terça-feira, 31 de maio de 2011

The 20 Smartest Foods on Earth

By Sara Ost
August 19, 2008

Simply put, your brain likes to eat. And it likes powerful fuel: quality fats, antioxidants, and small, steady amounts of the best carbs.
On a deadline? Need to rally? Avoid the soda, vending machine snacks and tempting Starbucks pastries and go for these powerful brain boosters instead. The path to a bigger, better brain is loaded with Omega-3 fats, antioxidants, and fiber. Give your brain a kick start: eat the following foods on a daily or weekly basis for results you will notice.
20 foods that will supercharge your brain:
1. Avocado
Start each day with a mix of high-quality protein and beneficial fats to build the foundation for an energized day. Avocado with scrambled eggs provides both, and the monounsaturated fat helps blood circulate better, which is essential for optimal brain function. Worst alternative: a trans-fat-filled, sugar-laden cream cheese Danish.
2. Blueberries
These delicious berries are one of the best foods for you, period, but they're very good for your brain as well. Since they're high in fiber and low on the glycemic index, they are safe for diabetics and they do not spike blood sugar. Blueberries are possibly the best brain food on earth: they have been linked to reduced risk for Alzheimer's, shown to improve learning ability and motor skills in rats, and they are one of the most powerful anti-stress foods you can eat. Avoid: dried, sweetened blueberries.
3. Wild Salmon
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for your brain. These beneficial fats are linked to improved cognition and alertness, reduced risk of degenerative mental disease (such as dementia), improved memory, improved mood, and reduced depression, anxiety and hyperactivity. Wild salmon is a premium source, but we'll highlight a few other sources on this list for vegetarians and people who just don't like salmon. Avoid farmed (read: sea lice infested) salmon.
4. Nuts
Nuts contain protein, high amounts of fiber, and they are rich in beneficial fats. For getting an immediate energy boost that won't turn into a spike later, you can't do better than nuts. The complex carbs will perk you up while the fat and protein will sustain you. Nuts also contain plenty of vitamin E, which is essential to cognitive function. You don't have to eat raw, plain, unsalted nuts, but do avoid the ones with a lot of sweetening or seasoning blends. Filberts, hazelnuts, cashews, and walnuts are great choices, with almonds being the king of nuts.
For those avoiding carbs, macadamia nuts are much higher in fat than most nuts. By the way, peanuts just aren't ideal. Aside from the fact that many people are allergic, peanuts have less healthy fat than many other types of nuts…maybe that's because peanuts are not actually a nut! They're still much better than a candy bar, however.
5. Seeds
Try sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seed, and tahini (a tangy, nutty sesame butter that tastes great in replacement of mayo and salad dressing). Seeds contain a lot of protein, beneficial fat, and vitamin E, as well as stress-fighting antioxidants and important brain-boosting minerals like magnesium.
6. Coffee
Thine eyes do not deceive (even if you are in the midst of a sugar crash). Coffee is good for your brain. Did you know coffee actually contains fiber? That's going to help your cardiovascular system. Coffee also exerts some noted benefit to your brain in addition to providing you with a detectable energy boost.
The trick is not to have more than a few cups. But you can safely enjoy 2-4 cups daily – we are talking about supercharging here. Just please don't go ruining a good thing by loading it up with sugar! Espresso beans are actually a phenomenally healthy snack, by the way.
7. Oatmeal
Nature's scrub brush is one of the best foods for cardiovascular health, which translates to brain health. Additionally, oatmeal is packed with fiber, a reasonable amount of protein, and even a small amount of Omega-3′s. It's a good grain that will sustain you throughout the morning so you aren't prone to irritability or an energy crash.
8. Beans
One more for carb-lovers. (The brain uses about 20% of your carbohydrate intake and it likes a consistent supply.) Beans are truly an amazing food that is sadly overlooked. They're humble, but very smart. Not only are they loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals and protein, they're ridiculously cheap. An entire bag of beans usually costs only a few dollars and will provide many meals. Beans provide a steady, slow release of glucose to your brain – which means energy all day without the sugar crash. Don't go eating a whole platter of frijoles, though – just 1/4 of a cup is fine.
9. Pomegranate
Opt for the fruit over the juice so you get more fiber. Pomegranates contain blueberry-like levels of antioxidants, which are essential for a healthy brain. Your brain is the first organ to feel the effects of stress, so anything you can do to offset stress is a smart choice.
10. Brown Rice
Brown rice is a low-glycemic complex carbohydrate that is excellent for people sensitive to gluten who still want to maintain cardiovascular health. The better your circulation, the sharper your brain.
11. Tea
You have to brew tea fresh or you won't get the benefits of all those catechines (antioxidants) that boost your brain. Because tea has caffeine, don't have more than 2-3 cups daily.
12. Chocolate
Things are looking increasingly better for chocolate. It's got brain-boosting compounds, it's loaded with antioxidants, and it has just the right amount of caffeine. Chocolate sends your serotonin through the roof, so you'll feel happy in short order. Dark chocolate is also rich in fiber. (Remember, fiber = healthy cardiovascular system = healthy brain.)
13. Oysters
Oysters are rich in selenium, magnesium, protein and several other nutrients vital to brain health. In one study researchers found that men who ate oysters reported significantly improved cognition and mood! Not all shellfish are good for you but oysters are a sure bet.
14. Olive Oil
Though we know the brain does need a small, steady supply of glucose, don't overlook fat. Studies have consistently shown that a low-fat diet is not the health boon we hoped it would be (remember the 90s low-fat craze?). In fact, avoiding fat can increase foggy thinking, mood swings, and insomnia. A diet rich in healthy fats is essential to clear thinking, good memory, and a balanced mood. Your brain is made of fat, after all.
One study of men found that those who relied on the processed vegetable fats found in salad dressings, snacks and prepared foods had 75% higher rates of mental degradation (dementia, memory loss) than men who ate healthy fats. Most processed foods and fast foods use corn oil, palm oil, soybean oil and other Omega-6 fats. You don't want Omega 6 fats. Even saturated fat is safer than Omega 6′s.
Choose healthy fats such as those present in olive oil, nut butters, nuts and seeds, flax, oily fish, and avocados. Avoid processed fats found in pastries, chips, candy bars, snacks, junk food, fried foods and prepared foods. Eating the wrong fat can literally alter your brain's communication pathways.
15. Tuna
In addition to being another rich source of Omega-3′s, tuna, particularly yellowfin, has the highest level of vitamin B6 of any food. Studies have shown that B6 is directly linked to memory, cognition and long term brain health. Generally, the B vitamins are among the most important for balancing your mood. B6 in particular influences dopamine receptors (dopamine is one of your "feel good" hormones along with serotonin).
My personal cocktail: SAMe (nature's happiness molecule) and a mega-dose of B-complex keeps me humming even when I've got a mountain of work to do. Which, like you, is all the time.
16. Garlic
Garlic – the fresher the better – is one of the most potent nutritional weapons in your arsenal. Eat it as much as your significant other can stand. Not only is it fabulous for reducing bad cholesterol and strengthening your cardiovascular system, it exerts a protective antioxidant effect on the brain.
Avoid: I know it makes life easier, but don't even think about buying the chopped or peeled garlic. Nutritional benefits = zero.
17. Eggs
Eggs contain protein and fat to provide energy to your brain for hours, and the selenium in organic eggs is proven to help your mood. You really needn't worry about the overblown cholesterol fears. (I have quite a bit to say on this topic but I'll restrain myself for once.)
18. Green Leafy Vegetables
Spinach, kale, chard, romaine, arugula, lolla rossa – whatever green you like, eat it daily. Green, leafy vegetables are high in iron (slightly less "green" iron sources include beef, pork and lamb). Americans tend to be deficient in iron, which is too bad, because the deficiency is linked to restless leg syndrome, fatigue, poor mood, foggy thinking, and other cognition issues.
19. Tomatoes
Go figure, but tomatoes don't usually make the brain-boosting food lists. (Thank goodness I found the one that did so I'm not the only one.) Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that is particularly good for your brain – it even helps prevent dementia. You have to cook tomatoes to get the lycopene – take that, raw foodies! Just kidding. But this does mean that ketchup is good for your brain. Although because of the sugar in it, you should look to other sources for most of your lycopene intake, such as fresh tomato sauce.
20. Cacao nibs
That's right, I'm putting chocolate on this list twice. My boyfriend knows I need it. I eat chocolate or cacao nibs daily and I think you might want to consider it, too. Cacao nibs are among the top five most powerful brain foods, right next to wild salmon and blueberries. My girlfriends and I like to mix cacao nibs with frozen blueberries and a generous splash of organic heavy cream while we watch really bad television on Sunday nights.
Things that drain your brain

Alcohol kills your brain cells outright! Alcohol also interferes with dopamine production. Moderate amounts of alcohol, particularly resveratrol-rich red wine, can help improve your health, but anything beyond a glass or two of wine daily is a recipe for reduced brain function and energy loss.

Corn Syrup and Sugar lead to health problems like diabetes and obesity, and they’re terrible for your brain. Don’t eat sugar except on special occasions or as an infrequent treat. If you can’t cut back that much, try to limit yourself to just two bites of whatever tempts you daily.

Nicotine constricts blood flow to the brain, so while it may “soothe” jittery nerves, smoking will actally reduce your brain function severely – and the effects are cumulative.
A high carbohydrate lunch ,will make you sleepy and slugish. Opt for a meal 
with some quality protein, such as a salad with grilled chicken breast or vegetables and hummus or wild American shrimp and avocado.

– with additional reporting by Sarah Irani

For more healthy diet and nutrition tips, check out these popular articles: 


Wake Up and Transform Your Life

By Steve Pavlina

What does it mean to wake up and become more conscious? Let me share some perspectives that should make it easier to understand the process of waking up.
The Cellular Perspective
From the cellular perspective, you can see yourself as an individual person interacting with other individuals. You're like a single cell in the larger body of humanity, which is comprised of billions of other people-cells.

For example, I could say that I'm a guy (a cell) who's dedicated to helping people (other cells) live more consciously. I may communicate with many people during my lifetime, but each person is a unique individual, so the impact is different for everyone. We may all be part of some larger body of humanity, but our interactions mainly occur at the individual cellular level.

This is similar to one of the cells in your body noticing the other cells around it and deciding to do what it can to be of service to those cells. It may help a lot of cells, but it still regards itself as an individual cell helping other individual cells. And it won't help all cells equally, nor could it do so even if it tried.
The Holistic Perspective
From the holistic perspective, you see yourself as an integral part of the universe as a whole. The overall intent is to help universal consciousness grow and evolve, particularly the human consciousness of which you're a part.

This would be like one of the cells in your body recognizing that it's part of a larger physical body, whereby it stops thinking of itself primarily as an individual cell and begins to see itself as being of potential service to the greater whole. Its fate isn't as important as the fate of the larger body.

So with this perspective, instead of thinking of myself as a guy who helps people live more consciously, I can see myself as a servant of humanity helping to create a more conscious humanity, or as a servant of universal consciousness itself. My primary role here is to serve conscious evolution, which isn't necessarily what's best for any particular individual human in the short term.
Other Perspectives
Of course there are other perspective too. We could discuss identification with community, nation, all life, the cosmos, etc. These perspectives are equally valid, but exploring them would add complexity without adding much substance to the core ideas. So for now I want to keep this simple.

On the atomic side, you're an individual, and other people are individuals too. On the holistic side, we're all part of a greater whole.

I'm not suggesting that any one perspective is best. All of these perspectives are valid. But I will suggest that it's important to integrate the holistic perspective more fully into your life if you wish to experience a healthier flow of abundance.

"Waking up" basically means that you consider and integrate the holistic perspective as part of your daily life. Of course there are degrees of waking up, depending on how aware you are of the holistic perspective and how fully you've integrated it into your life. In the same manner, the cells in your body may have varying degrees of awareness that they are in fact part of a larger human body.

Alternatively, to be "asleep" is to be unaware of the larger holistic perspective. We could also define this behaviorally by saying that someone is asleep if they're aware of the holistic perspective, but they don't attempt to act congruently with it. In terms of semantics, I'd say that the first group is asleep, while the second group is trying to sleep.
At the individual level, fairness seems to be about equality. But of course we don't see that much genuine equality in the world. It's quite obvious that some individuals have more resources than others. Some people seem to be luckier too.

Does your own human body care about fairness when it doles out resources like oxygen and sugar to its individual cells? To an extent, sure. When resources are abundant, there's plenty for all, but even then the distribution isn't perfectly equal. And when resources become scarce, the body will starve cells that are less important to its survival to divert more resources to the most crucial cells.

So the question is, are you an essential cell in the larger body of consciousness? Or are you superfluous? Well… look at the resources that life sends your way. Do you feel all your needs are well met — your physical needs, emotional needs, social needs, self esteem needs, etc? Are you a highly self-actualized individual? Or do you have strong unfulfilled cravings for things that are important to you? Have you possibly given up on meeting some of your needs? Are your flourishing, or are you stuck?

If you're struggling to get your needs met, that's a hint and a half that life itself isn't particularly concerned with your well-being. Don't fret though if this describes your situation. It's a problem that can be fixed. Just don't try to fix it by clamoring and complaining — that doesn't work and will often backfire.

