Virginia, April 28, 1999
What factors define a successful religious belief? What causes a person to root his mind confidently in the validity of his chosen faith? Success may be defined as the achievement of something desired. Is it, then, the satisfying of strong spiritual desires towards understanding that leads people to their religious choice? Surely this is the case for some.
Unfortunately, for many religion is not an independent choice by careful study, or a firm conviction arising from conscious recognition of what truly feels right or wrong in its doctrines. Rather, it is the result of influence during childhood by parents, relatives, and others. These impressions affect the young and still-open mind, and become ever more accepted and unquestioned as the child grows into adulthood.
However, childhood upbringing is not the only means by which people develop religious belief. As a child I was raised in a family which belonged to no religious denomination; we never attended church and I knew little about the Bible. I was raised with good morals, and there was never any lack of support and love from my parents. My father was always a deep, thinking man and encouraged open-minded contemplation of questions concerning life and the universe. Yet I often felt alienated from friends who thought it odd that I had no religion and never went to church.
Years later, while experiencing the world on my own, certain events led me to rock bottom. I was completely devastated, being in a situation which was so utterly horrifying that I feared I would lose my sanity. There, at the most desperate moment of my life, completely isolated and alone, I fell to the floor weak and exhausted, and spoke out into the empty room, "Creator, who or what you are, I don't know. I only know that I cannot go another day, not even another minute, without your help."
What took place directly after is very difficult to describe. In an instant an indescribable rush of energy swept through me and then seemed to radiate out from within me. In a flash I was on my feet in that empty room, with a sort of tone-vibration which penetrated everything. As this sensation climaxed, I experienced a reality that I had never had before and have not had since (certainly not to that degree). As I stood in the center of that room, it was as if I were being shown the truth behind the ultimate lie. At once, everything became singular; my body, the walls, even the very air molecules were only one thing. Everything that I had ever taken as reality was exposed as illusion. This seemed to level out as a very calm sense of harmony. As that sensation subsided, I felt myself, rather sadly, returning to the lie of illusory perception. However, I brought something back with me, a confidence: somehow I knew that I could overcome my problem and use my difficulties as opportunities to make positive changes.
As the days went by, I developed an intense desire to understand what had happened to me. Having had no knowledge of religion or philosophy, I knew not where to begin. My mind was open again, like that of a child.
Because Christianity is prevalent where I lived, I decided to begin a personal study of the Christian religion. I read and studied the Bible, cover to cover, sixteen times. I did not have others influencing my study, and depended only on my own thoughts and intuition to guide me. From the beginning it seemed obvious that the scriptures were written in a highly symbolic format, and that the inner meanings could not be fully grasped by reading the book as a record of literal history. While I did encounter certain elements which I felt were profound, and could grasp perhaps a portion of the intended meaning, more often than not I became perplexed by what seemed a sporadic chain of contradictions.
After nearly two years of this private study, I was wholly unsatisfied. An independent study of the history of Christianity left me in awe of a religion marred with more bloodshed and atrocity than I would have ever imagined. This gave me a new aggravation: how could so many comprehend what I found so utterly mysterious?
At that point I decided to take my questions to others. I spoke with many Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, and discovered a seemingly endless diversity among the various Christian denominations. I even found that the views of persons within particular denominations differed from one another. The only consistent message pressed upon me was that there is one individual Supreme God who is absolutely perfect, and that he sent his only son to earth, as a human man, in order to be tortured to death as payment for my evil. And by believing in this, combined with one or another type of baptismal ritual, I could be saved from an eternal existence in hell after death and live with this God in his kingdom, called Heaven.
Frankly, I found this entire concept unreasonable and contrary to my own observations of nature, as well as to sound, logical thinking. I then asked a certain clergyman, in hopes of attaining some enlightenment on the matter, "Assuming there is an individual God who is absolutely perfect, then his plan of creation and all in it must at some point also become perfect; for it was out of perfection that all was manifest. Even one loser would constitute a defect in the plan, thereby making God less than perfect. Since we include humanity as creations of this perfect God, how could anyone burn in an eternal hell after having had less than a century of physical life to attain the perfection of his creator?"
