What is God?*

By Jacob Needleman


And What of God?

     It is astonishing to me to realize how long it took me to see the connection between the experience of remembering myself and the question of the existence of God. And for this I am now profoundly grateful. Had I glimpsed this fundamental connection too soon, I would almost surely have mixed them up together, which would perhaps have put an end to my ability to profit from the help being offered to me by the ideas and friendships that were supporting my inner search. I will try to explain this apparent paradox soon.

     For now I simply have to hew to what was actually taking place in my life at that time and what it entails about the meaning of the idea of God.

     Even as my appreciation of the mystical teachings of religion deepened and my experience of how a momentary contact with "I am" transformed everything in me, including my relationship to others and to the world -- even so, I made no connection between these two currents of my life. I did not see at all that everything that historically has been part of the idea of God, how all of what have been called the divine attributes of God -- power, justice, mercy, etc. -- were actually, at their own level and scale, attributes of the deeper self, or attention, that was more and more often touching me.

     I speak of this now, in this book, not because of its significance for me personally, but because of its possible significance for others -- dare I say more than that? How much of the sorrow and grief of the world lies in what we have made of the idea of God and what, in the name of God, we believe is demanded of us! How much bitter egoism with all its violence and inhumanity has been played out on a massive scale -- the scale of whole nations and peoples, whole historical epochs -- because of mankind's crippled relationship to the idea of whatever is called God in our lives! And how much grief and sorrow has, in its turn, also arisen because of a set of mind and the disillusioned heart that leads a man or woman to turn away entirely from the possible influence, in one's life and behavior, of what is immeasurably higher both above and within ourselves! How many worlds have fallen to pieces in our personal lives and in the life of humanity because individually and collectively, mankind has turned for guidance to that which is incapable of the whole-being-intelligence which alone can put all our capacities to the service of what is good -- because we have turned to what only pretends to be higher in ourselves? And that which pretends to be God or a higher authority in or above ourselves: Is it not only our mental automatisms or emotional uprisings or fantastic moralistic dreams -- dreams spun out of the lonely ego as it manipulates the world with technologies that amplify our fears and cravings?


     Every relatively normal man, woman or child has genuine experiences of the inner world of the Self. But in a culture such as our own, these experiences are not recognized as what in fact they are: namely, "messages" from the Self indicating what a human being is meant to be and what he or she can become. These experiences are often simply set aside as accidental gifts or "peak experiences," and nothing more. Or perhaps they are linked with specific religious beliefs without the necessary practical guidance that may have once been available in more traditional cultures. Rarely is their immense significance understood as a sign that we are not what we think we are. Rarely are they "heard" as a call rather than as an "answer."

A call to . . . what?

*This excerpt from Chapter 9 of What is God? is reprinted by permission of Tarcher/Penguin. Copyright C 2009, All Rights Reserved.

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