This may not seem fair, but in a way it is reasonable. You may be a very nice, kind, and generous person, but if your focus is at the cellular level, you're probably missing so much of the big picture that in the grand scheme of things, your contribution just doesn't matter that much, at least not from the perspective of universal consciousness.

You may be doing what could just as easily be done by someone else, which means you're highly expendable. You may be playing follow the follower. You may be genuinely helping, but only at the cellular level. You may be doing nothing much, which makes it easy to ignore you.

If you live in such a way that doesn't really contribute much, don't be too surprised if it seems like life is starving you for resources. After all, life doesn't need you as much if you aren't actively helping with its expansion and growth.

Consider the cells in your own body. You may scratch an itch on your arm and kill lots of cells in the process without even thinking about it. Individual skin cells just aren't that important to your overall survival. But you're less likely to scratch off a patch of critical brain cells. A cut on your finger is no cause for alarm, but a cut on your eyeball is something you'd do more to avoid. Your body is even designed to protect some parts more than others. If something flies at your face, you'll automatically throw up your arms to protect your head. But you won't normally use your head to protect your arms.

Do you think you're among the critical humans that the larger body of humanity would move to defend and protect? Or are you among the sacrificial parts?
What Does Consciousness Want?
What do you want as a human being? Think about your goals, dreams, and aspirations for a moment.

Now consider what an individual cell in your body would want. It wants oxygen and sugar. It wants to eliminate waste. Is this on the same level as your goals? Do you aspire to breathe, eat, and take dumps as your primary goals for the year?

Hopefully not.

Now look at this from the other side. From the perspective of the consciousness itself, your human-level dreams and goals seem petty. It's important to keep people happy to an extent, but the fate of any one human is largely insignificant.

Universal consciousness really doesn't care if you have a job or an income, if you get the house you want, if you have a good relationship or not. It doesn't care if you get laid or remain a virgin.

Well, it cares a little, but it's not a major concern, just as you aren't overly concerned about the fate of any individual cells in your body. It's the body's overall status that matters. And you probably identify more with your mind (your collective cellular intelligence) as opposed to your physical body anyway.

Similarly, universal consciousness is more concerned with the evolution of consciousness itself (our collective consciousness) as opposed to the fate of any individual human or even of humanity itself. Now the loss of humanity would probably be a setback, but consciousness may eventually recover in other forms.

What does consciousness really want? Like you and like your individual cells, it wants to get its needs met, and it wants to grow and evolve. But the level on which its capable of doing this goes way beyond what you're capable of as an individual.

Look around at all the amazing — and accelerating — achievements of consciousness. It's expanding in many directions simultaneously. Consider what's evolving on earth. Humanity itself is becoming smarter and faster and more connected. And it's having some health issues to deal with as well. And consciousness wants to keep going.
Living Small or Living Large
You can spend your life fussing over your own piddly cellular needs, but in the grand scheme of things, it won't be anything to write home about. No matter what you do or don't do as an individual, it's just not going to matter that much.
The same can be said of any cell in your body. At the individual level, a single cell isn't particularly important.

Imagine asking a cell in your body what he's doing with his life, and he talks about the Bloodstream Marketing course he's taking and how excited he is about all the extra sugar he'll earn from his efforts. Oh boy!

But will his efforts pay off? Probably not. If he isn't getting his needs met, there's probably a good reason for it. The larger body will see that his needs are well met if there's a good reason to do so. Otherwise it will divert resources where they're needed.

This is how silly we humans appear to universal consciousness. It still cares about us and wants to see us happy for the most part, but it finds our cellular perspective to be rather limiting. If you push to get your individual needs met, but you do so in ways that the larger body doesn't care about or which may interfere with its bigger plans, it will either ignore you, or it will swat you down like a mosquito.

Imagine if a cell in your body said, I just want to eat food and reproduce like crazy. That might seem fun from his perspective, but then the larger body has a tumor to deal with. Send in the white blood cells.

If you feel like some greater force keeps knocking you back down every time you try to get ahead, you're not imagining it. It really is knocking you back down, and it will continue to do so until you stop trying to get ahead like a cancer cell would.

Have you ever noticed, for instance, that as soon as you try to make progress on cancer-like projects, you keep getting distracted, so your attention has to turn somewhere else.

Quite often we cry "Life is so unfair" when from a larger perspective, it's a no brainer that life is either going to ignore us or attack us. Humanity's white blood cells will come after us and make life unpleasant for us when we forget that we're part of a larger whole and that its well-being is more important than our individual well-being.

Now imagine if an individual cell in your body said to you, "Wait a minute. I get it. I may be just a tiny cell, but I'm a part of this whole body. That's cool. Is there anything I can do to help?"

What would you say to it? You might wonder what one conscious cell could do for your whole body. Not much most likely. But then you might think, What if this cell could wake up many others, and what if those cells could awaken still more? Eventually you could have a body filled with cells that were aware of the whole body and seeking to serve it. This would fix a lot of your problems. You'd have much better health for starters. Cancer wouldn't be able to take root. Most diseases would be eradicated easily. You'd always be able to maintain your ideal weight.

So you might tell that one conscious cell, "Go around and wake up more cells. Gather them together. Then we'll talk."
Being a Conscious Human
A conscious cell is aware of the whole body and realizes that the body matters more than any individual cell. The cells are there to serve the evolution of the body and mind, not merely themselves. There's obviously a connection between the good of the cells and the good of the body, but it's easier to have a healthy body if on some level, the cells are aware that the body's health is more important than their own. A cell that works against the health of the body is a disease cell.

A conscious human being is aware of the larger body of humanity and has a sense of a greater consciousness that's unfolding and evolving at a much higher level than any individual human can.

There is value in the lower level perspective. It's not a perspective to ignore but rather to integrate with the holistic perspective. For example, through relaxed meditative breathing, we can connect with the lower level perspective of our own cells. Breathe in. Breathe out. We're getting plenty of oxygen. Life is good. This cellular level perspective can help to ground us. Many meditations are essentially about tuning back in to this cellular perspective, while other meditations involve expanding to a more holistic perspective. The ideal is to be able to consider all of these perspectives as valid.

If our cells aren't healthy, our bodies can't be healthy, and so humanity itself can't be healthy. And of course the opposite holds true as well. But there are ways of meeting our needs on different levels that are in alignment with all of these perspectives, and there are other ways that are out of alignment. To live consciously, we need to shift towards the ways that are in alignment, so we can meet our needs as we also meet the needs of the cells in our bodies and of the greater body of humanity.

I'm certainly not the first human being to have the experience of "waking up" and becoming aware of this. Other conscious humans helped wake me up and continue to help me stay awake… or to reawaken me when I lose that perspective. I also endeavor to do my part and help other people wake up to the realization that jobs and money and marriage and retirement just aren't that important. There are more important things to attend to here. Meeting our cellular needs is still important, but we don't want to fuss at that level too much. We have more significant work to do here, and we could be experience life at a much higher level of existence.

Living your life as a part of humanity will take your experience to a level that's far beyond life as an individual human being. Even if your intention is to help people, try expanding it to a vision of helping humanity, as if humanity itself is a conscious entity. It's a whole different level of being.

Now what I'm seeing is that the gathering phase is well underway. Many years ago, it seemed like conscious people were very isolated. Now they're coming together in bigger and bigger groups. I'm involved in multiple groups of this nature, and it seems like every few months I'm hearing about new groups forming. The conscious humans are clustering, and these clusters are growing larger and more organized. It's as if new organs are incubating with the larger body of humanity. Something is definitely happening, and its a wondrous thing to behold.

Consequently, while I know some people are worried about where humanity is headed, I'm not worried at all. In fact, I'm excited about it. I have the privilege of being able to see what many of these conscious people are up to, and they're starting to create transformational ripples. If you're reading this article, then these ripples have already reached you, and you're being impacted by them.

Some conscious cells are still isolated, however. Others are in very small groups only. And of course there are lots of people who still primarily think at the cellular level (go Bloodstream Marketing). But this is changing.

Perhaps the simplest way I can explain what's happening is that humanity's Power has been increasing by leaps and bounds, and now its alignment with Truth and Love desperately need to catch up. Otherwise humanity will eventually crash and burn. For instance, the first atomic bombs were dropped only 66 years ago, yet now we must somehow ensure that they're never used on a global scale, not even 1000 years from now. One serious mistake or lapse during any minute that we have nukes, and it's a major setback for us all. That's a tall order that cannot be satisfied at the cellular level of consciousness. We've had too many close calls already. The larger body of humanity is aware of this challenge, and it recognizes that we need more people who are Truthful, Loving, and Powerful to deal with this existential threat.

You're going to start picking up on this at the individual level, if you haven't already. For instance, you're going to feel far less tolerant of political leaders who lie to you. We're going to see different kinds of leaders emerge, the kinds of leaders we truly need in this day and age. There are plenty of people like that, but in order for them to become popular enough, we just have to continue waking up more individual people. Once enough people are awake (or stop trying to sleep), we'll see some major shifts. These shifts are already happening in the world of business, where popularity with the masses isn't as necessary.

The Flow of Abundance
What we're seeing is that on some level, this higher consciousness is taking note of what's happening, and it seems to be assisting and accelerating the process. It wants human beings to wake up because a body of conscious cells can do much more than a body of unconscious ones. So if you're concerned that there are too many crises in the world, recognize that there's an upside. These major challenges are helping more and more people to finally wake up. We can't even begin to address these challenges with cellular-level thinking, so we have to wake up in order to solve them.

There's a lot of rebalancing that's occurring as universal consciousness and individual human consciousness communicate with each other about how to best meet each others' needs. How can humanity continue to evolve and expand while keeping individual humans happy and healthy? For humanity to be at its best, enough individual humans need to be at their best as well. You're going to see this reflected in your own life too, as you grapple with the challenge of how to serve some greater life purpose while also making sure your individual needs are satisfied. In a way, you're helping humanity experiment in order to find good solutions, which it can then spread to other cells. This is why cells like me feel an undeniable urge to pass on what we've figured out thus far.

As I've seen in my own life, this higher level consciousness is clearly listening. Somehow it can perceive the level at which we're thinking, and it responds in kind. If you keep thinking at the cellular level, this higher consciousness will keep trying to wake you up. You may lose your job and other possessions, for instance, until you finally realize that those things don't matter. We have more important things to deal with right now.

I'm far from perfect in this area, but I'm gradually getting the hang of it. I'm noticing that whenever I slip back down to cellular level thinking, I get a good smackdown. I feel like everything slows to a crawl. And when I shift back up to a higher level perspective, it's like I'm back in the flow again. The phone rings with fresh opportunities, money just shows up, loving relationships flow into my life, and more. Fortunately perfection isn't necessary. We just have to shift the balance far enough to achieve critical mass.

For those who are stuck at the cellular level of thinking, I suspect that life is going to become increasingly difficult for you. You're going to see your worries, fears, and frustrations magnified. Life will seem to be getting worse. It may seem like important aspects of society are falling apart around you. This is happening for a reason though. These old systems are going to be dismantled. That's actually a good thing. They'll be replaced with better things.

For instance, you may be worried about debt, either your own or your countries or someone else's. But from the larger perspective of humanity, debt is meaningless.

Humanity really doesn't care if our financial system collapses or not. In fact, it may be better for it to collapse and be replaced by something else. So if you're really attached to the current system and the money in your bank, you may get scared. But if you're looking at the big picture, you'll probably feel excited instead.

Be willing to lose what doesn't matter, so we can all gain what does matter. Jobs don't matter, but creativity does. Paying our bills doesn't matter, but keeping our bodies healthy does. Getting good grades in school doesn't matter, but preserving and passing on our collective knowledge does. Start reorganizing your life around what matters, and be willing to shed what doesn't.

Try not to be too attached to remnants of the old cellular consciousness, like the money you have, the job you do, and the home you live in. The more you cling to those things, the more stressed out you'll be. Just notice that these are all artificial cellular level concerns. What's important is that humanity is evolving in a very positive way. You can resist that change and see your old goals fall apart, or you can flow with it and actively participate in the process of change.

For those who are waking up, life is going to become much easier in a way. Your life will explode with opportunities to learn, love, share, and grow. The good stuff will come from your alignment with the expansion of universal consciousness. But it's important to keep the perspective of what really matters. Money doesn't matter. Bloodstream/Internet Marketing is pointless and shallow. Waking people up and consciously co-creating something amazing is what matters.

When you align yourself with this higher level consciousness, abundance will flow through your life with relative ease. However, this type of abundance will be universal level abundance, not human level abundance. It doesn't mean you'll necessarily have more money, a more luxurious home, or more possessions. That kind of stuff just doesn't matter and represents artificial needs, not real needs.

This level of abundance means that you'll be experiencing the benefits of being in a healthier body. You'll get more of what really matters — more growth opportunities, more love, more joy, more inner peace.

Focus on your true needs. What do you need to feel abundant? You need to keep your body healthy with healthy food, sunshine, and clean air and water. You need a reasonable degree of safety. You need love and belongingness. You need self esteem. You need an outlet for your creativity. Your true needs are quite simple in fact, and they're easier to satisfy than your artificial needs. You don't need the latest tech gadget. You don't need a job or an income. You don't need to get married. You don't need to master Bloodstream Marketing.

