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Music, "New Heaven", written by Andrew J. Brown and played by Chris Ingham (piano), Paul Higgs (trumpet), Russ Morgan (drums) and Andrew J. Brown (double bass)
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A short “thought for the day” offered to the Cambridge Unitarian Church as part of the Sunday Service of Mindful Meditation
Thanks to three key nineteenth-century Hindu thinkers, Rāja Rammohan Roy (1772-1833), Pratap Chundra Mozoomdar (1840-1905) and Svāmī Vivekānanda (1868-1902) — the first two of whom were very, very closely connected to the Unitarian movement — we here in the west came to know about the four religious or spiritual tendencies (saṃskāras), paths (mārgas) or disciplines (yogas) often referred to in the Hindu tradition. They are:
1) the intellectual (jñāna yoga)
2) the mystical (rāja yoga)
3) the devotional (bhakti yoga)
4) the practical (karma yoga).
Eventually, thanks primarily to Carl Jung’s (1875-1961) work, the four tendencies have come firmly into the thinking of our culture attached to the following names and types of person:
1) the rational (the thinking type of person)
2) the intuitional (intuiting type of person)
3) the emotional (feeling type of person)
4) the sensate (sensing type of person).
It’s long seemed to me that any modern, liberal, free religious community worth its salt must try to find ways to offer in its central act of worship something which speaks to each of these tendencies and associated type of person. Along with many others, I think that the kind of spirituality our own age most urgently requires is one that we can be called an integral one, i.e. a spirituality that genuinely understands there are many ways by which we can come ever more fully to appreciate in what reality consists and find our appropriate place in it.
Now, in an utterly unplanned way, thanks largely to the pandemic — by conjoining various elements of our old morning and evening services into one morning service in September 2021 as we began to meet face-to-face once again — we were given an unprecedented opportunity to create an actually existing and working morning service that, in modest, gentle and low-key ways, succeeds in touching upon each of these four tendencies, paths or disciplines. The importance of this development — and, indeed, its extreme rarity in Unitarian circles — should not, I think, be underestimated.
But we have to keep in mind that this service is still a young and very, very delicate bloom. If it is to have a chance to grow into the attractive, strong, liberal, free religious flower I feel sure it can become, then what we have in place now needs to be treated very carefully and sensitively as we continue to discern if, and then how, we may nuance and improve it in the coming months and years. But, to be able to nuance and improve the individual parts of this service appropriately, it is vital to gain a sense of how the parts are functioning within the whole service.
So, to help us get a clearer picture of the whole, today, I simply want to suggest which elements of the Sunday Morning Service of Mindful Meditation speak most powerfully to which tendency. But, don’t forget, that each element of the service also speaks, if always less strongly and directly, to every other tendency and vice versa. Remember, I think that what we have here is a nascent form of integral, liberal, free religious worship.
Now, to help me do my best, I’m drawing here gratefully on the excellent summary of the four tendencies presented by the retired professor of Asian religions from California State University, Chico, George M. Williams. [His essay can be found as Appendix B of “Cosmic Sage: Imaoka Shin’ichirō, Prophet of Free Religion” by George M. Williams].
1) The rational or thinking tendency organises, establishes order, classifies, identifies and makes plans. Its notion of causality is linear — from cause to effect.
This tendency — our expression of jñāna yoga if you like — is primarily, but not exclusively, expressed in the short address or thought for the day (that’s what you are reading/hearing at the moment). It’s also expressed in a more modest way in the notices, in the “tradition” section reminding us of various important dates in our church’s history, and in the words of our hymns.
2) The intuiting or mystical tendency sees the whole from parts. It sees the entire situation from one fragment. Intuition synthesizes the other functions’ “data” into a coherent whole or “unitive order.” Its time frame is totally different from either the thinking (“linear”), feeling (“past”) or sensing (“now”) experiences of time. Once a pattern or outline is “seen/intuited” it leaps to the conclusion. It arrives at the “future” as already here and now.
This tendency — our expression of rāja yoga if you like — is primarily, but not exclusively, expressed at those moments during the time of mindful meditation when, as I note about two-thirds of the way through, “we may experience the ground of our own being; a sense of wholeness; a sense of oneness. A sense of the sustaining sea.” This central, mystical, Unitarian intuition is, of course, also explicitly acknowledged (and its ethical consequences pointed to) in the words of the Universalist George de Benneville (1703-1793) found towards the end of the whole service:
“The inner spirit makes us feel that behind every appearance of diversity there is an interdependent unity of all things. Let us, therefore, preach the universal and everlasting gospel of boundless, universal love for the entire human race, without exception, and for each one in particular.”
3) The feeling or devotional tendency connects the experiencer personally with life. It is the “liking and disliking function.” Whatever is happening is given an emotional tag. This function is principally past-oriented as some time is required to become joyful, angry, and sensitive to the experiences involved.
This tendency — our expression of bhakti yoga if you like — is primarily, but not exclusively, addressed in the lighting of the candles of joy and concern, the recollection of our tradition with its high and low-points, and in the hymns and music.
4) The sensing or practical tendency operates directly from the “five” senses: seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling. This is an active and present function; it is the experience of seeing and not the feelings or thoughts about it. Its one time frame is the present.
This tendency — our expression of karma yoga if you like — is primarily, but not exclusively addressed, once again, in the mindful meditation, the music and in the various calls to ethical action found throughout the liturgy.
It’s also important to say that each of these four tendencies, paths or disciplines are also touched upon in different and always overlapping ways when we meet for our Wednesday Evening Conversations, committee meetings, or when sharing together coffee, tea, biscuits, sandwiches and cake after the Sunday service.
And lastly, I think it’s worth repeating a point I’ve recently made in other addresses and thoughts for the day, namely, that the ultimate aim of this service is to help us all — me included — slowly but surely become more rounded, confident, liberal, free religious people aware of, and sensitive to, the many rich and beautiful ways of being human in the world, and so become ever more awakened to the need both for us always to be celebrating the mystery and miracle of life and acting as the hands of holy creativity, love and justice in our often bruised and hurting world.