If we were told we could ask one question of God and be assured of a full and complete answer, I suspect that while each of us might word it differently, the question posed would be about the nature of our lives and of the universe. Who or what am I? Why or what am I? Who or What or are You? Or, put somewhat more loosely, just exactly what is going on around here?
And God would likely not be surprised at our choice of question because it is the very one which prompts us to set out on the quest for self-knowledge or spiritual awareness, to write or pick up a book like this one; and He has heard it, or will hear it, from all of us. If He were to show any surprise it might be because He has already provided us with the answer to this question over and over again, in a variety of ways, through numerous mouths and by assorted pens. But it is the nature of the question that each has to find an answer for himself or herself, and with luck we may be able to do some of that here, in these pages.
Early in the Old Testament of the Bible, a text used in its various forms by those of many spiritual traditions, cultures, and disciplines, we are told that among God's first words to Moses was the command that he remove his shoes, for he was, God said, standing on holy ground. Now, this event is reported to us as having occurred on the slopes of a mountain while Moses was alone tending a flock of sheep. We can assume this was scruffy, rock-strewn terrain, not much good for anything but sheep (otherwise they would probably not have been allowed to graze on it), and upon hearing God's words, Moses, once he had regained his composure, may have very well looked about him at the weeds and droppings, and murmured in disbelief, “Holy ground? This?” Remember too that in Moses' time, the appellation holy ground was likely reserved by the priests for sanctuaries, temples, and shrines, sites dutifully set apart, and this forsaken hillside was none of that. “Holy ground? You must be joking!”
We cannot know, of course, what exactly was God's point, but we can be certain, I think, that He was not joking. Also, it is likely, since the incident appears so early in the text, that God was speaking to Moses of first principles. That is, His message was intended to tell Moses, and the rest of us who would read of it later, something about the nature of the universe. And it could not have been an accident that God chose as the location for this particular lesson so unlikely a site as a mountain slope in the wilderness, the very kind of place to which the label “holy ground” would seem least appropriate. Perhaps what God wanted to put across was precisely the idea that wherever we are, at any time regardless of the surroundings or circumstances, we are standing on holy ground, or conversely, there is no ground on which we stand that is not holy.
Science seems today to be telling us that the universe is composed not, as we once thought, of many different substances in various categories of assorted kinds, but of one single element, or thing, or stuff, which simply seems to take different shapes, and behave in different ways depending upon the conditions of the moment. Science calls this stuff energy. I may not have expressed this idea just as a scientist would, but it is more or less as I stated it; and the point is that everything, everywhere, is at base the same. Our universe is composed of one thing, energy, which manifests or expresses itself in different ways, but which is always the one thing it is. I submit that this concept is as much religious as it is scientific, and the greater the clarity with which we can bring ourselves to see the identity of these two too often conflicting approaches, the more evident will the truth of the hypothesis become for us, and the more applicable to our lives will we recognize God's first words to Moses. Because whether we say that everything is energy or everywhere is holy ground depends solely on our point of view; in either case, we are saying something about the nature of the universe whose ramifications are awesome.
Now, most of us are inclined to leave these so-called esoteric and presumed highly intellectual concepts to the experts among us, be they priests, philosophers, or physicists. We assume that this is a subject too sacred, too deep, or too complicated for our understanding, and in any case not altogether relevant to our daily lives. Or, if we are not so easily cowed, and we acknowledge that it is too our business, we promise ourselves to focus on it at some point in the future when we are free of the responsibilities and duties of just plain living, and have time to reflect on matters such as these. But the fact is, this is a matter of just plain living. If we are to be able to function coherently, effectively, and fruitfully in life, then clearly we need to know something about our nature and about the nature of the universe in which we seem to find ourselves. Nobody can find happiness in an environment he does not comprehend, whose nature and function he cannot relate to, or with. Surely the most miserable amongst us are those who understand least who they are; likewise, our least joyful moments are always those when we feel most foreign to our surroundings, physical, psychological, or spiritual.
Thus, God's first words to Moses can have an application of momentous proportions to our lives whether we consider our orientation scientific or religious, and even in fact whether or not we seek to understand their meaning for us. Remember that the word holy comes from the same roots as the word whole, and in that sense we can understand God's message to mean that wherever we stand is all of creation, the whole universe. If we can understand that principle, we can understand our own nature and the nature of everything else. And of equal importance and significance is the complementary idea that we can reach that understanding.