Your artificial needs may not align well with humanity's larger concerns. But your true needs certainly do align. It's in humanity's best interests to keep its best servants healthy, happy, and prosperous. In that sense, it you dedicate yourself to serving this greater body, it will surely watch your back.
Aligning With Higher Level DesiresIn order to tap into this greater flow of abundance, you have to tap into higher level desires.

First, recognize that your human level goals are beginning to bore you. No matter how important you try to make them, you can't get motivated to work on them. You just can't get that worked up about making money beyond a certain point. People may tell you it's important to have specific financial goals, but when you try to do this for yourself, it makes you feel yucky inside. You can't get motivated to work on those kinds of goals. They don't inspire you. And so you procrastinate and then beat yourself up. It's time to end this cycle. It's time to re-align your desires with something that actually matters to you. You can set better goals than the human equivalent of stockpiling oxygen and sugar.

Stop thinking about what you want for yourself as an individual. Start thinking about what you want for humanity as a whole.

In the past, you may have been hesitant to even think at that level. Start thinking at that level now.

What do you want for humanity itself? Where would you like to see this larger body go during your lifetime and beyond?

Do you want us to clean up the planet? Explore outer space? Improve our educational systems? Stop fighting wars?

Let yourself dream about what's possible for humanity. Notice that these dreams are much more impressive than anything you could possibly do as an individual.

Become a billionaire? Who cares? Start a charity? Big deal. Discover a new planet? Nice try. When will you be ready to work on a real goal, a goal for humanity itself?
Receiving Guidance
The best part is that you don't even need to figure this out yourself. All you need to do is wake up to this higher level perspective, and then simply ping this universal consciousness to tell it you're awake and ready to serve. Ask it for guidance, and guidance will come.

Just be aware that universal consciousness is frakkin powerful. It's way more powerful than human level consciousness. When you tap into this resource and align yourself with it, your life is going to speed up. At first it may seem like drinking from a firehouse. It will take some time to get used to it.

If you feel that the flow is too much for you, you can ask it to slow down. I do this all the time. When I'm feeling overwhelmed, I say to the universe aloud, "Okay… this is too fast. Let's slow this down for a week or two and give me a chance to catch my breath." Then when I'm ready, I ask it to speed up again.

With practice you'll get used to this faster pacing. You'll get used to things showing up when you need them. You'll get used to experiencing synchronicities almost every day.

A synchronicity is no accident. Universal consciousness knows what you need, perhaps even better than you do. You really don't even have to ask for your specific needs to be met once you ask to be a better servant of humanity. As Jesus said, just say, "Not my will, but thy will be done."

Lately I've been holding off on setting specific goals for myself. Instead I've been saying to the universe, "Bring me what you want me to work on, and also please bring me whatever you know I need for optimal health, happiness, and flow." And then I do my best to remain open-minded and detached from outcomes. I let the universal consciousness guide me instead of having to set specific goals and intentions. I still have an intention, but it's simply to do what's best for humanity as a whole.

Partly I'm doing this because I've reached the point where any individual-level goal would bore me, and I wouldn't be able to motivate myself to work on it. I just don't care that much about oxygen and sugar to make it the central focus of my life. So I'm willing to risk things like losing my money, losing my home, having my relationships disrupted, etc. just for the opportunity to see where this flow leads. And yet somehow when I move past this fear of losing stuff, I seem to gain much more than I lose. As far as meeting my human needs goes, they're all nicely satisfied and then some. Bloodstream Marketing just can't compare.
Effect on Relationships
When you begin to align yourself with the perspective of higher level consciousness, your relationships with other people will shift. Try not to be too attached to what happens here. Your pairings with any one or more individuals aren't necessarily going to be stable. It's how your relationships affect the whole of humanity that matters. What ripples are you and your relationships co-creating?

People who aren't compatible with this new perspective will fade from your life. At first you may fear that you're going to end up alone, but there's no cause for alarm. New relationships will come into your life, relationships with people who have a similar perspective. And these relationships will be much better for you than the old ones. They'll help you hold the new perspective.

These new relationships will be different than what you're used to, however. There will be less rigidity and more flexibility in this part of your life. Such relationships may defy traditional labels. You may feel a bit ungrounded in this new space. It takes time to get used to it.

Eventually you'll realize that happiness and love can come from anywhere. You may have your emotional needs met equally well by a long-time partner or with someone you just met. Universal consciousness will guide you to whatever it is that you need to sustain your emotional health, as long as you don't get too attached to how it shows up. If you remain open and flexible, your emotional needs can satisfied with relative ease. Trust that universal consciousness knows just what you need, and it will deliver it right to you if you're ready to accept it. Again, you don't even have to ask once your on this path. It will satisfy your emotional needs because doing so makes you a better servant. You can't serve humanity so well if you're feeling lonely and disconnected. You'll be more motivated if you have love in your life, so love will be delivered unto you.

Compared to where I was a few years ago, my relationship life might seem a bit strange these days. I have many relationships that would be difficult to label, but they seem to be healthy and flourishing in ways that are hard to get my head around. I can't really define what they are, and I can't predict where they're going.

But it seems like these connections are good and healthy for all involved. My biggest relationship challenge is unloading the traditional-minded baggage that nudges me to lock down and label each relationship, so I can feel like I understand it. But whenever I fall into that pattern, things get worse, not better. Conscious relationships don't seem to like being locked down and labeled. They require more freedom and flow.

At first this sort of situation could make a person feel insecure. You may be accustomed to having a sense of security based on the stability of predictable interactions with people close to you.

However, when you align yourself with universal consciousness, you're likely to move around a lot more relationship-wise. You're going to meet and interact with a lot more people than you're used to. Your social life will be rich and varied. Your stability has to come from trusting that no matter where you are, your emotional needs will still be satisfied. You'll have the opportunity to share love, intimacy, affection, etc., and it can be more abundant than what you experienced at the individual level of being. I assure you that you won't have to go it alone. This isn't a lonely path — it's actually an incredibly social path.
Effect on Work
Your work life will be transformed as well. You'll probably need to stop thinking of your career in terms of having a stable job and earning a set income. Serving humanity requires a lot more flexibility and flow than a traditional job can provide. Thinking of starting or running a business is equally limiting. This is human level thinking. What does humanity need?

Humanity is more concerned with things like creativity, purpose, and expansion. It would love to see you contribute to the ongoing expansion and evolution of consciousness. That's what matters. The other stuff is too trivial to fuss over.

I don't really have a job title. Sometimes I make one up like President or CEO when it's required for social convention, but the title is meaningless to me. When people ask me what I do for a living, I don't really know what to say. I don't do anything for a living. I just live. In certain situations I might say that I'm a blogger, author, or speaker, but that's mainly what I say to people who are asleep and I don't have time to wake them up in that particular moment. If I'm talking to someone who's awake, then either they won't ask such a silly question, or they'll understand my honest answer… and they'll probably share a similar feeling about job titles.

My business cards have the wrong address because I haven't updated them in 5 years. My website obviously isn't the prettiest one out there. I've never spent money to market or promote my website, book, or workshops. I don't think it would be a bad thing to do so; it just hasn't ever been necessary. Humanity takes care of all my marketing and does a better job that I could.

Last year I uncopyrighted all my blog posts and podcasts, so you have just as much ownership of this article as I do. From a cellular level, that might seem like a foolish decision. But that isn't the level at which I made the decision. What does a copyright mean to humanity? Of course it's meaningless. What would you think if one of your cells tried to patent the Krebs Cycle? Silly cells…

Some people are repackaging and selling my work for money. Does that bother me? Of course not. Even though they may be operating at an individual level of consciousness, they're actually helping. They're spreading ideas that humanity wants to spread; after all, humanity gave me those ideas to share in the first place. They're doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing. I think some of them have been donating back to me as well, since I've seen a modest increase in donations lately. But I didn't do this to get more donations. I did it because it should help the ideas spread and get more people thinking about living consciously. It really doesn't matter which humans get credit or make money from it.

I think my business actually works better because I don't manage it with a cellular mindset. Millions of people have been drawn to my work, and it's been translated into more languages than I can track. People keep sharing it, with or without my permission. New opportunities keep showing up. Money keeps flowing. Everything works. Well, aside from my web server, which I may have to upgrade yet again due to traffic growth. But that's a good problem to have, isn't it?

Why does my business work? Because it's not really a business. It's a service, not primarily for individual humans, but for humanity itself. The purpose is to help enough people wake up and live more consciously, so that humanity itself may continue to survive and thrive. And by performing this service for humanity, it takes care of all my needs. It's really good at it too. I barely have to lift a finger to attend to such things. I rather appreciate that.

Individually speaking, there are some humans out there who don't particularly like my work. But that's largely irrelevant because humanity as a whole has made it abundantly clear that it appreciates what I'm doing and wants to speed things along with further expansion. These days I largely ignore cellular level feedback because it comes from people at varying levels of wakefulness, so of course they won't all agree. But I pay close attention to feedback from universal consciousness, such as whether my life is flowing well or not. These days it's flowing amazingly well, so I figure I'm on the right track.

Is humanity making it abundantly clear that it appreciates what you're doing? If not, any guesses as to why? Could it be that you've been ignoring humanity's needs, and thus it's been ignoring your needs? Try doing the opposite and see what happens. I think you'll like it.
Conscious Business
Recently I've been listening to an audiobook about the history of Google. Google began as a fairly idealistic company with the grand mission of organizing and providing access to all the world's information. Does that sound like an individual level goal or a goal for humanity itself?
Of course Google has since become a giant, besting all other search companies. Interestingly, one of the reasons it succeeded is because it attracted some of the brightest minds in the world, people who were inspired by its mission and who would not have worked for the company if it was just about the money. You could say that humanity diverted the best resources to Google because Google's mission served the best interests of humanity. In fact, Google has helped to create a smarter, more self-aware humanity.

Microsoft used to be a similar purpose-driven company, with the mission of putting "a computer on every desk and in every home." That was an expansive goal that served humanity. But a lot of people now believe Microsoft has lost its way, and sometimes it acts more like a cancerous tumor than a servant to humanity. Do you believe that Microsoft is here to serve humanity, or mainly itself? Is it working with the expansion and evolution of humanity, or is it working against it? Probably a bit of both. Hence its mixed results and recent stagnation. Microsoft needs a new mission that aligns with humanity's expansion. So far its current attempts at a new mission have been fluffy and noncommittal. It wastes too much energy on trying to defend its turf, failing to recognize that there's only one turf, and it belongs to universal consciousness. If you happen to work for Microsoft, do what you can to wake more people up within your company, and eventually the culture will shift, as will the company's results.

The irony is that companies that care less about quarterly returns and more about service to humanity can often achieve amazing growth. Why? Because humanity wants those companies to succeed. It sends them whatever resources they need to succeed.

Notice which companies appear to be serving the expansion and evolution of humanity and which are only here to serve themselves and their stockholders. If you were a genius, which kind of company would you want to work for? If you were humanity itself, which companies would you support? Which would you ignore? Which would you wish to tear down or transform? Now what kind of company do you currently work for?

Martin Luther King, Jr. said that we have guided missiles and misguided men. Let's change that. Guidance is available to you whenever you want. You just have to be reasonably awake to receive it. Then you'll have all the inspiration you could possibly want.

Read related articles:

Orgasms Unlock Altered Consciousness

May 2011
Kayt Sukel

Our intrepid reporter performs an intimate act in an fMRI scanner to explore the pathways of pleasure and pain

With a click and a whirr, I am pulled into the scanner. My head is strapped down and I have been draped with a blanket so that I may touch my nether regions - my clitoris in particular - with a certain degree of modesty. I am here neither for a medical procedure nor an adult movie. Rather, I am about to stimulate myself to orgasm while an fMRI scanner tracks the blood flow in my brain.

My actions are helping Barry Komisaruk at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, and colleagues to tease apart the mechanisms underlying sexual arousal. In doing so, not only have they discovered that there is more than one route to orgasm, but they may also have revealed a novel type of consciousness - an understanding of which could lead to new treatments for pain.

Read more here at http://www.newscientist.com

Masonic Tracing Boards and the Western Metaphysical Tradition

W. Kirk MacNulty


Masonic Tracing Boards are training devices. They depict Masonic symbols in pictures which can be interpreted to reveal the teachings of Masonry. The Boards which we considered at the Forum were drawn by a Mason named J Harris in the 1820s and 30s. They are references to a vast body of literature and philosophical doctrine which is at the core of Renaissance thought. Many of the ideas are kabbalistic. Someone who really wants to understand the Tracing Boards (and Masonry itself) must read into and understand those doctrines; and the presentation to the forum considered the Tracing Boards from this point of view.

I have to make a disclaimer: the ideas expressed here are my own. They do not represent the attitudes or teachings of any Grand Lodge or Private Lodge.


There are many metaphysical systems in use throughout the world; for the last 2000 years those in the West have been dominated by a metaphysics based on some variant of Judeo-Christian monotheism. The Renaissance was no exception, although it was also characterized by a revival of interest in the Classical world (in particular the Greek and Roman civilizations) and its thought.

