< Tikkun Sept/Oct 2002 : Articles > 
An Ocean with Many Shores  
Jorge N. Ferrer 

    It's very reassuring to think that all the different religions and spiritual traditions in the world are aimed at sharing the same basic truths—and that we are all heading in the same direction. The hopes of eliminating wars and tensions between spiritual traditions is a noble goal for a humanity that has been torn apart by religious wars. No wonder it's an attractive alternative to imagine that we could all agree that there is really one basic or perennial truth—we might then find ourselves in a world with less war and less conflict. Apparent differences could be explained away: Differences between different traditions would be seen as little more than problems of translating from one spiritual language to another. Differences in behavior might be understood as reflecting different stages in the development of consciousness toward the higher rungs of this perennial truth. The task of humanity would be to find a common spiritual language and to accelerate the development of those in a "lower" place to a "higher" place. Spiritual education could solve human problems, and spiritual harmony (even the elimination of wars over religious differences) could be achieved once we developed the best techniques for facilitating or supporting people through the stages of spiritual development.

    I call this a "Perennialist" position, and, though I can easily understand the appeal of such a picture, I'm afraid that it doesn't really tell an accurate story of spiritual reality. The Perennialist position ignores the way spiritual reality itself is in a process of evolution, and the role human beings and human choices play in shaping that evolution. In my view, we can't talk about people being at a certain stage of some pre-existing spiritual grid, but we can talk about the choices we make that continually shape and evolve that grid.

    Despite their professed inclusivist stance, most of the prevailing universalist visions in the modern West tend to distort the essential message of various religious traditions, favoring certain spiritual paths over others and raising serious obstacles for spiritual dialogue and inquiry. Instead, I would like to suggest that spirituality emerges from human co-creative participation in an always dynamic and indeterminate spiritual power. This participatory understanding not only makes hierarchical rankings of spiritual traditions appear misconceived, but also reestablishes our direct connection with the source of our being and expands the range of valid spiritual choices that we as individuals can make.

    The Participatory Nature of Spiritual Knowing
Spiritual knowing is a participatory process. What do I mean by "participatory"? First, participatory alludes to the fact that spiritual knowing is not objective, neutral, or merely cognitive. On the contrary, spiritual knowing engages us in a connected, often passionate, activity that can involve not only the opening of the mind, but also of the body, the heart, and the soul.

    Although particular spiritual events may involve only certain dimensions of our nature, all of them can potentially come into play in the act of spiritual knowing, from somatic transfiguration to the awakening of the heart, from erotic communion to visionary co-creation, from contemplative knowing to moral insight, to mention only a few.

    Second, the participatory nature of spiritual knowing refers to the role that our individual consciousness plays during most spiritual and transpersonal events. This relation is not one of appropriation, possession, or passive representation of knowledge, but of communion and co-creative participation.

    Finally, "participatory" also refers to the fundamental ontological predicament of human beings in relation to spiritual energies and realities. Human beings are—whether we know it or not—always participating in the self-disclosure of spirit. This participatory predicament is not only the ontological foundation of the other forms of participation, but also the epistemic anchor of spiritual knowledge claims and the moral source of responsible action.

Spiritual phenomena involve participatory ways of knowing that are presential, enactive, and transformative:

1.Spiritual knowing is presential: Spiritual knowing is knowing by presence or by identity. In other words, in most spiritual events, knowing occurs by virtue of being. Spiritual knowledge can be lived as the emergence of an embodied presence pregnant with meaning that transforms both self and world. Subject and object, knowing and being, epistemology and ontology are brought together in the very act of spiritual knowing.

2.Spiritual knowing is enactive: Following the groundbreaking work of neuroscientists Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch, my understanding of spiritual knowing embraces an enactive paradigm of cognition: Spiritual knowing is not a mental representation of pregiven, independent spiritual objects, but an enaction, the bringing forth of a world or domain of distinctions co-created by the different elements involved in the participatory event. Some central elements of spiritual participatory events include individual intentions and dispositions; cultural, religious, and historical horizons; archetypal and subtle energies; and, most importantly, a dynamic and indeterminate spiritual power of inexhaustible creativity.

