This is the Talk given at a Universal Worship presented by The Interfaith Centre of Melbourne on Sunday 12th November, at the Toorak Uniting Church.
Below are the sacred readings which were read as part of the service.
We all have experience of the Divine, even though we do not always recognise the experience as such. Sufis believe that we are part of the Divine One, and so the Divine is part of all of us; our mind is part of the Mind of God, our heart, within the Heart of God. So to experience the Divine we need to turn inward. As a drop in the ocean of the Divine, how does the drop experience the Ocean?
All the great Beings such as Krishna, Buddha, Zarathushtra, Moses, Jesus, and Mahomed and many others ‘known and unknown to the world’ have had a direct ‘seeing’ of the Divine and this has been described in the readings we have just had. It is almost impossible to describe these experiences, except perhaps in poetry. There are many similarities, and yet some differences, related to the time and culture of the peoples perhaps.
Fire and Light
Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita described the Supreme Personality of the Godhead, as unlimited and full of glaring, brilliant, radiance. It was glaring like the sun and its many faces were rapidly changing. although being faced with a living God is terrifying. Because Arjuna has been able to experience this, as a human, means that we too can have this knowledge. The experience is not something that can be described – we catch it in a glimpse of the whole universe in the beauty of nature, when we are open to receive it. It is a peak experience, which can guide our whole life.
Zarathushtra too, experienced the Divine (Ahura Mazda) as Fire: – Ahura Mazda’s first thought blazed into myriads of sparks of light. It is interesting that the Ahura Mazda brings with him, his daughter, the Divine Feminine, the enlightened guide, full of love and compassion. Moses too sees God in flames of fire, from within a bush – but it was a fire which did not burn or destroy. This is a mystery!
In the Koran the Light (Nur) is also spoken of as being everywhere, neither from the East or West, even though flame touched it not. Again Light without flame. ‘Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth’, says the Koran. This Light is Nur the Uncreated Light of God. Physical light is but a reflection of the true Light in the world of reality, and that true Light is God. We can only think of God in terms of our phenomenal experience, and in the phenomenal world, light is the purest thing we know. But light is dependent on so many things – energy, space and time. The perfect Light of God is free from any such defects. The lamp is the core of the spiritual Truth, the glass is the transparent medium through which the light passes, but protects the light from moths (low life or motives in man), gusts of wind (passions). So the spiritual Truth has to be filtered through human language or human intelligence to make it intelligible to mankind. Glorious illimitable Light, cannot be described or measured – it illuminates the mind and understanding.
Meditation – turning inward.
It is while Siddharta was sitting under a jambu-tree, pondering life, death, and the evils of decay, while concentrating, that he became free from confusion. All desires vanished from his heart and perfect tranquillity came over him and a deep compassion filled his heart. So we are given the hint that it is by concentrating that we can achieve this state of ecstasy and knowing in ourselves. His inner voice showed him that everything contains its own opposite – where there is heat, there is the possibility of cold, where creatures feel pain there is also the faculty of pleasure. We must seek the great deathless lake of Nirvana in which to purify ourselves of these opposites and rise above them into unity. If we do not find it, it is not the fault of the lake. It is interesting that Ahura Mazda also brought with him, love and compassion, so these are common to both religions. And Zarathushtra asserts that silent meditative thought is best for mankind.
Known and recognised.
I find it very moving that Moses was called by name by his Lord – he was known. In our own experience of God there is also this deep sense of being known and deeply accepted, even loved. It is as if God is holding out his hands to us. We can communicate with God, Just as Moses did on Mount Sanai. Moses answered, ‘Here I am!’ I think this means that we should respond to the call of God, and let him know we are hearing Him.
Being faced with a living God is terrifying! “Take off your sandals” says the Lord. This is a sign of respect and humility – the ground was made sacred by the Divine Presence, and so it was proper to take off his sandals. Moses was in the presence of the Divine.
When Jesus was baptised by John in the river Jordan, he experienced the Divine directly, as the heaven being torn open and the holy spirit descending on him like a dove. And Jesus heard the voice of the Lord saying “You are my son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” This was a powerful experience of being known, like Moses, and being loved as a son, and of having pleased his Lord by his very being. John had foretold that one would come after him, who would baptise us all with the holy spirit.
All of these prophets were known and named by the One – the Divine, as are we all. The Divine knows each one of us. It is said that if we take one step towards God, then God takes a hundred steps towards us.
In our prayer Salat, we say:-
O Messenger, Christ, Nabi, the Rasul of God!
Thou whose heart constantly reacheth upward;
Thou comest on earth with a message as a dove from above when Dharma decayeth, and speakest the Word that is put into Thy mouth, as the light filleth the crescent moon. —-
All the messengers of God have had a direct experience, often in a time when the social order was in decay – when the world was in chaos. Their understanding of the message of God when taught to his followers, eventually became a religion. But it is this direct experience of the Divine, which speaks to us in the same way, when we understand and accept the Truth we are being shown.
Experiencing the Divine.
We shall read from the Hindu Scripture
After seeing this universal form, which I have never seen before, I am gladdened, but at the same time my mind is disturbed with fear. Therefore please bestow Your grace upon me and reveal again Your form as the Personality of Godhead, O Lord of lords, O abode of the universe.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Arjuna, happily have I shown you, by My internal potency, this supreme universal form within the material world. No one before you has ever seen this primal form, unlimited and full of glaring effulgence.
We shall read from the Buddhist Scriptures
While the prince was pondering on the problem of evil, he beheld with his mind’s eye under the jambu-tree a lofty figure endowed with majesty, calm and dignified. “Whence comest thou, and who mayest thou be?” asked the prince.
In reply the vision said: “I am a samana. Troubled at the thought of old age, disease, and death I have left my home to seek the path of salvation. All things hasten to decay; only the truth abideth forever. Everything changes, and there is no permanency; yet the words of the Buddhas are immutable. I long for happiness that does not decay; the treasure that will never perish; the life that knows no beginning and no end. Therefore, I have destroyed all worldly thought.
We shall read from the Zoroastrian Scriptures
Then I realised You as Bountiful,
O Mazda Ahura,
When the Good Mind encircled me.
His question was:
“Which party will you claim as your own?”
“Henceforth, I will consecrate my homage to your Fire,
And as long as I am able I will meditate upon Your Truth.”
“Therefore grant me Truth whom I invoke.”
Then Ahura Mazda replied:
“I come to you with my daughter,
Armaiti, (full of love and compassion).
Place before us your searching questions
for by that questioning you will gain the Sovereignty
by which you will obtain understanding.
We shall read from the Jewish Scriptures
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought “I will go over and see this strange sight – why the bush does not burn up.”
When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
We shall read from the Christian Scriptures
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by Jothn in the Jordan. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
We shall read from the Scripture of Islam.
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. His light is like a niche wherein is a lamp, the lamp encased in glass, the glass as if it were a shining star. From a blessed tree the lamp is kindled, whose oil is neither from the East nor West, whose blessed oil would well-nigh shine out, even though flame touched it not!
It is light upon light. Allah guides into this light whom He wills; and Allah sets forth Parables to men, for Allah is the knower of all things.
We read from the Gayan.
In the brightness of day and in the darkness of night what didst Thou not teach me! Thou hast taught me what is meant by wrong and what is called right. Thou hast shown me the hideous face of life, and Thou hast unveiled before me life’s beautiful countenance. Thou hast taught me wisdom out of utter darkness of ignorance. Thou has taught me to think after my thoughtless movements. Thou playest with me, my Beloved Lord and Master, hide and seek! Thou closest mine eyes and Thou dost open them.