Medieval scholars had been interested in Classical Philosophy from the point of view of reconciling it to Christian doctrine. Renaissance thinkers were interested in Classical Philosophy for what it said about man, himself. These Renaissance philosophers incorporated a good many hermetic and kabbalistic ideas into their orthodox Christian thought. Frances Yates has called this fusion of classical and Jewish philosophy the ‘Hermetic/Kabbalistic Tradition,’ and after it had been interpreted in the context of orthodox Christian doctrine it became fundamental to the thought of the early Renaissance. Speculative Masonry dates from the end of the Renaissance (the mid-to-late 17th century), and it seems to me that Masonic symbolism reflects this Renaissance tradition.

Three fundamental ideas seem to characterize the Renaissance view: First, the Deity was considered to be without limit. This resulted in a view of all existence as a single, tightly integrated unity centered on the Deity. A particularly clear statement of this view comes from the Hermetica:

‘… for God contains all things, and there is nothing that is not in God, and nothing which God is not. Nay, I would rather say, not that God contains all things, but that, to speak the full truth, God is all things.’1

Second, earthly experiences were considered to reflect events in the heavenly realms; the succinct statement of this idea is, ‘As above; so below.’ There must be a correspondence between that which occurs in the higher (heavenly, causal) levels and that which occurs at the lower (earthly) ones.2 Third, knowledge of the ‘higher,’ or more subtle, aspects of the Universe was thought to be available only by experience (i.e. by one’s own revelation); certainly not by logical argument, nor, ultimately, by faith in the authority of another’s revelations I think that the Masonic symbolism, as represented on the tracing boards, reflects these principles which make up the Renaissance world view.

The First Degree Tracing Board

First Degree Tracing Board

The picture, which looks at first glance like a collection of heterogeneous objects, is, I think, a representation of God, the Universe, and Everything. It is also a picture of a human being standing in a landscape. Neither of these images is immediately obvious; but I hope I can convince you that they are, at least, reasonable interpretations of the data.


A central idea which was fundamental to Renaissance thought was the unity of the system and the consequent omnipresence of the Deity. For me, this idea is represented on the First Degree Board by a group of three symbols which are called, collectively, the ‘Ornaments of the Lodge.’

The fact that the Masons who formulated our symbolism gathered these three objects into a single group seems to require that we consider them together. The Ornaments of the Lodge are the Blazing Star or Glory, the Chequered Pavement, and the Indented, Tessellated Border, and they are all intended to refer to the Deity. The Blazing Star or Glory is a straightforward heraldic representation of the Deity. On the Great Seal of the United States the Deity is represented in the same manner. The Blazing Star, shown in the Heavens, represents the Deity as It is, in all Its Glory, as It projects Itself into existence. The Chequered Pavement represents the Deity as It is perceived to be at the opposite pole of consciousness, here on Earth in ordinary life. The light and dark squares represent paired opposites, a mixture of mercy and justice, reward and punishment, vengeance and loving kindness. They also represent the human experience of life, light and dark, good and evil, easy and difficult. But that is only how it is perceived. The squares are not the symbol; the Pavement is the symbol. The light and dark squares fit together with exact nicety to form the Pavement, a single thing, a unity. The whole is surrounded by the Tessellated Border which binds it into a single symbol. In this representation on the Tracing Board the Border binds not simply the squares, but the entire picture, into a unity.


Except for the Glory, the idea of duality occurs throughout the Board – from the black and white squares at the bottom to the Sun and Moon, an ancient symbol for the paired opposites of masculine and feminine, at the top. In the central area of the Board duality is represented by two of the three columns; but here the third column introduces a new idea. The striking thing about these columns is that each is of a different Order of Architecture. In Masonic symbolism they are assigned names: Wisdom to the Ionic Column in the middle, Strength to the Doric Column on the left, and Beauty to the Corinthian Column on the right. How shall we interpret these Columns and their names?

Consider the Columns in the context of the ‘Tree of Life.’ In the Tree the column on the right is called the ‘Column of Mercy,’ the active column. That on the left is called the ‘Column of Severity,’ the passive column. The central column is called the ‘Column of Consciousness’ the column of equilibrium which keeps the other two in balance. The three columns all terminate in (depend on) Divinity at the top of the central column. Look again at the columns on the Tracing Board. The Corinthian Pillar of Beauty is on the right, and in the classical world the Corinthian Order was used for buildings dedicated to vigorous, expansive activities. The Doric Pillar of Strength is on the left, and the Doric Order was used for buildings where discipline, restraint and stability were important. TheIonic Pillar of Wisdom is in the middle. The Ionic Order was used for Temples to the rulers of the gods who coordinated the activities of the pantheon. The Three Pillars, like the Tree of Life, speak of a universe in which expansive and constraining forces are held in balance by a coordinating agency.

Four Worlds

The Universe as it was perceived by the Renaissance philosophers consisted of ‘four worlds.’ Kabbalah has the same division. They are the ‘elemental’ or physical world, the ‘celestial’ world of the psyche or soul, the ‘supercelestial’ world of spirit, and the Divine world. We see that these same levels are represented on the board. The Pavement represents the physical world, the central part of the Board including the columns and most of the symbols, represents the psychological world, the Heavens represent the spiritual world, and the Glory, represents Divinity. In this way the picture represents the metaphysical structure of the universe. That is the ‘landscape.’ Where is the man?

The Man

Remember the idea that the universe and human beings are structured using the same principles (both having been made ‘in the image of God’), and that there is always a correspondence between activity in the greater and lesser worlds. We have seen that in the Hermetica, ‘As above, so below.’

Thus far we have not spoken of the Ladder. It extends from the Scripture open on the Pedestal to the Glory which represents the Deity; and in the Masonic symbolism it is said to be Jacob’s Ladder. We considered the ladder together with another symbol, the Point-within-a-Circle-Bounded-by-Two-Parallel-Lines which is shown on the face of the Pedestal. We considered these two symbols together because in some early Masonic drawings they appear together as if they have some connection. The Two Parallel Lines, like the Doric and Corinthian columns, represent paired opposites, active and passive qualities. Why? Because in Masonic symbolism they are associated with the Saints John, and the Baptist’s Day is Mid-summer, and the Evangelist’s Day is Mid-winter. In English Masonry the lines represent Moses (the Prophet) and Solomon (the Lawgiver), which is substantially the same idea. The ladder with its ‘three principal rounds,’ Faith, Hope, and Charity, rises to the Heavens between the two parallels.

Now, when you look at this Point-within-a-Circle-Bounded-by-Two-Parallel-Lines together with the Ladder and its three levels you see a pattern very similar to the three columns. There are three verticals, two of which relate to active and passive functions while the third, the Ladder between them, reaches to the heavens. The ladder, a representation of individual consciousness, has ‘three principal rounds,’ represented by Faith, Hope and Charity, which correspond to the three lower levels of the four-level Universe we observed earlier. Both the Macrocosmic ‘Landscape’ and the Microcosmic ‘Man’ share the fourth level of Divinity, represented by the Blazing Star, or Glory. Taken together the Ladder and the Point within a Circle bounded by Two Parallel Lines represent the human individual, made ‘… in the image of God,’ according to the same principles on which the Universe is based.

East-West Direction

There is one more idea we should touch on before we leave the First Degree Board. A Mason is sometimes called ‘a travelling man,’ and one of the Masonic catechisms gives us a little insight into this seldom used epithet.

Q Did you ever travel?
A My forefathers did.

Q Where did they travel?

A Due East and West.

Q What was the object of their travels?

A They travelled East in search of instruction, and West to propagate the knowledge they had gained.

The cardinal points of the compass on the Border of this Tracing Board define the East-West direction as it is to be understood in terms of Masonic Symbolism and thus describe the journey which the new Mason apprentices himself to undertake. That journey from West to East is represented, symbolically, by the progress through the Masonic Degrees; and it is, in fact, the ascent up Jacob’s Ladder – one of the ‘Principal Rounds’ for each Degree. We looked then at how these ideas are represented in the Second Degree.

The Second Degree Tracing Board

2nd Degree Tracing Board

The Second Degree Board is an illustration of an interior, in marked contrast with the previous Board which seems to be an exterior. It suggests that the Mason who embarks on the Second Degree comes from the outdoors and enters the building for that purpose.

Notice that here (once again) we have two columns (also, as we will see, representing opposites) with a ladder (it has become a staircase) between them. I think the Second Degree Board is a detailed drawing of the ‘person’ we saw in the previous drawings. This suggests that the individual who embarks on the Second Degree is about to undertake some interior journey, an ascent through the soul and spirit.

The Masonic Lectures assign characteristics to these two pillars which suggest they represent paired opposites: first, they are said to be a memorial of the Pillar of Cloud and the Pillar of Fire that guided the Children of Israel (by day and night, respectively) during the Exodus; and second, on their tops they have representations of the Celestial and Terrestrial Spheres. Like Jacob’s Ladder on the First Degree Board, the Staircase forms the central column of this ‘three pillar model.’ The Mason is expected to ‘climb’ this symbolic staircase in the course of his life as he does symbolically during the ritual.

Masonic Lectures relating to the Staircase associate a good deal of information with each of the various steps; specifically, the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences are related to the seven steps and the Five Classical Orders of Architecture are related to the top five. These subjects comprised the formal educational curriculum of the Renaissance, and there is a large body of literature associated with each. The intent of that curriculum was certainly to give the student the sort of contemplative intellectual work we are discussing. If we consider the Staircase to be a representation of levels of consciousness through which the individual must ascend, we can see that the symbol refers the Mason to information about each step, or level of consciousness, through which he must pass along the way. The Masonic explanation of the Staircase also associates the seven Officers of the Lodge with the seven steps. That association assists in the understanding of progress through the positions of the Of ricers of the Lodge.

The Staircase leads to a room called the Middle Chamber where Masons were said to go to receive their wages. In that interior room (interior to the Mason himself) the individual is able to see a representation of the Deity. He also has access to a Perfect Ashlar. A Perfect Ashlar is a building stone which has been completed and is ready to be placed in the building. It is found in the Middle Chamber ‘… for the experienced Craftsmen to try and adjust their jewels (tools) on.’ I don’t want to talk about working tools at this time, but Masons will recognize that the Fellowcraft’s tools are tools of measurement and testing, that two of them measure against absolute criteria which are opposite one another, while the third defines the relationship between the other two. Given an environment in which paired opposites are held in balance by a coordinating agency, those tools sound to me like a functional model of morality. Tools of morality, together with the Perfect Ashlar, a standard against which to calibrate them, all found in an interior Middle Chamber seems to me to be a pregnant idea. All this happens in the place where one ‘… receives his wages …;’ that is, where he gets what he deserves.

The Third Degree Tracing Board
The Grave
The Third Degree Tracing Board

I do not think that the images in this Degree refer to physical death. During the renaissance there was a good deal of discussion about the nature of the biblical story of ‘the Fall of man’ and its effect. ‘The Fall’ seems to have referred to some event by which human beings, who were at one time conscious of the Divine Presence, lost that consciousness. They thought that ordinary human life (that is, life after the Fall) is ‘like death’ when compared to human potential and to a life lived in the conscious awareness of the presence of God. It seems to me that one interpretation of the grave suggests such a ‘death’ to be our present state.

The view of the Temple shows ‘King Solomon’s Porch’ which is said to be the entrance to the ‘Holy of Holies.’ In the picture the veil is drawn back a little offering a glimpse into that sacred chamber where the Deity was said to reside. This suggests that at the end of the journey from West to East some process analogous to death enables the individual to experience the presence of the Deity. After this process has occurred he lives once more at his full potential. Again, I think that this refers neither to a physical resurrection after physical death nor to a life after physical death; both of which are the concerns of religion. It seems to me that this refers to a psychological/spiritual process which can occur within any devout individual who seeks it earnestly and which I believe it to be the business of Freemasonry to encourage. After all we claim to be Freemasons, and this is that Truth the knowing of which ‘make(s) you free.’

Points of the Compass

There is one last thing we should note. We saw earlier that Masons ‘travelled’ from West to East: ‘They travelled East in search of instruction, and West to propagate the knowledge they had gained,’ as the Lecture in the First Degree has it. Notice that on this Board the cardinal compass points have been reversed, and West is now at the top where East was on the First Degree Board. It suggests that the Master Mason (Master in fact, not in titular rank), the individual who is represented by the symbolism depicted here, has changed his orientation and started his Westward journey. It is a journey involving the teaching and charitable nurturing of those who follow – with all the obligations that sort of thing implies.


1 Hermetica, translation Scott W, (Boston, Shambhala, 1993), Libellus ix, p185
2 Hermetica, The Emerald Tablet

3 Reuchlin J, De Arte Cabalistica (1517, reprint University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1993), Book Two, for example.

Why I am not a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist

by Peter Meyer

Why I am not a Christian

I was born in a nominally Christian country, and at an early age attended "Sunday school", where well-meaning people tried to indoctrinate me in the Christian religion. It never made any sense to me.

My parents were not religious. My mother occasionally attended church because she had a good voice and liked to sing in the choir. As I recall, my father never set foot in a church except for the occasional wedding. My paternal grandfather had no time for religion, but my paternal grandmother was a devout Protestant. When I was about nine years old she gave me books with many pictures illustrating biblical themes. Being a curious lad I read these, but they made no great impression on me. My grandmother died when I was thirteen and her religious influence upon me, such as it was, promptly ceased. Thus the religious indoctrination of children by their parents, which warps the minds and blights the lives of so many innocent children, was not practiced upon me as a child, thank God.

