When I see the word religion I see realign.
The utmost task of any sincere religious and spiritual thought system is to realign us back to Truth, or the Divine, or as I call it, God. Somewhere along the way we took a wrong turn, veered off course and ended up lost. Now we need help. It only makes sense that in order to get back Home, we turn to those who have found the way.
Who are they? Thankfully, they're generous, charitable folks who left us some direction. They are truth cartographers, seekers who once wandered this earth dazed and confused like us. Yet replete with diligence and faith, they hit the road, blazing a path, arriving at a destination and leaving a marked trail of the smoothest road for the rest of us to travel. Their maps--their guidance and instruction--are the foundation of our most truthful religions and philosophies and spiritual thought systems.
These people have become our great mystical thinkers. They are the brilliant, the enlightened, the yogis, the sages and seers. They have touched God. And they are too few and far between. Despite their perspicacity, however, not one of them can accurately depict what we will discover once we get to our destination. Why? Because the experience doesn't translate well into words. How does one begin to describe an experience that is not of the world? How does one put into words a feeling beyond words? Words will always come up short.
If someone who has never been in love before asked you to describe it, what could you say that would equal the experience? That person wouldn't get it until he actually falls in love. He or she needs an experience to know. Likewise, mystical cartographers can't tell us what God is like, they can only chronicle the steps they took to get there, "I turned left here, made a sharp right there, walked straight ahead over that hilly terrain and ran right into God."
Truth is inexplicable, but getting to Truth can be explained. Thus every spirituality, religion, philosophy and science is built on a map. Perhaps a better word would be story. Every map tells a cartographer's tale of what he went through, what he encountered, what was essential to the journey and what he discarded.
These stories do more than show us the way, they make abstract theoretical concepts such as the nature of existence or God a bit more comprehensible. Christianity has the Genesis story (well, two stories actually), Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims have their stories, philosophers have as many stories as there are philosophers and A Course in Miracles has its unique metaphysical story.
Students choose their particular story, or spiritual belief system, based on factors such as their past, their parents, their intellect and sensibilities, their strengths and weaknesses, where they grew up and what they needs to learn. Which is why many diverse paths are necessary--each story attracts its followers through a form that speaks to them. Each form allows someone to hear what he or she might have missed, or dismissed, had there only been one story.
Again, these stories are not Truth itself, because Truth is an experience. Rather, they are concepts, words, theories and symbols of Truth crunched down to fit into nice neat frames of reference. These stories glimpse the infinite through a finite lens. Thus loopholes and doubt will reign throughout the myriad attempts at explaining the inexplicable. Words are fallible because they are as
A Course in Miracles
says, "twice removed from reality." Words are symbols of symbols. And somewhere in the crunching down, something's going to get crunched out.
Through times of antiquity philosophers have warned us of the pitfalls of words and language. As American novelist William S. Burroughs put it:
"Words become images when written down, but images of words repeated in the mind and not the image of the thing itself....Truth is here when all the words are rubbed out."
We cannot, however, minimize the importance of the words, or the story. No one in their right mind would confuse a road map with the destination, but without the map we'd be lost. We wouldn't arrive at our destination, or at least not as quickly or as easily. So it is with spiritual narratives, they lead us to abandon words. They guide us to a wordless place--to "the image of the thing itself"--which is where we all, deep down, wish to be. We don't want to just talk about peace, we want to know peace. And we will never be satisfied with an intellectual understanding of unconditional love, we want to experience love pouring out of our pores.
All serious spiritual thought systems lead to this same place. For me, A Course in Miraclesis the only story that answered more questions than it raised. Choose a spiritual path based on reason, one whose story makes sense. Then go as far into it as you can. This doesn't mean you will agree with every tenet (take the love and leave the fear) but we move more swiftly toward our destination if we stick to one path rather than pick pieces of five. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Follow your sincere chosen path whether it be yoga, meditation, Buddhism or the Kabbalah whole-heartedly, and you will come to that wonderful wordless place. Of this, we are guaranteed.