3.Spiritual knowing is transformative: Participatory knowing is transformative at least in the following two senses. First, the participation in a spiritual event brings forth the transformation of self and world. Second, a transformation of self is usually necessary to be able to participate in spiritual knowing, and this knowing, in turn, draws forth the self through its transformative process in order to make possible this participation.

An Ocean with Many Shores

    Given a participatory account of human spirituality, we can begin to explore the radical plurality not only of spiritual paths, but also of spiritual liberations and spiritual ultimates.

    Let us begin our story by departing from a classic Perennialist account. Perennialism generally postulates a single spiritual ultimate which can be directly known through a transconceptual, and presumably ineffable, metaphysical intuition. This insight, so the story goes, provides us with a direct access to "things as they really are," that is, the ultimate nature of reality and our innermost identity. Central to this view is the idea that once we lift the manifold veils of cultural distortions, doctrinal beliefs, egoic projections, a sense of separate existence, and so forth, the doors of perception are unlocked and the true nature of self and reality is revealed to us in a flashing, liberating insight. From a classic Perennialist perspective, every spiritual tradition leads, in practice, to this identical, single vision. Or to use one of the most popular Perennialist metaphors, spiritual traditions are "like rivers leading to the same ocean."

Spiritual knowing engages us in a connected, often passionate, activity. 

    I do believe spiritual traditions have a common "ocean," to use the Perennialists' metaphor, but the ocean shared by most traditions does not correspond to a cross-cultural spiritual ultimate or to "things as they really are." Perhaps more humbly, what religious and spiritual traditions share is the interest in overcoming our narrow self-centeredness and thus liberating ourselves from our correspondingly limited—and limiting—perspectives. For the sake of brevity, and mindful of the limitations of this metaphor, since most traditions identify the liberation from self-centeredness as pivotal for this transformation, I will call this common element the "Ocean of Emancipation."

    I thus agree with the Perennialists that most genuine spiritual paths (be they knowledge of Brahman in Advaita Vedanta, the cleaving to God in Judaism, or the commitment to visionary service in Shamanism) involve a gradual transformation from self-centeredness towards a fuller participation in the Mystery of existence. In almost every spiritual path we witness a liberation from self-imposed suffering, an opening of the heart, and a commitment to a compassionate and selfless life. It is in this spirit, I believe, that the Dalai Lama thinks of a common element in religion:

    "If we view the world's religions from the widest possible viewpoint, and examine their ultimate goal, we find that all of the major world religions are directed to the achievement of permanent human happiness. They are all directed toward that goal. To this end, the different world's religions teach different doctrines which help transform the person. In this regard, all religions are the same, there is no conflict."

    I also concur with Perennialism in holding that the entry into the Ocean of Emancipation may be accompanied, or followed by, a transconceptual disclosure of reality. Due to the radical interpenetration between cognizing self and cognized world, once the self-concept is deconstructed, the world may reveal itself to us in ways that transcend our mental conceptualization. Nevertheless—and here I depart radically from Perennialism—I maintain that there are a multiplicity of transconceptual disclosures of reality. Perennialists erroneously assume that the transconceptual disclosure of reality must be necessarily One. In other words, Perennialists generally believe that plurality emerges from concepts and interpretations, and that the transcending of this sort of conceptual proliferation must then result in a single apprehension of "things as they really are."

    But to enter the Ocean of Emancipation does not inevitably tie us to a particular disclosure of reality, even if it is transconceptual. In contrast, what the mystical evidence suggests is that there are a variety of possible spiritual insights and ultimates (Tao, Brahman, Sunyata, God, Kaivalyam, etc.) whose transconceptual qualities, although sometimes overlapping, are irreducible and often incompatible (personal versus impersonal, impermanent versus eternal, dual versus nondual, etc.). Perennialism typically accounts for this conflicting evidence by assuming that those qualities correspond to different interpretations, perspectives, dimensions, or levels of a single ultimate reality. As I see it, however, this interpretation is not only unfounded and problematic, but also covertly posits a pregiven spiritual ultimate that is then hierarchically situated over other spiritual goals.