The nearest church to where we lived (in a large city) was just down the road — it was a Methodist church (though even now I have no idea of what distinguishes Methodists from, say, Presbyterians, and really couldn't care less). Since it was the closest, I was sent (at a young age) to church there each Sunday, until at the age of twelve I announced that I wasn't going anymore. My mother was only slightly scandalized, and after a token objection said no more about it. My father only smiled at my announcement and, I suppose, felt pleased that his son was no fool.

Thereafter I had only the usual exposure to Christianity that anyone coming of age in a modern, largely secular, Western society has. The occasional visit at the front door by a Jehovah's Witness, earnestly seeking to save my soul, produced in me only disdain for that sect. I did feel a yearning for spiritual truth but found nothing satisfying in Christianity, except in the writings of the Christian mystics, in particular, Meister Eckhart (who was regarded as a heretic by the Catholic Church in his time). But the more I learnt of Christian doctrine the less that religion appealed to me (not that it ever did), and I can truthfully say that I was never a Christian.

A good word, however, should be put in for some forms of art of a Christian nature. Renaissance Italian art is full of Christian scenes, and much of the music of J.S.Bach (e.g., his St. Matthew Passion and his exquisitely beautiful Cantata BWV82, "Ich habe genug") has explicit Christian content. But, of course, the beauty of the art created within a particular religious context does not imply the truth of the doctrines of that religion. The artists would have created their art with or without benefit of religion, provided that they were not prevented from doing so by political repression (as happened in Stalinist Russia).

Unfortunately much of Christian art consists of depicting the sufferings and agony of Jesus on the Cross. This reflects the obsession of Christianity with the Crucifixion, so much so that Osho referred contemptuously to Christianity as "Crosstianity". The obsession with "our sins" having been "washed away by the Blood of the Lamb" would be regarded as evidence of a serious mental illness in an individual within any sane society, but when this is an obsession of millions of people it becomes "religious faith", held by many others (curiously) to be something that should never be criticized.

My (fortunately) few conversations with Christians about their faith usually left me with the impression that (a) it was desperately important to them for some reason that others shared their beliefs and (b) that they were insane. Their favorite strategy is to assume that the Bible is literally true, and then justify their beliefs because "God says so in the Bible". If so, God contradicts himself, as in the inconsistencies in the Gospels regarding the birthplace and ancestry of Jesus. Christians conveniently forget (if they ever knew of them) many passages in the Old Testament which are repugnant to ordinary moral sense, such as that if a woman marries and is found not to be a virgin at the time of her marriage then she is to be killed (Deuteronomy 22:13-21). But you can't argue with someone who has faith because for them there can be no possible refutation of what they believe, so rational argument is entirely useless. They cling to their belief so strongly that they make no distinction between who they are and what they believe.

If a Christian were to suggest to me that the only way to save my soul from eternal damnation was to embrace the Christian Faith, I would not point to all the murders and genocides which have been committed in the name of the Christian God (and there are so many that it should be enough to make anyone who is aware of them ashamed to call themselves a Christian). Rather I would reply as follows.

Christianity these days comes in many varieties, but all trace their roots to the Nicene Creed, which was produced by the Council of Nicaea. If a person does not subscribe to the Nicene Creed then they are not a Christian, in the sense of being a member of the Christian Church, although someone who admires Jesus Christ greatly might call themselves a Christian, just as someone who admires Richard Wagner greatly might call themselves a Wagnerian.

The Nicene Creed is:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. 
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
What evidence is there for any of this? Only the first sentence (minus the metaphorical "father" and "maker") might contain some truth, insofar as it makes some sense to posit a source for all existing things, a "ground of being".

But the remainder of the Creed is ridiculous. How can any sane person believe this stuff? It has not even been established to the satisfaction of modern historians that the Jesus of the Bible ever existed as a person. Even granting that there was such a person, the claims made regarding his "being of one substance with the Father" who "came down from heaven", died, "rose again" and now "sits on the right hand of the Father" are (if they make sense at all) highly implausible assertions with absolutely no supporting evidence. That many millions of people have believed these absurd claims provides no evidence that they are true.

Furthermore the Creed explicitly asserts what is repulsive, namely, that we are all inherently sinners (in other words, criminals in the eyes of God), that we are in need of salvation, and that Jesus Christ sacrificed himself (in a most horrible manner: crucifixion) so as to save us (why was such a sacrifice necessary at all?). Implied is that anyone who does not believe this will be condemned (after death and subsequent bodily resurrection, despite one's body having rotted in the grave, if not destroyed entirely by fire) by Christ himself to eternal damnation and torment. Such a doctrine, which is clearly pathological, can only have been formulated and propagated by sick minds (foremost among whom was womanizer-turned-"saint", Augustine of Hippo).

There is no point in examining the curious details of the Creed (e.g., that Christ was "begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father") because the Nicene Creed is simply a statement of faith (as it was intended to be) and there is absolutely no reason to suppose that it is true (in fact, since it is absurd it is very likely to be false). One is asked to believe but no reason is given, or evidence presented, for why one should believe. 

(Understandably not, because there is usually an ulterior motive underlying any admonition to believe something. In the case of religious belief the ulterior motive is usually social control or the financial benefit of some part of an organized religion.) Believing with no evidence to support belief is not a virtue but rather a sign of stupidity. Anyone who says, as Barack Obama did in August 2008 at a "Faith Forum" in California, "I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins, [and] that I am redeemed through him", or as John McCain said at the same event in response to the question of what his Christian faith means to him, "It means I'm saved and forgiven" (for bombing, strafing and terrorizing Vietnamese peasants?), is either mendacious or intellectually deficient.

It is true that there are people whose intellectual abilities are such that we cannot say they are unintelligent and yet who regard themselves as Christians. This is because, although there may be no reason to believe the Nicene Creed, there are conditions under which a person will accept and cling to it. This may be the occurrence of some emotional "crisis" but mainly results from childhood conditioning, in which parents with Christian beliefs inculcate these beliefs in their innocent and unsuspecting children, before the minds of those children have developed to the point where they can intelligently decide about the truth of what they are being told. (The same thing happens, of course, in all religions.) If a person values their upbringing by their parents then they will be inclined to maintain the faith taught to them by their parents, unless they are sufficiently intelligent to be able (upon mature reflection) to distinguish between the love and support that they received from their parents and the false teachings that were given to them before they had developed the mental ability whereby to accept or reject those teachings.

Oh ... about prayer. A scientific study (reported in the American Heart Journal, April 2006) discovered no beneficial effect of prayer, but rather the contrary: that sick people who know they are being prayed for tend to fare significantly worse than sick people who are either not being prayed for or who are unaware that they are being prayed for, with no difference between these last two groups. However, like paranormal phenomena, the efficacy of prayer is unlikely to be demonstrable in the laboratory. But many people claim to believe their prayers are answered, and that they believe in "God" because (they assume) "God" answers their prayers. But even assuming that their prayers are answered, this does not show that the biblical "God" answered them. Fact is, the universe is a magical place, although this is denied by the modern scientific view of the world, which assumes that reality consists only of atoms, molecules, radiation and their interaction. But this view, known as physicalism is a false view of the world. The universe is more like a vast, super-intelligent, living being (on many levels) — call it (with Einstein) "God" if you wish, just don't confuse it with the Christian "God". 

Sometimes the universe, or some part of it, in its limitless artistic creativity, mysteriously accords with our wishes, and desirable things happen which were rather improbable. To attribute this to a biblical "God" answering one's prayers is not only unjustified but also displays a lack of imagination and a very limited mentality.

Why I am not a Jew

The main reason I am not a Jew (apart from the fact that I would never wish to be one) is that I was not born a Jew. Whatever (if anything) defines a race, it is certainly some quality which is passed down from mother to child. The usual criterion for being a Jew (not necessarily an orthodox Jew) is that one's mother was a Jew at the time of one's birth. For this reason Judaism could be characterized as a "racist" religion, or perhaps better (since "racist" is a pejorative term) as an "ethnic" religion (as is Hinduism, see below).

Judaism is, however, in fact a racist religion, in the sense of 'racist' as 'supremacist', because it holds that Jews are superior to non-Jews, pejoratively called goyim (a word which has associations with "cattle"). Some (perhaps not all) orthodox male Jews recite each day this prayer to their God: "I give thanks that I was not born a goy, was not born a woman and was not born a slave." On passing a Christian church it is traditional for an orthodox Jew to spit in disgust (sometimes, in Jerusalem at least, to spit on Christians themselves).

Racism (the belief that members of one's race or in-group are superior to all others) has always been endemic to mankind, but enlightened thought regards it as indefensible. 

Orthodox Jews, however, are immune to this influence, and persist in their racist, supremicist attitude to all others. No-one of moral sense, then, could consider becoming a Jew. Those who do so presumably seek to remove their sense of inferiority by identifying with a group which considers itself superior to all others (and actively opposes assimilation of its members to the wider society).

That orthodox Judaism considers Jews to be superior to, and to have no moral obligations toward, non-Jews (or at least little more than they have toward animals) is shown by the words of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook (1865-1935):
The difference between the Jewish soul ... and the soul of all the Gentiles ... is greater and deeper than the difference between the soul of a man and the soul of an animal.
Those seeking a fuller understanding of Talmudic Judaism should visit the website Come and Hear (from which this quotation is taken).

A word of defense shoud be added for those unfortunate enough to have been born of Jewish parents (and thus regarded by many others as Jewish) but who have freed themselves from their childhood conditioning and from the Jewish assumption of superiority over others. A man may have been born a Jew but have come to see the defects of the religion, and perhaps feel something like shame for his former close, if involuntary, association with it.

Orthodox Judaism, like Islam (see below), is a totalitarian religion. Those who succeed in converting to orthodox Judaism have to learn many rules. You will have to wear less revealing clothing all year round (which in the summer can make you feel hotter); you will have to be concerned wherever you go about the food you can buy and eat; you will have to make sure that you don't carry anything in your pockets outside your home on the Sabbath, and many other considerations. You will need two sets of dishes, two sets of pots and pans (and at least one more set for Passover), and you will have to keep different types of food separate. You will have to wait six hours after eating meat foods before eating dairy foods. Judaism will guide your steps and your thoughts every moment of your waking life. —

The principal defect of the Jewish religion (apart from its assumption of the moral superiority of Jews over non-Jews) is that the God worshipped by the Jewish people is a jealous, vicious, bloodthirsty, psychopathic tyrant. Richard Dawkins (in The God Delusion, Chapter 2) has well described YHWH as follows:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
The following, from Deuteronomy, Chapter 20, reveals YHWH as a psychopath:
20:10 When you come to a city to fight against it, then first proclaim peace toward it. 
20:11 If it answers for peace, and opens its gates to you, then all the people found therein shall be your slaves, and they shall serve you. 
20:12 If it won’t make peace, but will make war against you, then you shall besiege it. 
20:13 And when the LORD thy God has delivered it into your hands, you shall kill every male inside with the edge of your sword.
20:14 But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the fortunes inside, shall you take for yourself; and you shall eat all the good things of your enemy, which the LORD thy God has given you.

20:15 Thus you shall do to every city even faraway which are not among your chosen nations.
20:16 In these cities, which the LORD thy God gives you for an inheritance, you shall leave nothing left alive ...

In response to this section an adherent of this religion wrote: "And in defense of G-d, during the time He was given to ‘fits of rage’ paganism was prevalent and He showed the world the seriousness of the sin of idolatry." But any entity, divine or otherwise, who is subject to fits of rage (as Adolf Hitler was) is a morally repulsive entity, quite unworthy of respect.

What sort of person would worship such a God? The person who worships such a psychopathic homicidal God must surely believe that the qualities exemplified by that God are in some way admirable (after all, he is the Creator of the World and the Divine Authority), and thus that it is excusable to deceive, enslave and even kill all who follow another (or no) religion — after all, according to Rabbi Kook they are little better than animals. Can such a person be held to possess any moral consciousness? Are those who identify with this religion not rightly to be regarded as themselves psychopathic?

Why I am not a Muslim

As a young man, since I was a seeker after spiritual truth, I read much about religion and the various religions. Naturally I discovered Sufism (or at least, that there was a spiritual tradition of that name), and read about the Sufi quest for union with the divine, which appealed to me (and which is considered heretical by orthodox Muslims).

I also discovered the beauty of Islamic art. The geometrical designs found in Islamic art and architecture are a wonder, and some grand mosques (especially when illuminated at night) appear sublime. However, as noted previously, the beauty of the art (and architecture) of a religion is not evidence of the truth of its doctrines.

When one examines how Muslims live and act there are are good and bad features. The good is that there is a strict code of ethics, according to which good Muslims are honest, reliable, fair, generous and considerate of others; they do not lie, cheat or steal. Fine. I wish everyone was like that.

On the other hand, Muslims act this way (if they do) because they are are following a strict code of conduct (not just a code of ethics) which tells them how to act in all situations. There is not just a Muslim way to pray (which, in the case of the Sunnis, is the same in all mosques from Casablanca to Jakarta) there is also a Muslim way to do anything (including defecating). 

This code of conduct, which regulates the behavior of a strict Muslim in every way (Islam is thus a totalitarian religion), is modeled on the life of the Prophet Muhammad and subsequent Muslim religious leaders. If Muhammad did something in a certain way then that must be the right way to do it and as a good Muslim one must do it that way. Thus in Muslim societies cats are looked upon with favor but dogs are not (consequently cats far outnumber dogs) because Muhammad supposedly liked cats but disliked dogs.

