos, unlimited potentiality, the fabric of the Multiverse itself.

So, I get that we are "all one," but part of the paradox is that we manifest in some different ways while living these lifetimes right now.

Some of my other difficulty in the philosophy of yoga, as it's being taught to me and as I understand it, is what I call "Escapist Theology."

It goes something like this: "Life is an illusion. Everything is an illusion. Do everything you can to get the hell off this wheel of suffering, otherwise known as life, death, rebirth, and endless bullshit."

Call me an attachment junkie, but damn it, I love this place. I'm not looking to make the jump into Nirvana - I'm just hoping to be a vehicle for love to work through me in the world to make it a place of peace and deep joy. If I skip out (assuming I ever reached enlightenment), I feel that it's kind of selfish and seems antithetical to the views of compassion espoused by many of the East's powerful and life-changing spiritual traditions (shout out to the Boddhisatva's still hanging out and doing this work and the Buddha for staying around to teach all beings about his path!).

I also find it interesting that the unchanging principle of the Universe in yogic philosophy (and unchanging is "good") is male - the changing, form-based principle in the universe (read "unrealiable" and "illusory") is female. Hmmmm...patriarchy strikes again.

So it's been interesting, as a witch priestess of various Mysterious Ones (female, male, both and neither) to be a part of this training. I've had to do a lot of translation (which is starting to get a little tired, honestly) and also opening my mouth a lot - not a suprise to those who know me in the flesh.

Case in point: This weekend there was a chat about vegetarianism and its spiritual superiority to meat-eating. Full disclaimer: I've gone vegetarian since the end of June and have made the commitment to remain so through the training. I'll revisit this commitment at the end of it.

I brought up the question, "Why is taking the life of a plant any less valuable than taking the life of an animal? I find that there's a certain moral relativism going on in regards to the value of life."

The response was about doing "less harm," and the instructor pointed to the environmental toll that the meat industry wreaks on the earth. I'm totally down with that (and it's one of the reasons that when I ate meat, it was only from small farms where I knew how they treated their animals), but unless people are buying full organic, local farm produce, they're not doing much more to help the planet - see the "dead zones" in the Gulf of Mexico due to fertizlier run-off.

All of these thoughts are not to condemn the long-held beliefs of yogis - who the hell am I, right? But, it is a reminder to myself and perhaps others of a phrase that I've been using a lot lately: There's always another story.

(The first image is, of course, from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling. The second is of the Tarantula Neubla, photographed by M.Schirmer, T. Erben, M. Lomardi European Southern Observatory. Amazing, right?! The Wheel of Samsara, that aforementioned wheel of life, death, and rebirth, was found here. And the last image is one that fast food chain Chik-fil-a put out years ago, and it still makes me laugh.)


Livia Indica said...

Sounds like you're a boddhisatva in training. As a hard polytheist I also see the gods as distinct just as I see individual humans and other animals as unique unto themselves. When I hear the phrase "all gods are one god" or "we are all one" etc. I have to restrain myself from rolling my eyes. I understand that most folks are sincere when they say thing like that but it just goes against my personal grain. The only way I've come to reconcile with these kinds of ideas is to understand that we are all sacred and filled with a spark of the same divine element of life.

Donald Engstrom-Reese said...

Thank you for your post, Honey Bear.

As we know, folks experience the cosmos according to the cultural, biological, spiritual, etc., filters that they wear. How do we explain the paradigm shifts that shatter our worlds, opening our senses to new possibilities never dreamed of before? Why do some of us live in a multiversal worldview while others of us dwell in a universalist worldview? Why is it that some of us have clan-hearths/families whose members include Mysterious Ones and ancestors, not just other living human beings? Why are some of us devoted to the living paradise we call the Good Green Earth? We are some of us devoted to egalitarian spiritualities and others of us are committed to hierarchal spiritualities? How do we all come together to co-create the cultures of beauty, balance and delight?

The questions go on and on.

I love you. I miss you. I wish we were spending much more time together in the same garden.

Anonymous said...

So, I get that we are "all one," but part of the paradox is that we manifest in some different ways while living these lifetimes right now.

I couldn't agree more. I can conceptualize (somewhat) that we are all one, in the sense that we are made of the same divine stuff, we are all aspects of the same whole. But I can't understand or relate to that great one-ness; in day-to-day life, I need to see beings as different. Discernment, the ability to separate things from other things, is foundational to the way my brain works, and I suspect other humans' brains, too.

Call me an attachment junkie, but damn it, I love this place. I'm not looking to make the jump into Nirvana - I'm just hoping to be a vehicle for love to work through me in the world to make it a place of peace and deep joy.

