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The Human Condition-2-Thomas Keating

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The Human Condition-2-Thomas Keating

Sometimes it helps to turn to a story from another spiritual tradition: in juxtaposing the two stories, we may get a new insight. Here is a Sufi tale that is also about the human condition.

A Sufi master had lost the key to his house and was looking for it in the grass outside. He got down on his hands and knees and started running his fingers through every blad of grass. Along came eight or ten of his disciples . They said, "master, what is wrong?" He said, "I have lost the key to my house." They said, "Can we help you find it?" He said, " I'd be delighted."

So they all got down on their hands and knees and started running their fingers through the grass. As the sun grew hotter, one of the more intelligent disciples said," Master, have you any idea where you might have lost the key?" The Master replied, "Of course. I lost it in the house". To which they all exclaimed, " then why are we looking for it here?" He said, "Isn't it obvious? There is more light here."

We have all lost the key to our house. We don't live there any more. We don't experience the divine indwelling. We dont't live with the kind of intimacy with God that Adam and Eve reportedly enjoyed in the Garden of Eden and the Sufi masters seems to have enjoyed before he lost his key.

The house in the parable represents happiness, and happiness is intimacy with God, the experience of God's loving presence. Without that experience, nothing else quite works; with it, almost anything works. This is the human condition - to be without the true source of happiness, which is the experience of the presence of God, and to have lost the key to happiness, which is the contemplative dimension of life, the path to the increasing assimilation and enjoyment of God's presence. What we experience in our desperate search for happiness where it can not possibly be found . The key is not in the grass; it was not lost outside ourselves. It was lost inside ourselves. That is where we need to look for it.

The chief characteristics of the human condition is that everybody is looking for this key and nobody knows where to find it. The human condition is thus poignant in the extreme. If you want help as you look for the key in the wrong place, you can get plenty of it, because everybody is looking for it in the wrong place too: where there is more light, pleasure, security, power, acceptance by others. We have a sense of solidarity in the search without any possibility of finding what we are looking for.
In Roman Catholic theology, original sin is an explanation for why Adam and Eve lost the intimacy they had enjoyed with God. God used to visit them in the cool of the evening. They had an easy relationship with him. As soon as they fell into a discriminating mind by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they became self conscious; they experienced themselves not only as seperate from God but also, because of their sin, as alienated from God.  

Contemporary psychology has a significant contribution to make at this point. Infants do not have self-consciousness, or at least they have a very small amount. it emerges gradually through various stages of a child's development. Full self-reflective consciousness begins around the ages of twelve to fourteen. Prior to that time, we have an innate thirst for happiness but no practical experience of the presence of the divine within us. So we look for happiness somewhere else.

According to St.Augustine's theology, original sin has three consequences: (1) we don't know where happiness is to be found (ignorance); (2) we look for it in the wrong places (concupiscence); and (3) if we ever find out where it might be found, the will is too weak to pursue it anyway. That is the somewhat dismal view that Christianity has offered up to now. If you are a Buddist, you can track the same sort of idea in the teaching about sufferinh and the cessation of suffering.

Contemporary psychology has provided us with a knowledge of the unconscious. The discovery is only a hundred years old, and it casts an enormous light on all spiritual disciplines. In recent years, we have witnessed the development of various psychological theories such as codependency and the dysfunctional family, which assert that more and more people, at least in the Western world, are afflicted by these pathologies (as much as 95 to 98 percent of the population). These theories are getting pretty close to the idea of the universal character of original sin.

But the spiritual journey is more than a psychological process. It is of course primarily a process of grace. God also speaks to us through nature. The more we know about nature, the more we know about the mind of God. Einstein believed that science was directed toward discovering God's thoughts. Quantum physics itself is a kind of spirituality insofar as it is always looking farther into the unknown to see what is beyond the known.It is a search for ultimate reality.God is available through many sources besides the religious quest. I don't mean to imply that psychology replaces the work of religion, but it seems to me that it greatly supports religion and brings a certain clarity to area of the human condition, especially the discovery of the unconscious.

All of us have been through the process of being born and entering the world with three essential biological neeeds: security and survival, power, and control, affection and esteem. Without adequate fulfillment of these biological needs , we probably would not survive infancy. Since the experience of the presence of God is not there at the age we start to develop self-consciousness, these three instinctual needs are all we have with which to build a program for happiness. Without the help of reason to modify them, we build a universe with ourselves at the centre, around which all our human faculties revolve like planets around the sun. As a result, any object entering into our universe -another person or event-is judged on the basis of whether it can provide us with what we believe or demand happiness to be.

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Reference: The Human Condition - Thomas Keating- Contemplation and Transformation- Foreword: Elaine Pagels.

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