    A more fertile way to approach the diversity of spiritual claims is to hold that the various traditions lead to the enactment of different transconceptual disclosures of reality. Although these different spiritual realities may apparently share some qualities (e.g., nonduality in Sunyata and Brahmajñana), they constitute independent religious aims whose conflation may prove to be a serious mistake. In terms of our metaphor, we could say, then, that the Ocean of Emancipation has many shores.

    Whereas Ken Wilber and other transpersonalists have rightly identified certain parallels across contemplative paths, contextualist scholars of mysticism have correctly emphasized that the enaction of different spiritual insights requires specific mystical teachings, trainings, and practices. Or, put in traditional terms, particular "rafts" are needed to arrive at particular spiritual "shores": If you want to reach the shore of Nirvana, you need the raft of the Buddhist Dharma, not the one provided by Christian praxis. And if you want to realize knowledge of Brahman (Brahmajñana), you need to follow the Advaitin path of Vedic study and meditation, and not the practice of Tantric Buddhism, devotional Sufi dance, or psychedelic Shamanism and so forth. In this account, the Dalai Lama is straightforward about the uniqueness of each tradition when he states: "Liberation in which 'a mind that understands the sphere of reality annihilates all defilements in the sphere of reality' is a state that only Buddhists can accomplish. This kind of moksa or Nirvana is only explained in the Buddhist scriptures, and is achieved only through Buddhist practice."

    What is more, different liberated awarenesses can be encountered not only among different religious traditions, but also within a single tradition itself. Listen once again to the Dalai Lama:

Questioner: "So, if one is a follower of Vedanta, and one reaches the state of satcitananda, would this not be considered ultimate liberation?"

His Holiness: "Again, it depends upon how you interpret the words, 'ultimate liberation.' The moksa which is described in the Buddhist religion is achieved only through the practice of emptiness. And this kind of nirvana or liberation, as I have defined it above, cannot be achieved even by Svatantrika Madhyamikas, by Cittamatras, Sautrantikas, or Vaibhasikas. The follower of these schools, though Buddhists, do not understand the actual doctrine of emptiness. Because they cannot realize emptiness, or reality, they cannot accomplish the kind of liberation I defined previously."

    What the Dalai Lama is suggesting here is that the various spiritual traditions and schools cultivate and achieve different contemplative goals. He is adamant in stressing that adherents to other religions, and even to other Buddhist schools, cannot attain the type of spiritual liberation cultivated by his own. Alternative understandings of emptiness exist even among the various Buddhist schools. To lump together these different awarenesses into one single spiritual referent reachable by all traditions may be profoundly distorting. Each spiritual shore is independent and needs to be reached by its appropriate raft.

    Although the metaphor of an ocean with many shores is helpful to illustrate the variety of spiritual realities, it is ultimately inadequate to convey the participatory and enactive nature of spiritual knowing. As with all geographical metaphors, one can easily get the mistaken impression that these shores are pre-given, somehow waiting out there to be reached or discovered. That view, of course, would automatically catapult us back to a kind of perspectival Perennialism, which accounts for the diversity of religious goals in terms of different perspectives or dimensions of the same pre-given Ground of Being. This participatory account should not then be confused with the view that mystics of the various kinds and traditions simply access different dimensions or perspectives of a ready-made single ultimate reality. Such a view merely allows that the same pregiven spiritual referent can be approached from different vantage points. In contrast, the view I am advancing here is that no pre-given ultimate reality exists, and that different spiritual realities can be enacted through intentional or spontaneous co-creative participation in an indeterminate spiritual power or Mystery.

    Admittedly, to postulate that human intentionality and creativity may influence or even affect the nature of the Divine—understood here as the source of being—may sound somewhat heretical, arrogant, or even inflated. It is heretical from a conventional standpoint. Why, however, are we so convinced that the Divine is an isolated and independent entity disconnected from human agency? When we understand the relationship between the divine and the human as reciprocal and interconnected, we can, humbly but resolutely, reclaim our creative spiritual role in the divine self-disclosure.