Standing on holy ground as we are wherever we are, we have only to look at ourselves and the soil beneath our feet (where we are at this moment), to understand all there is to know. We need not look to others for explanations, nor need we postpone our search. Our daily lives, for all their routine and mundane appearances, are manifestations or expressions of this first principle, and we can start looking for the answers to our questions about life just exactly where we are. Take off your shoes as a command from the Creator means that access to the truth of the universe is immediate. Im-mediate, that is, in its meaning that there need be no intervening medium or mediator, no agent or interval between us and the knowledge we seek about our lives.
What has brought us together in this book, I as writer and you as reader, is a shared and genuine interest in grasping something about what we are all about. Each one of us, of course, is driven by a particularly personal motive, perhaps a felt absence in our lives of meaning, happiness, direction, or satisfaction, and it is that which we hope to fill. But in the end, we all seek an answer to the same question, and that is, again, what's going on around here? Some may consider this a religious exercise, others prefer to label it scientific. My own bent, perhaps because of how I got to where I am right now, will seem more the former, but it really does not make much difference. We ought not to be interested in the religious explanation as such, nor in the scientific explanation, but in the explanation: the explanation that explains. Answers, not labels.
We are taught in mathematics that things equal to the same thing are equal to each other, and this rule applies to the search for the truth of things as well. Statements about the nature of things which are formed as earnestly and accurately as humanly possible are also equal to each other; they are identical statements, describing as they do the same thing, although they may seem different, even flawed, to those who arrived at the place by an alternate route. Thus, science's conclusion that everything is energy, and religion's, as I have suggested it, that everywhere is holy ground, are indeed the same observation said differently. It is the labels which confuse us, not the truth behind them, and we would do well to learn to see beyond labels in every aspect of our lives, but especially here. In commercial sales operations, the selection of a product's label is generally assigned to person's other than those who developed the product; and their choice of design will be predicated on market conditions and other factors which have little to do with the motives and purposes of the original inventor. But it is always the product which we use, not the label, and therefore it is at the product itself which we must look with scrutiny if we are to know the truth of it.
Early in my own search for the truth of things it became apparent, once I learned to see past the labels, that all the world's great teachings are the same. The perceived differences among religions and spiritual disciplines increasingly came to be recognized as just that, perceived differences, developed and perpetuated not by the teachers themselves but by those who followed. There is no convincing reason that I am aware of, for example, to believe that Jesus of Nazareth considered himself a Christian, or that Gautama Siddartha referred to himself as a Buddhist. These are labels that were assigned afterwards, and one wonders how the teachers would react to them. Certainly, they have come, for many of us, to mean something very different from what the teachers taught. The lesson here is important if we are to understand for ourselves what our reality is all about. We have got to try to free ourselves of our attachment to and identification with labels, otherwise we will never recognize the product of our search or the answer to our question, for what it is and what it is not.
Once again, the question each of us has asked is the same, and it is, I think, the same question asked by astronomy, biology, zoology, and theology: What is the nature of what I see, or, again, what's going on around here? If there is any difference whatsoever between the various -ologists and the rest of us, it is that their presence on this ground seems somehow more legitimate than our own, for they are the experts. Not any more. This is holy ground, and we are all barefoot here. Categorization of knowledge as scientific or religious surely has its place, and we are not quarreling with that practice; but for our purposes here it misses the point. We want to know what's going on, and we don't much care which drawer we find the answer in, so long as we find it for ourselves, and it answers.
What we are undertaking here will not be easy. Identifying and understanding first principles never is, especially when we consider that in many ways we have strayed so far from this one. We are burdened by considerable confusion and even unhappiness in and about our lives, and all that will need to be sorted out. But having started, we have already taken the most difficult step, the first one, and while the rest will certainly not be all downhill, some degree of confidence in our eventual success is warranted.
A little beyond the point in the Exodus story mentioned earlier, Moses is told by God to free his people from slavery, and whether we choose to understand that literally or symbolically (that is, to free himself from the bondage of ignorance), and surely both interpretations are valid, we can take considerable encouragement from God's response to Moses' initial reluctance. Moses told God in effect that he felt inadequate to the task, and to this God replied that Moses need not fear for He would be with him. We should take that assurance to mean for us that as we pursue the same task, to free ourselves from our ignorance about our true nature, God is with us too. The forces of the universe are geared to facilitate our journey along this path; poised to spring into action. Not that we will succeed in a hurry, nor that it will take only one excursion; but we will prevail over whatever may seem to bind us. Despite the appearances, and they can be disquieting, the odds are heavily in our favor because what we seek is in the ground on which we stand, and it is wherever we are. While we may have far to go, we have not far too look.
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