For instance, if your son did not graduate from high school because he failed the twelfth grade, surely you would not disown the boy or subject him to some hideous, lasting punishment. Rather, you would have him return to school to learn the lessons he previously failed to learn. This would seem like punishment to him, yet it is a necessary step to future success. This particular man, who had dedicated over thirty years of his life to preaching Christianity, said that my words sounded more like Buddhism than Christianity. "Really?" I said. So off I went on a new quest to study Buddhism.
I found Buddhism far more appealing to my thought and feelings than Christianity, and its history far less bloody. Still, its doctrines contain many profound ideals clothed in symbolism. Since I did not know any Buddhists and was not in a position to seek out a teacher, I was left with a thirst for truth and no well to drink from other than my own contemplation and intuition. However, this led to some of the most spiritual moments of thought I'd had. I began to discover the Godly Kingdom within myself — a place that had always existed and that I merely rediscovered through a sort of calm sincerity in myself and how I related to my surroundings. I have learned to appreciate this inner sanctuary, and there is no amount of earthly wealth for which I would trade it.
As time went by I found people with whom I could share thoughts and ideas. On one particular occasion I came in contact with a man whose words had such an impact on me that I could not compare it. The things he said in our conversations made more sense to me than anything I had ever heard, and most of all they felt right. His words struck notes in me that rang with harmony and clarity. When I inquired what doctrine he spoke from, he explained that it was a voicing of truth found from the inner meanings of all the most ancient writings of wisdom, which is as old as thinking man. He gave me an address for the Theosophical Society, and soon I began courses in Theosophy which even now I continue with great satisfaction. Theosophy continues to quench my thirst for truth, while allowing me to keep my mind open and free from fundamental dogma.
So then, what factors should define a successful religious belief? I remember, as a child, a friend who was very sad and disturbed, believing that his father (who had died) was in hell and would suffer forever because he was never baptized and did not believe in the Bible, as did the rest of his family. In that instance, his religion had failed him; he could find no scripture for his comfort. Perhaps I should consider myself fortunate not to have been raised under the influence of a set religion. The confidence I have in the validity of my beliefs is rooted in my spirit, and I find no perplexing contradictions or fearful threats of eternal damnation to upset my reasoning. I am grateful to have been raised by loving parents who taught me to keep an open mind and not limit myself to one avenue of thought. Recently I introduced them to Theosophy and they are both enjoying their study. When I ask them about their thoughts on theosophy, they respond, "It makes sense," and "It just feels right." Perhaps these are the most important factors. — Jeff Muehlhausen
Brazil, January 11, 1999
For so many years have I been listening to this wonderful magazine that I can't really remember how many. Your articles, very well recorded, are always instructive and as deep as one needs to go in order to learn to question life itself and to have human relationships. At last, in my opinion, whatever our religion may be, the idea of a divine being can only be fulfilled according to the degree of unselfish love we show our neighbors. Therefore, I have every reason to be very thankful to you at Theosophical University Press since, while a blind person, there's no like service in Brazil and I would have had no chance to listen to such good readings except through your kindness. — Paulo F. Ferreira
[Since January 1982, Sunrise has been recorded on audiocassette as a free service for the visually impaired. Regular audiocassette subscriptions and back issues are also available. See homepage for details. — Eds.]
Washington, May 1, 1999
I would like to tell you how useful Sunrise Online and other Theosophical University Press material on the Internet have been in my research and study. Having access on my computer to the full text of almost all TUP publications, including several out-of-print titles, and hundreds of Sunrise articles going back to 1975 has been very helpful. I am also finding the Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary valuable — particularly in conjunction with the Collation of Theosophical Glossaries on the Northwest Branch site which combines definitions of theosophical terms from several sources into a single alphabetical listing.
A significant feature of TUP books and articles online is the search capability. Those researching a particular concept or term can request to see a list of all of the files in which that term or phrase can be found. Using TUP Online, I have been able to easily locate and explore theosophical literature I otherwise would not have had access to. — Marilyn O'Day
[Theosophical University Press Online is located at www.theosociety.org/ pasadena/ts/tup-onl.htm; the Northwest Branch site is at www.theosophy-nw.org/theosnw/. — Eds.]
(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 1999. Copyright © 1999 by Theosophical University Press)