There are seven principles that guide us in developing a universal consciousness in Judaism. These principles represent seven steps that form a pathway to the universal state of mind. The principles are all interdependent. Therefore, as we approach each new principle, it is important to be aware of the connection between it and the others. It is only when we reach the seventh, and last of the principles that the process of the expansion of our worldview will be complete.
The first principle is an open mind. This means a willingness to investigate new ideas and consider alternative ways of thinking and living. Where there is an absence of dogmatism, our minds can run free and explore new horizons. This is what enables us to grow and evolve. Openness lies at the basis of all human progress.
Openness does not imply a total lack of convictions and standards; rather, it is the willingness to examine the standard that we are currently using in the light of reason and the dictates of our heart. If, after we have carefully investigated our beliefs in this way, we find them to be lacking, then we must be ready to change what we think.
An open state of mind requires humility and courage, humility to let go of our own certainty and courage to address new possibilities. When we open ourselves in this way, we become receptive to divine influence and inspiration. Then it is possible for God to enter into our thinking and link our mind with new planes of consciousness.
Openness is not a solitary attitude of mind; it is part of a number of concepts that form a spiritual whole. Openness is intimately related to the principles of love, freedom and unity. Love opens our heart to others. It is the energy that breaks down the barriers that keep people apart. It heightens our awareness of the interrelationship between different peoples and religions. Through the love consciousness, we realize the fundamental unity of all humanity and all life.
Openness is essentially a liberating force. It frees us from the bonds of intolerance and opposition to others. It also frees us from the idea of “I and mine”, and focuses our consciousness on the larger picture, where there are many other people with needs that are greater than our own.
The energies of openness, love and freedom shatter the physical consciousness of this plane of existence that is based on separation and limitation. They break down the attachment to form, which is an essential part of the “material” mind. This enables our consciousness to become linked to the higher planes of the spiritual realm, where the unity that underlies all creation is revealed.
Openness is the starting point from which we work. It is the first of the seven principles that form a universal consciousness. All the other aspects of this consciousness are built upon the foundation of this initial ideal.
The second principle in developing a universal consciousness is awareness of the faults of our own religion. This second principle is a direct result of the first. When we sincerely believe in the religious path that we are following, we tend to think that it is flawless. Often, we are blinded to its faults and only see its positive characteristics. We are also convinced that our path is the best, and the only one that will lead to heaven. In this state of mind, we remain closed to the wisdom and beliefs of other religions, and can find little of value in their approach.
Once we are open to an honest appraisal, then we will begin to see our religion differently. For the first time, we will become aware of its incongruities and imperfections. We will realize that it is not “the perfect path to God” that we thought it was, and we will start to question the validity of various practices and beliefs.
For many of us, it is the awareness of the faults in our own religion that leads us to an interest in other faiths. Our dissatisfaction with that which is familiar to us arouses a desire to hear what other people have to say about God and about life. At first, this occurs as part of our search to revitalize and enrich our own religion. We look to “borrow” ideas from other faiths, while remaining convinced of the superiority of our own religion. Gradually, we come to realize that each religion has its strengths and its weaknesses. We are all striving with our imperfect vessels to reach the Kingdom of Heaven.
This realization awakens in us a spiritual humility that will help us see our religion with greater clarity and objectivity. It will lead us to appreciate the struggles that exist within our own faith, as well as those difficulties that other religions must face. More importantly, it will teach us to accept all religions as valid spiritual paths, which is the essence of the universal consciousness that we are trying to create.
The third principle of universal consciousness is an intuition for the presence of the sacred. The capacity to sense the sacred is a sixth sense that is an essential part of the equipment of all spiritual seekers. It is a skill that is developed over time. This ability is acquired through the pursuit of meditation and prayer. These practices help to awaken one’s inner sight and feel. In this way, we learn to become aware when we are in the presence of something larger than ourselves.
Sacredness is not an arbitrary designation. It is an expression of the unique emanation that comes from a spiritually charged person, place, or object. This emanation manifests the degree to which the outer form has been stripped away to reveal the divine life within. Wherever we feel this inner flow, we will know that God is close and can be easily reached.
The development of this skill is an important part of the changing approach to religion in our time. It is another expression of the widespread desire to have a concrete experience of God. People are no longer prepared to accept a holiness that is based solely on tradition or scriptural injunctions; they want to feel that holiness for themselves. Without the certainty of personal experience they are unwilling to acknowledge the sacredness of any particular person or place.
On the other hand, once we develop the capacity to sense the sacred, then we will be open to its presence no matter where we find it. Whether it is in a synagogue, church, mosque or gompa – if we feel God’s presence, then we will consider that place as holy. This new capacity will revolutionize our understanding of religion. We will become aware of the spiritual power of other faiths through direct personal experience. At the same time, we will also appreciate more fully the holy people and places of our own belief. In this way, we will learn that God dwells in every religion and that every house of prayer is a house of God.
