Carl Gustav Jung, in a famous television interview, responded to the question, ‘Do you believe in God?’ with ‘I don’t believe: I know.’ As Jung wrote elsewhere, ‘Suddenly I understood that God was, for me at least, one of the most certain and immediate of experiences.’ Belief in a God is not dependent upon going to church, temple or synagogue, and observing all the rules and regulations, which can be but just a matter of form. It rests upon an inner conviction of a relationship with that which is beyond our intellectual understanding but which, deep down in the very centre of our being, we recognise as the Absolute in our lives.
In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche writes:
To learn how to die is to learn how to live. To learn how to live is to learn how to act not only in this life, but in the lives to come.
Not everyone will accept the idea of re-incarnation, but it is important to appreciate, as he says, that ‘everything is inextricably related: we come to realise that we are responsible for everything we do, say or think, indeed for the entire universe’.
When Hywel Jones, my partner of 54 years, was dying of a brain tumour and came home for the last two weeks of his life, I would silently say Hail Mary’s for him, knowing that the eternal Mother was holding him, as well as his own angel. There was pain in realising that I would no longer be able to kiss those lips or embrace him, but I would sit in deep silence alongside him, knowing that all was well.
Where did this acceptance come from? I recall a friend writing to me about the death of her husband: ‘Oh, how I wish I had your faith. When you lose the one you love, the rest of your life is like a journey on a long road where you might be ambushed at any time, around any corner, as in the old days of highwaymen. Now it is tears that come from nowhere and you have to pick yourself up again and smile, and drive on to the end.’
We each have to learn how to navigate our way through waters so deep and difficult that many drown or merely skim across the surface. For every individual the journey through bereavement will vary.
When Jesus says, ‘In my Father’s house there are many mansions,’ I think of this as ‘many dimensions’. People who have had a Near-Death Experience overwhelmingly report a feeling of certainty that life continues after we have deceased. Those who have had such an experience – and there are now millions of recorded instances – speak of death as nothing other than a different state of being. They set less store by money and material possessions, and report instead a deepening of spiritual values. They realise that everything and everybody is connected.
Together is a small book of some of the talks given by members of a meditation group of which James is a member. With these talks, the hope is that it will encourage others to form similar groups in their homes. James edited the book and wrote the introduction.
The idea of your group is splendid. Inspirational. Your sending me this book ties in for me with just the same sense of need I recognise locally and within myself – the quenching of loneliness with a sense of belonging. There are so many now heading puzzled towards the edge of institutional worship from different denominations and indeed other belief systems, needing a sense of belonging, of welcome. Within the small group with whom I share fortnightly centering prayer, and beyond it too, there are some who I think would be truly inspired to read this small book and might be encouraged to think about its value. Who knows where it might lead.
I have never forgotten how, when I went up to Oxford to be interviewed for a place at New College, I was met by two sons of the writer (and translator of the play Lady Precious Stream) S.I. Hsiung, who was at that time Head of Chinese Studies at the university. They met me, entertained me and then insisted on walking me back to where I was staying, some two miles outside Oxford. When I protested, they replied, ‘Confucius says: “Always go the extra mile!”’
Bible stories such as The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son no longer seem to find much resonance in today’s culture, as few people have been brought up on the teachings of Jesus. Yet each of these stories has a profound psychological meaning and is as relevant today as in the past. In throwing out conventional Christian teachings, we have lost much wisdom and insight into human nature. Each of the major religions has stories, spun from human experience, that can deepen our understanding. 40,000 homeless people sleep on the streets of New York every night. The story of The Good Samaritan is as relevant today as it ever was.
The Sufi master Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee writes in one of his books, ‘There are as many routes to God as there are individuals.’ As the composer John Taverner said, ‘ There is only one absolute being. Whether you call it God, Allah or Brahman, God gave to each tradition different Saviours and Avatars. Christ is God for the Christian world, as Krishna is God for the Hindus.’ We have to go beyond labels to what lies at the very heart of existence. As a small boy, whom I have quoted before, once said to me with passion, ‘God is a feel, not a think!’
Though I have learned much from Islam (especially Rumi) Buddhism, and from Indian Hindu teachers, I am primarily rooted in the teachings of Jesus and the deep and abiding conviction of an all-encompassing presence which we call God.
What all forms of meditation reveal, is that there is an underlying love that holds us, a love which passes all understanding. As the Psalmist says, ‘On God alone my soul in stillness waits.’