    The idea of a reciprocal relationship between the human and the divine finds precedents in the world of mystical literature. Perhaps its most compelling articulation can be found in the writings of ancient Jewish and Kabbalistic theurgical mystics. For the theurgic mystic, human religious practices have a profound impact not only in the outer manifestation of the divine, but also in its very inner dynamics and structure. Through the performance of the commandments (mizvot), the cleaving to God (devekut), and other mystical techniques, the theurgic mystic conditions divine activities such as the restoration of the sphere of the sefirot, the unification and augmentation of God's powers, and even the transformation of God's own indwelling. As Moshe Idel puts it, the theurgic mystic "becomes a cooperator not only in the maintenance of the universe but also in the maintenance or even formation of some aspects of the Deity."

    As scholars Louis Dupré and Bernard McGinn observe, this understanding is not absent in Christian mysticism. In the so-called affective mystics (Richard of Saint Victor, Teresa of Avila, Jan van Ruusbroec, etc.), for example, we find the idea that the love for God substantially affects divine self-expression and can even transform God himself. In relation to Ruusbroec's mysticism, Dupré points out: "In this blissful union the soul comes to share the dynamics of God's inner life, a life not only of rest and darkness but also of creative activity and light. The contemplative accompanies God's own move from hiddenness to manifestation within the identity of God's own life." And he adds: "By its dynamic quality the mystical experience surpasses the mere awareness of an already present, ontological union. The process of loving devotion realizes what existed only as potential in the initial stage, thus creating a new ontological reality." The idea of a spiritual co-creation—"one that many have assumed but few have dared to express" (Dupré)—is also present in devotional Sufism, as well as in many Indian traditions such as Shaivism and Buddhism. The point is not, however, that spiritual co-creation is a universally accepted notion (clearly that is not the case), but merely to show that it has been maintained by a variety of mystics from different times and traditions.

    Once enacted in a co-creative process, spiritual shores do become more easily accessible and, in a way, "given" to some extent for individual consciousness to participate in. Once we enter the Ocean of Emancipation, spiritual forms which have been enacted so far are more readily available and tend more naturally to emerge (from mudras to visionary landscapes, from liberating insights to ecstatic types of consciousness, etc.). But the fact that enacted shores become more available does not mean that they are predetermined, limited in number, or that no new shores can be enacted through intentional and co-creative participation. Like trails cleared in a dense forest, spiritual pathways traveled by others can be more easily crossed, but this does not mean that we cannot open new trails and encounter new wonders (and new pitfalls) in the always inexhaustible Mystery of being.

    It is fundamental to distinguish clearly this position not only from perspectival Perennialism but also from spiritual relativism and anarchy. While I have argued that there is no one spiritual reality, I do believe there is a spiritual power or Mystery out of which everything arises. Although indeterminate, this Mystery does impose restrictions on human visionary participation. As Varela, Thompson, and Rosch suggest in relation to evolution, the key move "is to switch from a prescriptive logic to a proscriptive one, that is, from the idea that what is not allowed is forbidden to the idea that what is not forbidden is allowed." That is, although certain enactions, like killing people for religious purposes, are invalid, an indefinite number of spiritual enactions are still feasible. We do not have to define the sphere of possible enactions; we only need to agree on the very few which are prohibited.

    A central task for spiritual inquirers and participants in the interreligious dialogue, then, is the identification of these restrictive conditions for the enaction of valid spiritual realities. If I were to speculate, I would suggest that the nature of these parameters may have to do not so much with the specific contents of visionary worlds, but with the moral values emerging from them—for example, the saintly virtues in Christianity, the perfections (paramitas) in Buddhism, and so forth. In this regard, it is noteworthy that, although there are some areas of tension, religions have usually been able to find more common ground in their ethical prescriptions than in doctrinal or metaphysical issues. In any event, the regulative role of such parameters can not only free us from falling into spiritual anarchy, but also pave the way for making qualitative distinctions among spiritual insights and traditions.


    In sum, the common ocean to which most spiritual traditions lead may not be a pre-given spiritual ultimate, but the Ocean of Emancipation, a radical overcoming of self-centeredness which can be accompanied by a variety of transconceptual disclosures of reality. Some of these disclosures have been enacted already by the world's spiritual traditions, while an indeterminate number have not yet come into being and will require a more creative participation, a co-creation with the divine, to come into being. Although there are certain constraints on their nature, the number of feasible enactions of spiritual worlds may be, within these boundaries, virtually limitless.

