From a collection of essays Beyond Religion II. Written in 1998, I was surprised that it still seems pertinent.
There is a great misunderstanding regarding this term, as referred to religious interpretation of reality. I have friends who think that anyone who believes that God created Adam in 4004 BC is a fundamentalist. They are right, but only in part. What makes such believers fundamentalists is not their literal interpretation of the Bible, but their conviction that the Bible had been written about, and addressed, the physical, or material reality. The fundamentalist’s need is fed by an unquenchable hunger for the permanent, for that which they can fall back on, rely on, within a world of unpredictable, sudden and constant change. They hunger for irrefutable facts regarding their existence—for a haven within the swirling turmoil of material reality. Alas, if there is one law controlling this realm, which is more adamant than any other, it is the law of change. Without it, biological life could not exist.
Looking for anything permanent within the material universe denies the very nature of this universe.
In essence, whether we believe that the human race is 6,000 or 6,000,000 year old is of no consequence. Likewise, it is of little import whether we believe that Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea, or that Jesus converted water into first quality wine... although this last trick I would very much like to learn. What matters is: how our beliefs affect our state of consciousness at this very moment—as this instant of eternity is the only instant in which we are in touch with that aspect of us which is immortal. Soul, the biblical El, the individualized Spirit, the Higher Self (call It what you like), has Its being only in the present. It has Its being beyond space, beyond time.
One is not a fundamentalist because one interprets the Bible literally. One interpret the Bible literally (even in small part) because one is a fundamentalist.
If your reality is centered in the material world—you are a fundamentalist. If you are concerned with your past or future—you are a fundamentalist: you exemplify a half-life; you are not yet awake, or, as Jesus put it: you are still dead. You suffer from an illusion. Yes... you probably really suffer. The pope John-Paul II writes about “the law of suffering,” of the “mystery of suffering and death.” Your suffering, indeed the necessity of suffering, is so ably advocated by all who define us as sinners in danger of eternal hellfire. Recognize heaven and hell as states of consciousness, and suffering dissipates. This very knowledge “fills with great joy.” Listening to countless preachers advocating the benefits of suffering, of the “purification” of soul through self denial, through abnegation, renunciation, fasting... I can but wonder if they ever noticed that the words “joy” or “rejoicing” appear in the Bible no less than 150 times! We have not been brought to this world to suffer, but to rejoice.
Unless we choose to be fundamentalists.
Unless we choose to believe in illusion.
The Buddha, Krishna, the Christ, Sai Baba and other avatars do not recognize the fundamental (material or physical) world, as real. Oh, they are well aware of the suffering ensuing from the misconception of the true reality. They even accept its illusory existence, but only as a point of reference for gathering experience by observing the consequences of divergent actions. Within the fundamental worlds, joy cannot exist without suffering––any more than shadow be cast without light, or sweetness experienced but in contrast to that which is bitter. We learn by comparing the opposites. If it weren’t for the opposites, the physical worlds would not, could not, exist. Alas, the physical worlds are not... real.
If we can metabolize this truth, we shall we set free.
No compromise is possible on this issue. We cannot accept the teaching of the avatars in part only. Were we to do so, the dichotomy would lead us to an asylum. (It very often does). Either we recognize ourselves as spiritual entities—“detached” actors learning from the interplay of opposite actions, emotions, concepts—or we think of yourselves as material bodies, endowed with limited mental abilities, a nondescript-undefined-incomprehensible “soul”, and unlimited capacity for suffering. If we choose the latter, we also choose to remain embroiled in a paradoxical existence, filled with “mysteries”, in this “valley of tears”. We must then also accept the concept of hell, the existence of evil, and the greatest perversion of all: the necessity of suffering.
We cannot serve two masters.
For as long as people recognize the physical world as the sole reality, they will never understand the messages which the great avatars tried so hard to convey to us. As Sai Baba put it “life is only relatively real.” To think otherwise is to be a fundamentalist; it is to build one’s belief system, one’s existence, on false premises. It is to substitute an ephemeral, transient, dream for the essence of being. According to Sai Baba, life on earth is even less than a dream; it is but a memory of one. No sane person would preoccupy himself or herself, extensively, with a dream. We should learn from it all we can, and then get on with our lives. Now, and in our next incarnation, and the following—ever unfolding, countless fragments of eternity. And between the incarnations we shall dream. We shall explore our infinite potentials. Until we learn. And then we shall go no more out.
We are eternal dreamers. Whenever we awaken (some people call it dying), we look back and smile—in disbelief...