In this context, it is important for us to remove the restrictions in Judaism that prevent us from interacting with other religions and visiting their places of worship. Only if we enter their spiritual space, can we perceive firsthand the spiritual livingness that is there. Once this happens, it will be impossible for us to invalidate its holiness, even if it embodies an approach that is completely different than our own.
We also need to put greater emphasis on those practices and teachings in Judaism that will vitalize this inner sense. This will require a change in our philosophical direction, where we teach our people to look inward for guidance rather than outward to texts, peers and rabbis.
At the same time, teachers and role models must remain a vital part of Jewish life. However, their sanctity and expertise will be determined by a different standard, where they are judged by what they are in themselves and not by what they know or say. This is the true “acid test” of the spiritual life, and it is time that we made it our central guide.
This “sacred awareness” will facilitate our ability to interact with people of other religions. Contact between different religions is often burdened by past history and the misunderstandings that terminology and dogma create. Through a developed sensitivity to holiness, the flow of life and light from the spirit will bypass the blocks and limitations imposed by the form. This spiritual connection will naturally lead to the sharing of our mutual religious aspirations. Once a solid foundation of trust has been created, then we will be able to discuss the real issues that we face.
This sacred sense will also help us to surmount the different ways in which we perceive of Divinity. Let the Hindu speak of Shiva, the Jew of Hashem and the Christian of Jesus; if we sit together in prayer, the inner experience will transcend the outer theology. In the moment of sublime communion, His exact description and Name will seem of much less importance to us.
The ability to sense the sacred can also help us to see the beauty of the practices in other religions. When we discover that a ritual brings in God’s presence, its strangeness will no longer matter to us. After we experience its capacity to bridge the higher and lower realms, we will intuitively understand its intrinsic nature as a holy act.
The fourth principle in developing a universal consciousness is the study and experience of the rituals and beliefs of all the major religions. This does not mean the study of these other faiths will supersede the study of our own religion, or that we all need to become Hindu, Buddhist and Christian; but we should be aware of their religious practices and be appreciative of the spiritual understanding and commitment that they possess.
One of the great obstacles to mutual acceptance between religions is our ignorance of each other’s practices and beliefs. In order to validate our own faith, we often dismiss the religion of others as superficial or somehow flawed. Even the best of our religious leaders have been guilty of this approach. If we integrate the wisdom and beauty of other religions into the religious learning in our own faith, we will no longer be able to take such a narrow-minded approach. We will be forced to go beyond generalizations and artificial stereotypes to discover the divine impulse that lies at the heart of every faith.
Establishing contacts between the members of different faiths will play an important role in the process of implementing these changes. Whatever we may learn from a book is nothing in comparison to the effect that a living example will have. People who live a religion on a daily basis can provide insight and enthusiasm about their faith that is impossible to pass on in a book. They will bring to life the religion and its practices, by explaining to us what it means to them and by giving us the opportunity to question and interact with their experience.
To accomplish this, we first need to learn the “language” of the other religions. This is why the study of other faiths is so important. This study will enable us to understand the basic principles that underlie each religion’s approach to God and the spiritual life. This, in turn, will permit us to interact freely with individuals from other faiths, so that we can learn from each other and share together our aspirations and our difficulties in the search for God. This will open many new doors for both sides of the dialogue and enable all religions to deepen and grow.
Ultimately, it is when we go beyond periodic contacts and visits to develop deep spiritual friendships that we will attain true mutual acceptance and respect between the different faiths. Once we can talk about God with each other, and pray and meditate together, than the other obstacles to interfaith dialogue will quickly fall away.
The fifth principle of universal consciousness is the love of all peoples as part of the fellowship of humankind. The universal mind recognizes that humanity is one family, working together towards a common goal. We are all created in the image of God, and He has tried to look after us all. Like any family, the different family members have different needs. Therefore, it should be no surprise to discover that he has sent Great Ones to different parts of the world, to help the different peoples in their moral and spiritual evolution. From this perspective, the universality of religion is an obvious truth.
All too often in human history, humankind has seen life as a battle of one nation or people against another: white against black, Muslim against infidel, Christian against idolaters, and Jews against goyim. All of these perceptions have created an atmosphere of hostility and hatred that undermines the nature of our world. We have lived too long with exclusive definitions of ourselves; it is time to forge an inclusive identity for all of humanity.
If we view ourselves as one member of a great family, each nation will become less self-involved and more aware of events in other countries. We will concern ourselves with what is happening in distant lands, not just in how it affects our own nation, but how it will affect the well-being of all of humanity. Disasters in other countries will become our own crises. We will always be ready to provide help and assistance to other nations; we will understand that their well-being is an integral part of our own.
