In today’s secular environment the two worlds of science and spirituality are alien worlds, distinguished primarily by a deep-seated antagonism in which the principles of spirituality and the pragmatism of modern science exist face to face in a perennial state of confrontation. This profoundly learned work searches the borderlands between these two worlds. Divided into three parts, this work begins by analyzing modern epistemological assumptions surrounding the faculty of reason and comparing it to traditional ideas concerning the intellect; the second and third parts deal masterfully with spiritual imagination and the light of faith.
Through a penetrating analysis of reason and intellect, spiritual imagination and the light of faith, this book addresses fundamental questions pertaining to our search for meaning. Countering the prevalent assumptions which determine our secular environment, these pages travel the borderlands between science and religion and open passageways to a higher understanding of spiritual life Countering the prevalent assumptions which determine our secular environment, this book travels the borderlands between science and religion and opens passageways to a higher understanding of spiritual life.
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Characteristics of the Borderland
We are primarily concerned in this endeavor with the possibility of spiritual experience during the modern era and the journey of discovery needed to lift the veil that obscures the psyche of modern man from his other, his true self. The search for passageways to higher spiritual experience and the journey into the interior of the self begins where the world of science ends and the world of spirituality begins. Between these two worlds lies a borderland that serves as the defining isthmus separating these two paradigms of knowledge into two distinct realms of experience, each of which harbor unresolved questions and set in motion critical consequences.
The traditional symbol of the isthmus dividing alien worlds recalls the symbolic image of the veil. In the Islamic context, the veil highlights the universal mystery at the center of existence, a mystery that serves as an invisible shield to protect the divine disclosure from undeserving and presumptuous eyes. Lifting such a veil reveals four stark images: a crossroads of decision and choice, the eye of the needle that serves as a rite of initiation into the world of ethics and morality, the sword bridge that crosses the great rift of the divided self, and the great sun door that leads into the interior, where human consciousness awakens the mind to introspection, where reflective thinking and sacred sentiment take root in the human heart, and where spiritual experience finds its true abode within the sacred ground of the soul.
The world of science and the world of spirituality exist as two separate and distinct worlds. The world of science represents the cognitive and rational world of the mind and the senses, while the world of spirituality denotes the intuitive and emotive worlds of the intellect and the heart. In more traditional times, they were distinct but interactive worlds that influenced each other to mutual benefit, and a person could move from one world to the other without taking notice of any hidden boundaries. In today’s overwhelmingly secular environment, however, the two worlds of science and spirituality are alien worlds, distinguished primarily by a deep-seated antagonism in which the principles of spirituality and the pragmatism of modern science exist face to face in a perennial state of confrontation and challenge.
Between these two foreign countries lies an isthmus that separates them into two distinct polar realities and that serves as a no-man's land between two inviolate worlds, the one of human reason and the physical senses, the other of spiritual instinct and sacred intuition. Passing through this mediating provenance amounts to lifting the veil, opening the sun door, crossing the bridge over the abyss or passing through the eye of the needle as a rite of initiation into a world of knowledge and experience that would otherwise be inaccessible to the uninitiated. This isthmus, in memory of the isthmus that separates the two seas in the Quranic revelation, represents a borderland between alien worlds. We, as God’s thinking creation, have the opportunity, by virtue of our innate human nature and the faculties of knowing and perception, to experience aspects of both worlds in such a manner that the knowledge of the outer world does not preclude the experience of the inner world, and that the knowledge of the inner world intensifies rather than dissipates the experience of the outer world.
Exploration of the borderland that links man’s external world of the reasoning mind, of the senses, and of the psychic ego with the inner world of spiritual instinct, sacred emotion, and higher consciousness is incumbent upon every human being by virtue of the demands of his or her humanity, a "humanness" that implies above all an infusion of the vertical dimension of spirituality within the temporal and mundane setting of the purely physical and earthly experience. Within the isthmus, we can reflect the image of the world as well as the image of God. Insofar as we turn outward in dealing with the world, we become an image of the world; insofar as we turn inward and activate the higher faculties, we become an image of God and a reflection of His qualities and attributes.
We draw upon the image of the borderland as a provenance of mediation and synthesis in order to emphasize the possibility that still exists for modern man to cultivate a holistic experience of life that is based on the interaction of outer and inner worlds that ultimately come together as a synthesis in the unity of the one Reality. Our existential reality locks us within the embrace of an earthly duality that exists within the mind and psyche of the human being as the experience of the external and inner worlds and that are aggrandized during these times within the two great worldviews of modern science and the traditional wisdom of the great world religions. The supernal reality of the mind reveals an alternative topography that betokens the foreshadowing of some other world, some deeper life awaiting our attention that anticipates another kind of existence truer to our deepest yearning.
In this work, we intend to highlight the quest for a more complete understanding of the human experience by reflecting on the faculties of knowing and the fields of perception that characterize the borderland of which we write, including human reason, intelligence, heart knowledge, consciousness, spiritual imagination and sacred instinct, all of which are firmly embedded within the ground of the human soul and activated by a free will that will lead us out of ourselves and make transcendence of the human condition possible. The inner realm of the higher faculties constitutes a borderland and wilderness area that we need to more fully explore and experience if we ever wish to understand the universal mystery that underscores all existence. We must recognize this mystery as a fundamental truth of our existential reality if we are ever to achieve the knowledge of the true reality that all men, scientists included, unequivocally profess to be the ultimate goal of the modern, thinking individual.