As another example, in September 2008 a Moroccan mullah approved the marriage of a man to a 9-year-old girl, on the grounds that one of Muhammad's wives was nine years old when he married her. So if Muhammad is to be taken as a role model for all Muslim men, then it is OK for them to marry 9-year-old girls (presumably for reasons other than the welfare of the girl). In fairness it should be mentioned that other Moroccan mullahs condemned this decision. However, this example shows that it is (at best) ridiculous to model your life upon the behavior of someone living in 7th C. Arabia, as if the world had not changed in over a thousand years.

A characteristic of all contemporary Islamic societies is their repression of women. Drawing attention to this can be fatal. In 2008 an Afghan student of journalism, Parwez Kambakhsh, was convicted of blasphemy, and sentenced to death, for asking questions in class about women's rights under Islam and for distributing an article on this subject which he had obtained from the internet. In October 2008 an Afghan appeals court commuted his sentence to 20 years imprisonment.

The repression of women in Islamic societies is most clearly apparent in the attempt (by strict Muslim women as well as men) to force all Muslim women to wear the head scarf (hijab). Supposedly Allah has decreed that women should cover their hair and wear clothing that conceals any indication that they possess breasts (and thus are women). Wearing of this attire is said to be an "obligation to Allah", and women who wear this attire are said to show "gratefulness to Allah" (for what? for living in a society where they are not free to do as they wish and must continually conform to the demands of others?). Thus women who do not wear the head scarf, or who wear clothes revealing, not the form of their breasts, but any sign that they even possess breasts, are considered by strict Muslims to be breaking "an obligation to Allah" and to be "ungrateful to Allah". This would be merely ridiculous (since Allah is a fictitious entity) were it not for the fact that women in Islamic societies are, if not forced, then seriously enjoined, to conform to this custom. It is sad to see a society in which no women are permitted to reveal their hair (they have to keep it covered entirely with the hijab) and are afraid to wear any clothing which reveals that they are women. This prudishness (this enforced prudishness) is one of the qualities of Islam which make it less than admirable.

But you don't have to be a Muslim to view the tendency of some Western women to flaunt their breasts (there's a saying, If you've got 'em, flaunt 'em) as a cheap way of attracting the attention of men as little short of shameless.

No danger of this in Muslim countries. Even in "moderate" Muslim countries such as Malaysia it is not uncommon for a man never to allow his wife to leave the house unless she is covered from head to toe in a black chador, with only a narrow slit revealing her eyes, so she can walk. Does the husband look upon his wife at home naked, and gloat that he, only he, can ever view any part of her body apart from her eyes, hands and feet? In Afghanistan, and in some parts of North India, Muslim women are generally not allowed out in public unless they are wearing a burkha which does not even have a slit for the eyes; instead the woman must view the world through a small mesh. This is an inhumane, barbaric, disgraceful and shameful imposition upon women in Muslim countries, and (since there is no distinction in Islam between religion and society) reveals Islam as a religion which degrades women to mere property owned by men.

Muslims generally are presented in the Western media in a bad light (in contrast to the taboo against any criticism of Israel). This says less about Muslims than it does about the Western media, namely, that is is controlled by Zionists (who wish to demonize Muslims so as to whip up American hysteria for Middle Eastern wars against countries perceived to be a possible threat to Israel). Muslims, as with Jews, Christians, etc., should be free to practice whatever religion they wish (or none, if they can finally overcome their childhood conditioning). My observations concerning Islam presented in this article are not meant to encourage anti-Muslim sentiment; they are presented simply to explain why I am not a Muslim (and would not wish to become one).

Muslims believe that the prescription for an ideal human society has been revealed by Allah in the Koran. Thus there is, and can be, no distinction in Islam between "sacred" and "secular" or between "church" and "state". This distinction is fundamental to modern Western society. Thus the political values of the modern West and of Islam are irreconcilable. It is not possible, e.g., to uphold the values of French society and to be a Muslim at the same time. Many Muslims in Europe aspire to the creation of enclaves under the rule of sharia law. These would be no-go zones for non-Muslims, and in effect mean the loss of territory to the host state. By allowing millions of Muslims to settle in Western Europe — originally at the request of Western capitalists (no doubt accompanied by financial inducements to legislators) for an ongoing supply of cheap labor — European governments have imported a time bomb which may ultimately destroy European society.
Today, the long clash between Christendom and Islam is still evident in the political and ethnic geography of Europe ... Today, the borders of many European countries, Canada, and the United States are practically wide open, and the old enemy is invited to come in and make himself at home. And many 'Christians' in the West are just too busy enjoying their material prosperity to be bothered with unpleasant history. But the enemy has not forgotten history. He remembers it all too well, and he is still deadly serious about his religion. His goal over the years has not changed in the slightest, and he is very patient. The enemy within is now smiling, just biding his time. ... The final chapter, it seems, has yet to be written... — Robert McMullen, Remember Lepanto!
Muslims often claim that Islam is "a religion of peace". This is not true. There are some passages in the Koran which suggest this (presumably in the suras delivered before Muhammad's new religion ran into significant opposition) but later passages suggest that recalcitrant unbelievers should be dealt with harshly. And it should not be forgotten that Buddhism was destroyed in India around 1300 CE largely as a result of wholesale slaughter of Buddhist monks (with destruction of monasteries and burning of libraries) carried out by fanatical Muslim invaders from Afghanistan.

"Islam" means "submission", more exactly, submission to the will of God (Allah), and a "Muslim" is "one who submits". One who submits has thus given control of his life over to something else, in this case, to the decrees of the mullahs who interpret the Koran and to the social customs characteristic of Islamic societies. A Muslim is thus not a free person. It is thus hard to see how anyone who values their freedom could remain a Muslim, still less convert to that religion.

Muslims are fatalists, since they believe that everything happens according to the will of God, and nothing happens unless God wills it (Inshallah). This is a prescription for the abrogation of personal responsibility. Strictly speaking, one cannot be held responsible for one's actions if everything happens because Allah wills it to be so. (Of course, this does not prevent thieves being punished under Sharia Law by having their right hand cut off — actually quite a deterrent to potential thieves.) And if something doesn't go according to plan, well, it's the will of Allah. Maybe tomorrow, Inshallah.

Islam is a grim religion. Of the five religions considered here, Islam is the most intolerant and the most puritanical. (A puritan is someone who worries constantly that someone, somewhere, may be having a good time.) In January 2010 Malaysia's "Islamic morality police" arrested dozens of Muslims for the crime of "khalwat", or "close proximity", under a sharia law that prohibits Muslims from being alone with a member of the opposite sex before marriage.

It is not just the Taliban that seeks to ban singing and dancing. When Muslims gained political power in the Malaysian state of Kelantan in the 1990s they banned several forms of traditional performing arts, including costumed dance/drama and shadow puppetry (mostly based on themes from the Hindu Ramayana), on the grounds that these were non-Islamic, thereby depriving a generation of Kelantanese of their own cultural traditions.

Then there is Ramadan. During the month of Ramadan a Muslim must not eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. This is especially burdensome when Ramadan occurs during the summer in hot countries. This religious requirement forces Muslim families to get up at 4 a.m. in the morning so they can have breakfast before the sun rises. It disrupts whole societies for a whole month. The reason, it is is said, is so Muslims can appreciate the plight of the poor who have little to eat. While fasting for a day or two from time to time may be a good thing, this month-long self-denial of food and drink during the daytime is imposed on everyone (except those excused due to ill-health). Muslims do not have a choice whether to fast during Ramadan; they must do it, or else face censure from other Muslims. This is an example of the totalitarian nature of Islam. There is no place in Islam for individual freedom. A Muslim's every deed, word and thought is determined by his submission to the religion. To someone who values the idea of individual liberty, this is repulsive.

The preceding is sufficient to explain why I am not a Muslim. But basically I am not a Muslim because to be a Muslim it is both necessary and sufficient (regardless of which Muslim tradition a person belongs to) to believe two things: (i) There is a god (who calls himself "Allah"), and just one god, who created mankind and who decreed how people should live their lives. (ii) A 7th C. Arab named "Muhammad" was the messenger who conveyed to all of mankind the decrees of Allah. I believe neither of these.

There is simply no evidence of the existence of Allah beyond the assertions of Muhammad and the claims of all those since him who have believed what he said. It is said that Muhammad received revelations, claimed to be from Allah. These were spoken to Muhammad by an entity named "Gabriel" and subsequently codified in the form of the Koran. (Actually, on his first appearance, Gabriel showed Muhummad a book, and asked him to read. But apparently Gabriel or Allah was not aware, or had forgotten, that the future Prophet was illiterate. So Muhammad had to memorize what Gabriel said to him.) But if all who hear voices were to found religions then we would have more religions than we could count.

And assuming that Muhammad actually did hear a voice speaking to him, one which was totally convincing to him (so that his level of conviction was enough to convince others), what do we know of the origin of this voice? It might have been some malevolent spirit, who actually wished to do harm to mankind by subjecting humans to limiting and stultifying beliefs. It might have been an extraterrestrial intent upon foisting upon mankind an ideology by which to control humans (as has been suggested by William Bramley in his book The Gods of Eden), to make them into little more than manipulable robots whose programmed behavior is entirely predictable. Thus even if Muhammad was a messenger, and even if the source of that message was something outside of Muhammad's own mind, we do not know what the source of that message was. Would you believe just anyone who came up to you and delivered the contents of a "revelation" that they had received?

But, of course, Muhammad was not "just anyone". But then neither was Jesus (if he existed), Zoroaster, Moses, John of Patmos (Revelation), John Dee (Enochian Keys), Emmanuel Swedenborg (Heaven and Hell), Baha'u'llah (Bahai), Joseph Smith Jr. (Mormonism), Aleister Crowley (Thelema), Alice Baily (Ascended Masters), Benjamin Creme (more Ascended Masters), L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology), J. Z. Knight (Ramtha), Ken Carey (Starseed Transmissions), the authors of the Urantia Book and many others who have claimed to have received messages from a supernatural source. They can't all be right.

But even assuming the existence of "Allah" — the entity who authored the messages delivered to Muhammad (which were later written up in the Koran) — there is reason to believe that this entity is not great, supremely intelligent, all-powerful, merciful and compassionate, as Muslims believe. Intellectual incompetence is suggested by the nature of the Islamic Calendar (traced back, as all things Islamic, to the Koran, in this case, surah 9, verses 36-37), whose years (each consisting of twelve lunar cycles) are shorter than seasonal years (by about eleven days). In every 100 years of the Islamic Calendar the summer solstice occurs only 97 times. This calendar is (to put it kindly) seriously flawed.

That "Allah" is either incompetent or malicious is suggested by the fact of the sectarian division between Sunnis and Shias. If everything happens according to the will of Allah, then it was Allah's will that the third Caliph, Uthman, be murdered while at prayer. And it was Allah's will that Uthman's successor Ali (the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet) be murdered by one of his own soldiers. And it was Allah's will that Ali's sons, Hassan and Hussein, be killed at the Battle of Karbala. And it was Allah's will that these murders (and related events) gave rise to a split within Islam which has resulted in centuries of hatred and conflict, and in recent memory the Sunni vs. Shia Iraq-Iran War of 1980-88 (somewhat inconsistent with the idea of Islam as "a religion of peace"). Every year at Ashoura Shias conduct hate-fests in which they remember the murders of Hassan and Hussein and denounce "the treacherous Sunnis". If all this was Allah's intention (and since he created and ordains everything then it must have been) then it seems he is not the great and compassionate being that Muslims believe.

But lest I should be misunderstood, I wish to make it clear that I do not regard Allah as either incompetent or malicious. Rather Allah is a figment of the Prophet's imagination which has been propagated down through the centuries through the minds of millions of believers — with huge (and unfortunate) effects on the societies in which most of those believers lived and live today.

Of course, something very similar is true of the Judeo-Christian God, the main difference being that this figment of the imagination did not originate with just one man but with many over a period of centuries.

Why I am not a Hindu

In India when a man opens his business in the morning he may, if he is a Hindu, perform a small ritual honoring Lakshmi, Ganesha or some other god or goddess, say a prayer while standing before an image of the deity, and recite a mantra a few times. He believes (or at least hopes) that this will induce the god or goddess to look favorably upon his business for that day. (Chinese do something similar each morning with Chinese gods and goddesses.) Very nice, endearing even. And all over India hundreds of millions of people revere these deities, which are also admired by many Westerners who have travelled in India (and among my few personal possessions there are pictures of Ganesha, Lakshmi, Shiva, Parvarti and Saraswati). But there is about as much evidence for their existence (other than in the minds of their devotees) as there is for the existence of the Christian god, which is to say, very little. But there is an important difference. Devotion to Ganesha, Lakshmi, etc., has few, if any, harmful effects, and perhaps has positive ones. In contrast, devotion to the Christian god (and to the Jewish god as well) has justified many men (so they believed) in the murder of many others. 

Whatever Jesus is alleged to have taught in the New Testament, the historical fact is that Christianity is a genocidal religion.