Signs of this transformation are already apparent in the many international organizations that work to provide relief to countries worldwide. It is also expressed through the efforts of the world’s nations to create a universal standard of justice and an international tribunal for human rights. At present these efforts are far from fulfilling their real goal and purpose. However, as humanity evolves further along the path of global consciousness, the scope and the effectiveness of these endeavors will continue to grow and expand.
On the level of religion, there is another aspect to the opportunity that a universal consciousness creates. In our modern world, where the basic moral values have been seriously undermined and where many people feel that their existence is without meaning, the people of faith can help to revitalize the sense of purpose and significance to life. Whatever our differences in theology and approach, we are companions in the search for truth; we are brothers and sisters in the aspiration towards a spiritually centered life. Through striving together to implement these “higher goals” we can help to uplift the consciousness of all humankind.
The sixth principle in developing universal consciousness is unity in diversity. This concept emphasizes the fact that though we are one family, we are not all alike and the differences are as essential as the similarities. The principle of unity in diversity recognizes that God’s Plan is very complex. The divine scheme has many different components and each one is important. There are a variety of tasks to be performed, and each one requires its own specific skills and particular training. The different religious paths provide us with preparation and guidance for these various spiritual missions.
The principle of unity in diversity is built upon a foundation of understanding and trust. These sentiments are fostered by the study of other religions and the inter-faith contacts described in the sections above. A strong sense of mutual love and respect arises out of these interactions. This enables us to overcome the differences in approach to God and to life that are created by our diverse religious paths.
Humility is another important component in sustaining the principle of unity in diversity. Only through humility will we arrive at the realization that everyone does not have to serve God as we would, and that the path of others is as valid as our own path. This humility is acquired through the self-examination described in principles one and two. An honest appraisal of our faith and its faults will lead us to recognize that we have much to do if we are to fulfill our own spiritual task; never mind telling others what they should do.
Once we have accepted that each of us has a different job to accomplish for God; then we can support and help each other in our individual work. Members of the major faiths can meet to discuss the different aspects of the spiritual life. We can share our individual insights and new innovations, and learn from each other’s successes and mistakes. Through this inter-faith dialogue, we will all gain a greater understanding of the religious life and receive helpful encouragement in the pursuit of our common spiritual goals. With time, these interactions will evolve into a genuine spiritual fellowship that can work as one united force to bring the Plan of God to fruition.
The seventh principle in developing a universal consciousness is to regard anyone who is working for the betterment of humankind as a fellow worker in the spiritual life. This is not predicated on their belief in God. In the complex circumstances of modern life there are many people who, despite their religious doubts, are working to help humanity in all walks of life. They are contributing as artists, scientists, financiers, aid workers, and many other fields. It is important for people of faith to send the message to these secular individuals that their life is also part of the Plan of God.
Science and religion are two pathways in the Mind of God. They represent different ways of approaching life, but both are striving towards the same goal. Both religion and science are searching for the truth. One is taking the path of analyzing our external reality; the other is looking towards our inner world to achieve its objective.
The work of the artistic disciplines is an integral part of the effort to uplift the consciousness of humankind. A great piece of art touches the soul and not just the physical senses. The true artist is striving to touch the realm of inspiration, to express part of the higher reality in physical form.
Similarly, an individual who works with self-sacrifice and commitment to relieve the suffering of humanity creates a great vortex of spiritual force. They are bringing the love and compassion of Divinity into the mundane world of daily life. These individuals are clearly spiritual instruments. They are serving God as He/She is manifested in each individual human being.
The process of strengthening the link between all those who are working for the intellectual, moral and spiritual evolution of humanity is already beginning in many areas. The present theories in the realm of subatomic physics approach the ideas of religious mystical philosophy. There is a growing collaboration between traditional medicine and more spiritual approaches to the body and its care. Psychology and spirituality are becoming profoundly interwoven in both their objectives and their terminology. The processes that occur during meditation are undergoing careful scientific analysis, and a new approach to meditation that is based on these findings is beginning to emerge.
These are some examples of the different fields where religious and secular approaches to life are interacting. The concept of the universality of religion is intimately interwoven with this evolving relationship. It is the scientific approach to religion that has made clear the common basis of all faiths. Ultimately, a universal consciousness embodies much more than just the area of religion. It is a state of mind that engulfs all aspects of human existence in its infinite embrace.
These are the seven steps to developing a universal consciousness in Judaism. Each step expands a little further the boundaries of our mind. As we integrate this universal awareness into our particular identities as vibrant and committed members of the Jewish people, the vision of the ancient prophets will infuse our lives.
Copyright © 1999, by Yoel Glick
first published in May, 1999