One cannot help but have the feeling of entering the environs of a “lost world” when considering the characteristics of this borderland. The traditional world of the spirit has become a phantom from a remote past that is nearly unrecognizable in today’s world except as a distant specter of a world now passed by. The faculty of the human intellect that was once capable of the direct perception of the Divinity no longer exists as a viable option for modern man. This open door to the Infinite seems to have been irrevocably closed to the contemporary modern mindset. The mind now relies solely on the perception of an externalized intelligence on the one hand, and a creative and fertile imagination on the other, to help navigate the way through the mysteries and challenges that confront people in today’s modern world. The brave, the sensitive, the intelligent and open heart of yore, what we call in this work “the other heart, the forgotten one”, is only a vague sentiment of its former self, a heart that once took root in the ground of the soul and could see reflected in the promise of some future world the primordial beginning of time.
One point worth mentioning as we commence this endeavor is the fact that the human being does not, and will never, perceive the reality directly, at least not within this world. Behind all the theories of modern science and the perennial message of the spiritual traditions lies the realization that man will not see the Face of God and will only perceive the Reality “through a glass darkly” or from behind a veil. Particle physics and molecular biology clearly highlight this truth by forcing physicists to observe the subatomic world of quantum mechanics through highly sophisticated devices rather than the naked eye, in order to witness the activity of the sub-atomic world of protons and electrons by suggestion as it were. The traditions highlight this truth by requiring the faithful to perceive the true nature of Reality indirectly through the words of revelation, through signs and symbols within the world of nature, and through the inner experience that characterizes the borderlands of the spirit that still exists within the lost continent of man’s inner being.
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In its overall design, this work consists of three distinct parts. Part One is concerned with the primary faculties of knowing, including the direct and spontaneous knowledge obtained through the intellect, the analysis of knowledge through the faculty of reason, the synthesis of knowledge through human intelligence, and a heart knowledge that unites the knowledge of God with human sentiments and higher emotions. Part Two deals with the broad field of human perception as it is experienced through the prism of spiritual imagination, sacred sentiments and the insights of the soul. Part Three reflects upon the rarefied energy generated by the higher faculties that expresses itself as a force field of spirituality within the life of a person. To that end, we portray human faith as a beacon of light within the shadowlands of the modern world, explore the paradox of free will as a potent force in confronting the inescapable choices that life offers us, and finally highlight the significance of human language in communicating the richness of a person's inner life to the outside world.
According to the projected worldview of empirical science, modern man does not have a soul, a definable human nature, a heart that thinks, an intellect that knows intuitively, sentiments that are inspired, or an enlightened human consciousness. The initial spark and perennial afterglow of these higher faculties still lie outside the understanding of modern science. As essential human faculties and modes of perception, they are understood to be fundamental in identifying who man is within the traditional religious worldview. The faculties and force fields of intuition, heart sentiment, emotion, instinct and imagination that connect us to one another, that are the basis of all our higher knowledge and emotions, and that are beyond anything our words can say but that articulate the way the heart is – are these lost from the definition and identity of modern man? The answer of course must be a definitive “no” unless we as modern individuals wish to cut ourselves off from the roots of our human meaning and the very source of our true origin.
If there was ever a reality that could make itself known, where intimacy could be experienced, where higher knowledge could be actualized, where consciousness could radiate as a living presence, where spiritual imagination and sacred instinct could unite with formal worship to build an inner life with value and meaning, if such a reality truly exists, it will make itself known and felt within the borderlands of the spirit. Within this frontier lies the no man’s land between outer and inner worlds, a sacred precinct where the Divinity is remembered, where a person does not forget oneself, and where he or she is not forgotten in return, close upon the void where the assumptions of modern science end and the manifestations of God’s prerogative begin.
This rarefied landscape consists of two borders, the one leading back into the world of nature, of humanity and the earth, where the duality of the life experience is encountered and where a sense of the relative, the subjective and the contingent prevails; the other leading inward into the world of the spirit where human transcendence serves as the motivating goal and a knowledge of the Objectivity, the Absolute, and the Transcendent prevails as the final destination of the spiritual path. Within the realm of the borderland we are able to see, when the time is right and the conditions for exposure have been met, at an inverted angle, akin to the sixth sense of animals or the revered third eye, that permits us to perceive a knowledge that is enlightening and to experience a world that is miraculous.
Let us leave behind the split-gate of this world and the split-image of man that highlight the duality of this world and pass through the great sun door into the interior of the self. Those who wish to accompany me in this endeavor need not look for the framework of a formal world religion because it is not my intention within this work to project a prescribed pathway; but rather to characterize and come to terms with the human faculties that form the bridge between two alien worlds and to explore the fields of perception that lead to unexpected spiritual consequences. No one religion has exclusive rights over the human soul. People see and understand things differently, and I can report only from the region of my own spiritual wilderness what I see of God’s signs and wonders.
It is important to realize that every one possesses such a wilderness area whose entry creates a feeling of unbounded liberation and immense uncharted distances. Within this frontier a person can roam indefinitely, where no physical objects will clutter the open range of the imagination and where time goes by as in a dream with no real validity or meaning. You are entering the inner kingdom of the spirit, where the knowledge of God awaits the mindfulness of human consciousness and the desire to cross the sword bridge between the human and Divine Reality could lead ultimately to the final illumination.
"For those who doubt there are realities within the inner human cosmos inaccessible to modern science because of inherent limitations in its methodological tools, John Herlihy’s new book has a very clear message. The realities in question are far richer than the space-time complex postulated and experienced by modern science, and moreover are within the reach of human experience. Herlihy has demonstrated this fact with intellectual rigor, providing an invaluable comparison and contrast between the traditional and modern scientific views on such fundamental concepts as consciousness, life, intelligence, and beliefs. This is perhaps the best exposition of traditional cognitive psychology to have appeared in recent times. It is also a major contribution to the contemporary discourse on religion and science."
- Osman Bakar, Malaysia Chair of Islam in Southeast Asia, Georgetown University and Emeritus Professor of Philosophy of Science, University of Malaya