Hinduism, however, although it has a pronounced xenophobic character, is not known to have been used as a justification for purges and genocide. Hindus may regard non-Hindus as lacking proper spiritual understanding, but feel no need to convert them, still less at the point of a sword.

That's not to say that Hinduism is all sweetness and light. The original thugs were Hindus who worshiped the goddess Kali by garrotting people they found travelling in isolated places (a practice known as thugee, rightly viewed by the rulers of British India with horror, and they succeeded in suppressing it, along with the gruesome custom of suttee). And animal sacrifice was, and still is, common in India. (Of course, the number sacrificed is very small compared to the millions of chickens, pigs, sheep and cows slaughtered daily, without so much as a prayer, in the slaughter-houses of Western countries.)

To be specific, the main reason I am not a Hindu (apart from no great desire to be one) is that I was not born a Hindu. Hinduism, like Judaism, is an ethnic religion, and, strictly speaking, the only way to become a Hindu is to be born a Hindu.

Also I'm not fond of superstition, and Hinduism is 95% superstition: beliefs and practices which have been handed down, carried over, passed on, transmitted, from one generation to the next for many centuries, but which have no basis other than this. One of the least-admirable Hindu superstitions is the belief in caste, that a person is born into a certain caste as reward or punishment for actions in previous lives. (That does not mean that high-caste Hindus always have an easy life; there are plenty of rickshaw drivers in India who are brahmins.)

The belief held by caste Hindus that they are superior to "outcasts" (previously called "untouchables", then "harijans", now "Dalits") is rife in India, and is a form of racist bigotry. 

Caste Hindus were recently reported as demanding that Dalits remove their shoes in the presence of those caste Hindus, beating them if they refused. These caste Hindus regularly attack Dalits, and drive them from their homes, with impunity (the police in India do nothing to stop this). Dalits (which include millions of "tribal people", the original inhabitants of India) are now fighting back, as we see in the Naxalite insurgency in Central India.

In village India girls are engaged to be married before they are old enough to speak. Traditionally they were married off at the age of 8 or 9, but now (due to government intervention) it's usually 12 or 13. No consideration is ever given to what the girl thinks about it. And, once married, she is, according to Hindu tradition, her husband's slave.

Although the gruesome practice of casting a widow upon the funeral pyre of her dead husband ("suttee") was suppressed by the British in the 19th Century, there are customs still common in Hindu India that are equally barbaric. For example, the practice of killing one or both of a boy and girl from the same sub-caste ("gotra") who marry. As one traditional Hindu woman said: "What can you do with a girl who insists on marrying within her gotra other than kill her?" India is a land of horrors. Anyone who spends a few months reading the daily newspapers (at least in India the press is free and thriving) will obtain ample evidence of this.

However, Hinduism does have a few things in its favor, the major one being the value given to actual spiritual experience (which is denigrated in Christianity and Islam in favor of faith and subordination to authority). The "holy men" of India are revered not because they hold some position in a church hierarchy but because they are believed to have (or have had) actual experience of a divine reality which transcends everyday physical reality, a state of consciousness in which the ego is snuffed out and there is awareness only of an undifferentiated universal unity. The possibility of this is viewed with skepticism in the mainstream Western view of the world (which regards all reality as physical, a belief which is the root cause of the present mass insanity afflicting the West).

There are some similarities between Hinduism and traditional Chinese religion, since both have a pantheon of deities, to whom offerings and prayers are made daily (though Hinduism lacks the ancestor worship which is a major part of Chinese religion). Offering incense and prayers to Lakshmi or Kuan Yin would seem to be a harmless practice, and to my knowledge no-one was ever murdered because they refused to do so, in contrast to the Abrahamic religions, where at various times and places your refusal to acknowledge the Jewish, Christian or Muslim "God" — as the one, true "God" — would result in your being killed.

Why I am not a Buddhist

During my first year at university, when I studied natural science and mathematics, I came to regard myself as an atheist. But then I began to read about Buddhism, and I felt attracted by this religion (though some would deny that it is in fact a religion). I read books by Christmas Humphreys and Edward Conze, and, unlike Christianity, the doctrines of Buddhism at least made sense: This world is a place of suffering; all beings seek to escape from suffering; a sage appeared in India about 2500 years ago who discovered a path to freedom from suffering; he taught this path to others; this teaching was propogated and expanded into many lands and became what we know today as Buddhism.

Later, along with many other young people in the psychedelic sixties, I read the books of Lama Anagarika Govinda, Evans-Wentz, John Blofeld and others (but not Lobsang Rampa), and I was particularly attracted by Tibetan Buddhist art, with its marvellous depiction of various tantric deities. As with Islam, Christianity and Hinduism, the art of a religion is something that attracts people, but the beauty of the art does not entail the truth of the doctrine.

Buddhist art, however, did not emerge until many centuries after the enunciation of the doctrine by the historical Buddha, known as Shakyamuni ("Shakya" was the name of his family and "muni" means a sage). Texts recording his life and teachings were also not written until some centuries after the death of Shakyamuni. These texts have passed through the hands of editors for two millennia and what the Buddha did and taught over two thousand years ago cannot now be known exactly.

It seems he was born into a minor royal family, given the name Siddhartha Gautama, and had a privileged upbringing. He was protected from awareness of the usual sufferings of life — illness, old age and death — until, as a young man (having by this time married and fathered a son) he ventured outside the palace walls and came upon instances of all of these at first hand, an experience which appalled him. (This should alert us to the possibility that this story is not quite accurate; did no-one ever get sick, grow old or die within the palace walls?) Thereafter (so the story goes) Siddhartha concluded that this world was so full of suffering that escape from it (permanently, not just at death, since it was then widely believed that this led to rebirth) was the thing most worth seeking. Accordingly he left his wife and child, forsook his comfortable palace life, and became a wandering ascetic, living in the forest, seeking those who could teach him how to escape the sufferings of this world. For six years he practiced yoga and austerities, but his quest was futile, and he then decided to abandon the extreme asceticism which had reduced him to skin and bones.

At this point there appears a girl, named "Sujata", who is said to have tended cows, and was no doubt familiar with the psilocybin-containing mushrooms which grow on cow dung. Or perhaps she was not in fact a cowgirl but a reference to cows is made as a veiled allusion to such mushrooms. Whether Siddhartha sought her out (if psychedelic mushrooms were used in ancient India, as seems likely, then of course he would have known about it) or she (taking pity on his hitherto fruitless quest) approached him is not known, but he accepted from her a bowl of milk or something made with milk. His experience following drinking the milk was (as sometimes happens with strong psychedelics) at first somewhat hellish (he was attacked by demonic entities), but his courage allowed him to pass through this difficult phase and he attained a state in which egoic identity was abandoned and a profound spiritual awareness supervened; thus was his quest at last fulfilled, his goal attained.

The textual tradition, however, presents Siddhartha's Enlightenment as the result of an elaborate reasoning process: What is the cause of old age, sickness and death? Answer: Birth. What is the cause of birth? Existence. What is the cause of existence? Attachment. And so on: Attachment is caused by desire, which is caused by sensation, which is caused by contact, which is caused by the six senses, which is caused by 'name-and-form', which is caused by perception, which is caused by impression, which is caused by ignorance. Thus the removal of ignorance removes impression, whose removal removes perception, etc., up to removal of old age, sickness and death. Wonderful! (But how is ignorance removed?)

Thus, it is said, did the Buddha conquer old age, sickness and death! But, strangely, he grew old, got sick and died (as have hundreds of millions of his followers since his time), which would seem to somewhat undermine this claim.

Siddhartha's Enlightenment, although traditionally presented as a process of analytical reasoning as given above, is also presented as an event of cosmic magnitude, whereby he attained omniscience and (at least according to the Mahayana doctrine, wherein the Buddha is represented as god-like, or as an incarnation of a divinity superior to any particular god) a state beyond all limitations. It may have been something like the enlightenment experience of the shaman's apprentice described in the second "Life" by Knecht in Herman Hesse's The Glass Bead Game:
A strange tremor passed through the young man, an intimation of many links and associations, repetitions and crosscurrents among things and events. ... For a moment it seemed to him that the mind could grasp everything ... There must, it seemed to Knecht at this moment, be a center in the vast net of associations; if you were at this center you could know everything, could see all that had been and all that was to come. Knowledge must pour in upon one who stood at this center as water ran to the valley ... He would be the perfect, wise, insurpassable man.
This sort of experience (which certainly does occur) is clearly at a higher level than that of ordinary consciousness, and is very different from the rational analysis presented in the monastic texts as the content of Siddhartha's "Enlightenment".

But granting that Siddhartha did attain this state of profound illumination, he could not have done so merely by discursive thought, since then his insight could be presented conceptually (as given above: attachment is caused by desire, and so on) and anyone of sufficient conceptual ability could follow it and reach the same state. Thinking, though much to be encouraged, cannot produce Enlightenment. Really no explanation is given for how it happened that Siddhartha attained this supreme accomplishment at this point in his life.  

This event, as described in the texts, is miraculous. It is curious that some people, calling themselves Buddhists, who would normally be skeptical of miracles (as claimed, e.g., by the Catholic Church with the virgin birth and so on) readily accept what appears to be the miracle of the Buddha's Englightenment. But, of course, for faith there are no obstacles, and nothing is too improbable to be believed.

Some weeks later, according to the received tradition, Shakyamuni met some ascetics with whom he had previously practiced austerities and he mentioned his insights to them. What he actually said to them we can never know, but according to the teachings of the monastic tradition he taught the "Four Noble Truths" and the "Eightfold Path". The Eightfold Path consists of practical injunctions, such as gaining one's livelihood without harming others, which are entirely admirable. The Four Noble Truths assert that this worldly life is full of suffering, that the cause of suffering is attachment, desire and ignorance, that there is a way to free oneself from these "mental defilements" (namely, the Eightfold Path), and that diligent practice of this will result in a state of complete ataraxia and non-attachment (including a realization of the illusory nature of the ego), with the all-important boon of the cessation of rebirth (and thus of old age, sickness and death).

Since rebirth, that is, reincarnation, has not been a commonly held belief in the West since Christianity rose to prominence in the 4th Century, and since Buddhism hardly makes any sense except in the context of escaping from rebirth, it is curious that it appeals to Westerners. If one does not believe in rebirth then it makes no sense to try to escape rebirth. 

Westerners who adopt Buddhism apparently accept the doctrine of reincarnation as part of the territory. But if one previously (before becoming a Buddhist) did not believe in reincarnation, what could lead one to do so? Perhaps Western Buddhists are actually less interested in escape from rebirth (in which they do not really believe) than in attaining "Enlightenment" (which, according to the Vajrayana, is possible in this lifetime, though according to the Mahayana generally thousands of lifetimes, and thus rebirths, are required).

Buddhist teaching does include some important insights, such as that everything which is compounded will eventually decay into its component parts (thus one shouldn't become too attached to anything), and that in fact everything is compounded (apart from Nirvana, the state of awareness which is beyond all distinctions) and has no real self-existence (this includes one's own ego).

However it is a central teaching of Buddhism that worldly life is basically one of suffering, and for the wise person the only goal should be to escape from it. Thus Buddhism is world-denying and life-denying. It sees no value in the things of this world, except as a means of escape from it. And it's not just material things that are devalued; all things are devalued, including love of wife and children (as Shakyamuni demonstrated when he abandoned his family in order to practice austerities in the forest, leaving his wife without a husband to care for her and his son without a father to raise him). For me, however, this worldly life has value, not as a means (as it is for some people) for pursuing fame, wealth or power over others, but as a venue for experience and action — the experience of friendship, love, beauty, exploration, adventure, the gaining of understanding and knowledge (including spiritual knowledge), and engaging in creative activity (as well as just having a good time occasionally).

A lot of people learn about Buddhist ethics, as expressed in the Eightfold Path, and decide that this is a good guide for how to live one's life. Thus they become sympathetic to the doctrines of Buddhism (which, as elaborated in Mahayana Buddhism, go way beyond the simple doctrine of Shakyamuni into some abstruse philosophical doctrines, though the dubious claim is made that all such doctrines can be traced to "the Buddha", if not to Shakyamuni then to some "celestial" Buddha or to a deity said to be a manifestation of "Buddhahood", none of whom was ever mentioned by Shakyamuni).

But a distinction should be drawn between being sympathetic to Buddhism and being a Buddhist. The latter occurs only after one has "taken refuge". This step, said by its advocates to be "very important", is done by reciting three times something along the lines of: "I go for refuge to the Buddha, I go for refuge to the Dharma, I go for refuge to the Sangha." (The Dharma is the doctrine and the Sangha is either the community of Buddhist monks or of all Buddhists.) One is admonished to recite this "from the heart". Then having taken refuge, one continues to recite the refuge formula daily as a mark of commitment to achieving Enlightenment (which, unfortunately, never seems to happen). In Tibetan Buddhism one is encouraged to recite the refuge formula 100,000 times as part of the so-called "preliminary practices" (preliminary, that is, to the really interesting teachings). One who has spent the two or three years needed to do this (together with the 100,000 prostrations, the 100,000 mandala offerings, etc.) is unlikely ever to acknowledge it as simply a form of self-indoctrination (viewable in hindsight as pathetic).