I frequently say that Buddhism and Witchcraft are fundimentally irreconcilable, because of this exactly conflict. Witchcraft is "Earth based," in so far as it views this world as sacred in and of itself, and not merely as a training ground for an afterlife. Buddhism teaches that attachment causes suffering. As a result, Withcraft seeks harmonization; Buddhism seeks separation.

But then, YMMV.


native_earthling said...

Point 1 about many Gods vs. One:

Each God represents an aspect of the One. Since we all are diverse in our points of spiritual evolution, one aspect is more attractive to us and we are better able to connect with it/he/she.

Point 2 about vegetarianism: One important reason for not imbibing in flesh is that the vibrations associated with it make it more difficult to concentrate in our meditations. Us novices need all the help we can get, so it's best if we be careful in what we ingest/digest.

Ryan (email me, love to chat!) said...

I loved reading that. I've wanted to comment several times on your blog but never had the jolt. It's a shame because I read you were on Minneapolis for a conference and I would very like to talk to more witches who are animistic or polytheistic like me. I considered myself the former, which is the predecessor to polytheism (as in the case of Italy before Rome).

::Huff, puff:: But I talk to match. My name's Ryan btw, I keep meaning to post a blog here.

Donald Engstrom-Reese said...

I do want to be a bit clearer about my own experiences with the proposal, "All gods are one God".

I am a multiversalist. I daily experience the relationship growing between all beings. I notice that the only constant in the multiverse is change. I have deep personal relationships with many folks and I have noticed that they are not all the same individuated personality or singularity if you will. I have noticed that there is no single source of inspiration, creation, love and compassion. I have noticed that the are myriad ways to dwell in the multiverse.

I have no issue with folks expressing their own experiences in a universe. I am intrigued by their experiences which they interpret as an an expression of "All gods are one God." I think it is fine. But, please do not assume that your experience and interpretations are definitive for the whole of the human race let alone the whole of the cosmos. Your experiences and interpretations may have no reality in my day to day life, my understanding of Mystery, my choice to open my senses to the wonders that surround me.

I suspect that a wise person only share experiences and interpretations with others, expecting not to convert or change minds, but simply to share our human experiences.

But I can tell you this, The MOs that in my family simply laugh out loud at the notion that they are all 'One'. I hear from them that this topic is richer and much more delightfully complicated than the living can at this time even imagine.

May we all dare to dwell in beauty, balance and delight.

Rick Loftus said...

Hi, I wanted to reply to bluesky's remark that Buddhism and Wicca are irreconcilable.

For being different paths, in fact they bear very strong family resemblances. Both accept reincarnation as a given; both agree in spiritual accountability (whether termed karma or three-fold return). Tibetan Buddhism is perfectly compatible with polytheism, and has a tradition of practitioners choosing to work with a particular devotional yidam/deity.

For myself, Wicca and Buddhism traditions are like Little Sister/Big Sister. Buddhism is like the Big Sis--older, beautiful, graceful, majestic, maybe a little reserved. Wicca is Little Sister: young and joyful, juicy, engaged. Wicca is playful. But all contemporary Wiccan traditions can only trace their roots about 100 years back, maybe 150 at the outside. And there's a riot of diversity amongst the many, many braids of Wicca, esp. in the USA.

Buddhism likewise has a dizzying array of braids or paths. But it has longevity--those traditions are all over 2,500 years old. There is a depth of experience and wisdom to Buddhist traditions that is worth listening to. In particular, I find that in confronting the reality of death--something that I do personally nearly every week with my patients as a practicing physician--Buddhism offers a depth of wisdom and guidance in that arena that is an irreplacable treasure. Wicca certainly reminds us that we all, eventually, return to the Summerlands/Bardo. Buddhist traditions offer some pretty concrete details about that road trip.

There is sometimes a perception that Buddhism requires a detached, cold, sterile, sexless outlook on the world. But if that is true, how do we regard Tibetan yoginis and yogis who engage in Tantric sex to attain spiritual breakthroughs? That surely reminds me of the Goddess's charge that "all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals."

When I watch a cartoon with my little niece Emma, we both laugh and enjoy it, although we might laugh for different reasons.

When we dance, we sometimes step forward, sometimes backwards. There is no dance that only involves forward steps (well, except maybe a conga line ;-)) or only backward steps. The engagement of Wicca in the world, and the letting go of attachment of Buddhism, are as complementary in my mind as the rhythms of a dance, or the up and down of the ocean's waves. For me, both are essential.