    While I cannot consistently maintain the superiority of this account over others, I can highlight its advantages. In brief, the participatory understanding of spiritual realities is more generous than other meta-perspectives in terms of recognizing the infinite creativity of Spirit, contributing therefore to the actual generativity of spiritual unfolding (e.g., allowing, impelling, and catalyzing Spirit's creative urges through human-embodied participation). Participatory understanding better honors the diversity of spiritual traditions, insights, and realities than other approaches, affirming, supporting, and legitimizing the largest number of spiritual perspectives on their own terms. A participatory understanding provides a more fertile ground for a constructive and egalitarian interreligious dialogue, as well as for greater respect and harmony among people holding different religious beliefs. Finally, participatory understanding has emancipatory consequences for our individual participation in the self-disclosure of reality—for example, in terms of expanding the range of creative viable options to cultivate, embody, and express the sacred.

    In such a participatory cosmos, human intentional participation creatively channels and modulates the self-disclosing of Spirit through the bringing forth of visionary worlds and spiritual realities. Spiritual inquiry then becomes a journey beyond any pre-given goal, an endless exploration and disclosure of the inexhaustible possibilities of an always dynamic and indeterminate Mystery. 

Jorge N. Ferrer, Ph.D., teaches at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He is the author of Revisioning Transpersonal Theory (SUNY Press, 2002) and has recently edited a monograph of the journal ReVision.


Here's a story I heard about how Stupid non-Jews are. "Abe, was in the retail shirt business and sold his shirts for a mere profit of 37% as did most merchants. Abraham, came along and said, 'since you already have the shirts why don't you raise your profit up to about 200%?' Abe, not understanding how to do this legally and get away with it begged the answer. Put your name or a famous name of someone we have promoted and already have vested in, preferably in the Sports arena, and sell it for a much higher price. 'Yes,' said Abe, 'but that will cost more money for the logos and lettering that it will cut substantially into the profit.' That's simple, said Abraham. Make them pay for it by raising the price so high their ego and pride won't notice how they have been duped into paying for your advertising. And liking it." It is now commonly called "Name Brand" and "Designer Clothes".

Another is about the popular "Cash-Back" scam. Let's say a customer buys a car for $17,000.00 and is told they will get $2,000.00 of it back within thirty to sixty (sometimes 90) days. Within this time frame let's say (nationally, not world wide) just one million people (more like 10 million) buy a car under this promotion program. This $2,000.00 times one million people, on paper, is routed through the world bank and accrues millions in interest plus the interest on the original $17,000.00. So we have $2,000.00 times one million people in a two month period with this money in ONE POT. When they have drained this dry of interest they mail each individuals $2,000.00 BACK to them. This is the same $2,000.00 making up the $17,000.00 you are paying interest on to start with. And guess who's getting that? You have just paid them to charge you interest to pay their interest on your money you loaned them - at no interest in the first place. Now you can't really blame someone for calling people like this stupid can you?.  :o)   

A first read:  This excerpt from Lloyd Graham.

 And then: "The Protocols Of The Learned Elders Of Zion".

Bush Says Iraq War Is Good for Israel

Power and might

See also - Jews. - And Hans Kolvenbach

No War For Israel.

Christian Terrorist. Love at its best!

Why Are Some American Christians So Bloodthirsty?

  Israel Plans to Gain Control of Region .

Shock Secret Identity of Israel's Yahweh Revealed!

God has called me to rid the world of "evil doers".  And their weapons!

Tying It All Together

See: John Kaminski's "The Perfect Enemy". 
And,  Enemies Of Everyone    

In Defense of Anti-Semitism

See: This excerpt from Lloyd Graham.

See also: The Origins and Nature of Fundamentalism in Society.

New: as of, 01/21/03; All About Eve: Race, Religion, and Science: Clay Farris Naff 

Some of Gods servants at work.

Terrorist in the White House. And here's how!

Foundation for Moral Law, Inc.

Public Action, Inc.

And now this!

The Awareness Center









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