Explanations of the refuge formula expound on the meaning of the words "Buddha", "Dharma" and "Sangha" — exoterically the historical Buddha, his doctrine and the community of monks or of Buddhists (though there are esoteric interpretations as well). But rarely, if ever, is anything said about what "going for refuge" actually means. It is usually explained metaphorically. In a non-religious context one "takes refuge", for example, by finding shelter in a solid building while a storm is raging. Since Buddhism is presented as a path to escape from the sufferings of worldy life and to attain "Enlightenment", perhaps "taking refuge" provides shelter from those sufferings. Or perhaps one finds shelter from the effects of the three so-called "root defilements" (of the mind): ignorance, greed and hatred (nothing is ever said about desire for control and manipulation of others for one's own benefit). But this is stretching the metaphor, and in any case one should ask: What is the practical consequence of "taking refuge". The short answer is that it means giving control over your thoughts and actions to other people.

Of course, those expounding the Buddhist doctrine do not present it in this way, but in a more positive light. Taking refuge is said to "open the door" to all the practices in the Buddhist tradition and to give one "a definite positive direction" in which to move. Thus, it is said, it creates the conditions for the realization of "countless benefits" and gives one safety from rebirth in the lower realms. Ignoring the usual hype of "countless benefits", and the dubious claim of protection from undesirable rebirths (which is impressive only if you already believe in the danger of rebirth "in a lower realm"), this amounts to saying: "Now you can adopt the ways of thinking and daily practices which those whom you regard as your teachers say you should adopt, and think and act accordingly." In other words, one who has "taken refuge" says in effect: "Tell me what to do."

Perhaps we should put it more kindly: One who has "taken refuge" says: "I have faith (because I was told that 'the most important thing is faith') that the historical Buddha attained complete Enlightenment and taught a method whereby others (such as me) can attain Enlightenment also (if I practice diligently), so please tell me what to do to achieve this goal."

But what is the basis for this "faith"? As noted above, the historical Buddha lived about 2500 years ago, his teachings were not written down until long after his passing, and since then (like the Bible) have passed through the hands of many editors (many with a vested interest in obtaining "followers", especially those inclined to be generous when the construction of new monasteries — or in Western countries, "dharma centers" — is contemplated). If the teaching of the historical Buddha provided a path to Enlightenment then surely there would be, even now, at least a few Enlightened people around. Have you met any? Of course, there are many Buddhists who are admirable in one way or another (the same is true of many non-Buddhists). But to my knowledge none has attained "Enlightenment" (though there are some who have occasionally attained the unitive state sought by mystics). So why should one believe (have faith) that there is a method, which can be learnt, for attaining the goal of "Enlightenment"? Is not this goal actually a pie-in-the-sky come-on which benefits mostly those who have made a career out of teaching the so-called path to attain it?

It is the same in all religions. One who is a Christian, a Muslim or a Buddhist has abandoned any attempt at thinking for themselves, has adopted a faith (because there are short-term psychological benefits in doing so), and has accepted a self-imposed obligation to think and act as "good" Christians, Muslims and Buddhists are supposed to think and act. Of course, this is not the same in all religions. A strict Muslim prays to Allah five times a day, but a Buddhist need only recite the refuge formula. A Buddhist avoids killing any living creature but a Muslim may kill an unbeliever if this is permitted by the judgment of some mullah. A strict Muslim shuns alcohol but a Catholic drinks wine during the Mass (believing, if they are a good Catholic, that they are drinking the blood of Jesus Christ — a pale imitation of the original practice of drinking an infusion, of red color, of the psychoactive Amanita mushroom).

And how are the followers of any particular religion "supposed" to think and act, if they are to be "good" Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists? They follow the dictates of authority. That authority usually manifests in the form of priests, pastors, bishops, rabbis, mullahs, pandits, lamas and any person learned in the textual tradition of the religion. Such people "shepherd" the faithful along "the true path", and those who are shepherded are actually just like sheep, who cannot think for themselves. (There is actually a small book written for such people; it is called Buddhism for Sheep.)

In fact, such people are worse than sheep. A sheep is what it is and cannot be more or less than what it is. But a human being has the ability to observe intelligently, to think, to judge something in the light of past accumulated experiences, and (whether or not this is "permitted") to seek new experiences in order to widen their knowledge. Those who adopt some expression of faith and then say, "O great lama (priest, rabbi, mullah, whatever), tell me what to do!", are allowing themselves to be controlled by others and are choosing not to exercise their full human potential.

It is not surprising that governments everywhere (even in China) are tolerant of, or even supportive of, Buddhism (as shown by the large number of Tibetan Buddhist "dharma centers" which have sprung up in Western countries in recent decades). Those people who wouldn't hurt a fly, or at least, have "compassion for all sentient beings", are unlikely to present much threat to authoritarian and tyrannical regimes. Buddhist doctrine does not encourage resistance against social injustice, because (following the ideal of the historical Buddha) society is something to be abandoned, left behind, so as better to practice renunciation of the world and attainment of "Enlightenment".

Although it may be useful to talk with those who have spent time seeking spiritual knowledge, the best teacher is experience. Those who desire to increase their knowledge of spiritual reality have only to strive for this any way they can, always relying on their own innate intelligence, and lessons will be provided. As the historical Buddha is reported to have said (his last words to his followers), "Seek out your own salvation with diligence." One way to interpret this is: You have to follow your own path (always being true to yourself), not some path laid down for you by some "authority", however much surrounded by the elaborate trappings of high office or venerated by thousands of gullible genuflecting devotees.
Oh ... about merit. This is allegedly acquired by performing good deeds, especially making offerings. It is supposedly gained by performing practices conducive to spiritual advancement, such as making offerings to Mahayana deities, meditating on their qualities and requesting blessings. Acquisition of merit allegedly produces a happier life and a better rebirth. It is customary among Mahayana Buddhists, at the conclusion of such practices, to "dedicate the merit", which is a transfer of merit to other beings in order to help them on their spiritual path. But in the ordinary meaning of the term, merit is in the eye of the beholder, it does not exist substantially. So who keeps track of the amount of merit one has gained? Who keeps track of the transfer of merit when it is "dedicated"? Is there some bodhisattva whose task this is? Since Buddhists believe in countless beings existing in countless worlds, this would seem to be a very difficult task. Or is this concept of merit really fictitious? And has this fictitious concept been promoted by the monastic hierarchy because it encourages Buddhists to make offerings to that hierarchy, thereby ensuring that the monks can eat, live in monasteries, and occupy themselves in performing rituals and chanting scriptures (leaving it to others to do the manual work)?

Finally, I am not a Buddhist because a Buddhist cannot say "I am a Buddhist" without in effect denying a central tenet of Buddhist doctrine. When someone says "I am a Buddhist", they implicitly assert the existence of something to which the word "I" refers. This contradicts a central theme of the teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha, namely, that "the ego" is an illusion, that there is no "self" which exists apart from and as the object of that form of consciousness which we know as "self-awareness".

When religious people say "I am a Buddhist", "I am a Christian", etc., what they are really doing is asserting self-identity. They are identifying themselves (or their selves) in a particular manner. They are not content simply to experience the world (outer and perhaps inner) and to act. No, they must be something. And something important. They must be "a believer in Christ" (the Son of God the Father and the Redeemer of our Sins), or "a follower of the holy Prophet Muhammad" (to whom Allah delivered his Message to Humanity), or "one who has taken refuge in the Buddha" (who attained Supreme Enlightenment for the benefit of all beings). This is really pathetic. It is just a form of egoism. Such people cannot live without the crutch of the illusion, not only that they are really self-existent entities, but that their lives are significant because they are following devoutly the teachings (or alleged teachings) of some historical or quasi-historical personage to whom is attributed divine, semi-divine or nearly-divine status. Who needs it?

Concluding remarks on religion

In his book The God Delusion Richard Dawkins argues very well (within the limitations of his erroneous physicalism) that the concept of a supernatural personal God who designed and created the universe, watches over it (and us), and intercedes occasionally, is a delusion.

More exactly, religion, or rather each of the five religions considered in this article, is a collective delusion: a delusion held in common by many people (the belief of each of them reinforced by their seeing that many others believe the same thing). Some collective delusions are harmful to their followers (e.g., Scientology) whereas some are relatively benign (e.g., the ancestor worship of China and Vietnam). In no case, however, should any religion be granted any respect unless there is clear evidence that it has beneficial effects for its followers (rather than its proponents), and certainly no religion should be granted any social or political privilege simply because it calls itself a religion. No representative of any religion (no monk, priest, pastor, rabbi, mullah, swami or lama) deserves any respect other than what is due to them as scholars, artists, entertainers, dispensers of wisdom or by virtue of their personal qualities as human beings. Absurd, ridiculous, harmful, pernicious and morally reprehensible beliefs, attitudes and practices should be exposed as such, and not granted any respect simply because they are part of some religion. And religion should absolutely have no part in education (except as a subject for study), politics or the administration of society. Free inquiry, open debate, publication and dissemination (e.g., via the internet, if it remains free) of the results of that inquiry and debate, and the freedom and opportunity for people to educate themselves and to engage in discussion, will do more good for humanity than slavish adherence to the teachings, admonitions and strictures of any religion or all of them.

Organized religion, like war, is a racket. A priestly caste makes a living from it by exploiting aspects of human psychology, such as the fear of death, human propensities toward guilt and shame (a speciality of the monotheistic religions), the desire for "freedom from suffering" and for "salvation", and the (entirely commendable) aspiration for spiritual knowledge. 

While there is nothing wrong with providing financial or other support to someone who provides a benefit, e.g., a shaman in a traditional society who is able to heal as a result of his journeys into the spirit world, one does best to avoid any religious teacher who requires payment for the granting of some alleged spiritual benefit (such as an "initiation"), though one might willingly pay to acquire the pleasurable conviction of having received such a benefit, or to be entertained by some exotic performance involving the uttering of mantras and ringing of bells. Of course, there's nothing wrong with a financial contribution toward food for a collective meal after a satisfying evening of singing hymns in praise of Lakshmi or other deities, but suspicions should be aroused when many people (sometimes hundreds) are required to pay a hefty fee (like $50) for the bestowal of some alleged spiritual benefit and no accounting is ever given (except in vague terms) of where the money goes.

Some exponents of religion say: "The most important thing is faith! (In our religion, of course.) If people don't have faith, and follow our moral teachings, then what's to stop them from lying, stealing and killing each other?" Firstly, this position assumes what is false, namely, that humans are inherently vicious and must somehow be restrained from evil actions. Secondly, religious faith has never stopped religious people from lying, stealing and killing, even killing others of the same religion (examples could fill many pages). Thirdly, if some religious people do not lie, steal and kill, why assume it is due to their religious faith rather than to their inherent moral awareness?

Proponents of a religion often try to justify it (as above) as providing moral guidance, but what is offered is actually just the assertion of some supposed authority — Jehovah, Jesus, the Buddha, Allah or whatever. And these "authorities" differ, so on what basis is a decision to be made as to which moral precepts express true morality? If there is such a basis for deciding among them then those precepts themselves are not needed. And there is such a basis: Ethical conduct is that which seeks to avoid inflicting actual (not supposed or imagined) harm upon others (both other humans and other forms of life); where alternative courses of action all involve some actual harm to others then the moral choice is that action which results (or is likely to result) in the least harm. This is sufficient as a basis for moral action. No faith in Jesus, Jehovah or any other "authority" is needed in order for this basis to be quite clear. And one important implication is: If an action does not result in actual harm to any other living being then it cannot be considered immoral (and if it is not immoral then it should not be illegal).

Though human dignity entails leading an ethical life, there is absolutely no need to lead a "religious" life, and one who wishes to free themselves from delusion will not do so. It is sufficient to live so as to do no harm to others (except to prevent harm), to live honestly, to face life with optimism, courage and curiosity, and to endeavor to improve oneself and contribute something of worth to humanity, while at the same time always seeking to free oneself from false beliefs acquired unconsciously, and to understand how the world really is (at various levels) and whether there may not be a path beyond the death of the body to some place unconstrained by the limitations of this physical world.

All major religions arose many centuries ago, when human mentality was comparatively undeveloped and was characterized (at least among most people) by simple-minded thinking. 
Those religions developed when humanity was still in a childlike state, with people ready to believe whatever they were told by authority figures. In recent centuries our species has advanced beyond childhood into adolescence (but not yet adulthood). The stories that are still told by religion, which are fit for children, are no longer fit for intelligent people in the 21st Century. This does not mean that materialism or physicalism should be embraced. 
Rather we need (for the survival of the human species) to attain a widespread understanding of how the world really is, including its spiritual dimension as well as its physical. As Stanislav Grof has said, through psychedelic (and similar) experiences "it is possible to obtain profound revelations concerning the master blueprint of the universe designed by cosmic intelligence of such astonishing proportions that it is far beyond the limits of our everyday imagination." Indeed. It is now possible (as it was 2000 years ago, before the sacred rites of Eleusis and similar initiatory practices were forcibly suppressed by the Huns and those of a similar barbaric mentality, a mentality which persists even today among those politicians and lawmakers maintaining their pernicious "war on drugs") for anyone to obtain a realization that our everyday world is just a part of a far larger spiritual universe whose nature utterly transcends our ability to understand it, and in comparison with which the materialist and self-centered concerns (beyond survival) of most people — still stuck in our species' adolescent condition — are unworthy of our human potential.

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