Religion of the Inner Spirit

By Walter Donald Kring, Unitarian Church of All Souls, New York, N.Y.

"Behold, the kingdom of God is within you." -- There is much confusion in the New Testament, as it has come down to us through the various interpreters, as to exactly what is meant by the kingdom of God. Sometimes it appears to be an apocalyptic event, when the clouds open, God descends to the earth, the dead are raised, and the damned go to a less desirable place. This we may call the outward aspect. But at other times it seems to point simply to an inner state of being, which a man may attain by following certain spiritual laws.

Even though our language has changed, so that in the twentieth century we seldom hear the kingdom of God mentioned except in a church, we still have this same confusion about the outer and the inner realms of being. Incidentally, let me say that long before the time of Jesus humanity had looked for the kingdom of God, as even today we seek it, only with a different set of names. For essentially what is meant by the kingdom is the perfection of man's own being.

But the dominant emphasis of our time is upon the outer kingdom, and the assumption is often (if erroneously) made that if the things of this world are taken care of, somehow the inner kingdom will be realized. Militants for the betterment of conditions on earth are impatient with those of us who believe that if we work first on the inner man, then all else will be added. There has always been a conflict between those who would change the environment and those who would change persons. This is a natural and almost inevitable opposition -- an opposition that disappears only when religion becomes so worldly, as it has recently, that it loses touch with the inner kingdom and embraces the outer kingdom of social change as being the real substance of religion.

The mere search for more and more things, no matter how pursued and no matter how successful, has failed to make men happier, and certainly it has not made men better morally. A higher standard of living is pleasant, of course, but it seems to make us always want more than we have, so that we are perennially unsatisfied with our situation.

Of course I am not opposed to the improvement of outer conditions. In fact, I am especially concerned about such improvement among those who simply do not have enough of the things of this earth to keep body and soul together. In spite of our vaunted scientific prosperity, there are still far too many who go to bed hungry every night. There is much to be said for ameliorating the harsh material circumstances of a vast portion of humanity. The fallacy comes in thinking that changing one's outer lot will of itself bring inner happiness.

Man was not made for bread alone, for what he is does not consist of the clothes he wears, the contents of his safe deposit box, or his worldly airs. The real worth of a man -- what makes him a true human being -- is that intangible something that springs from within. Is it any wonder then, that when the people of Jesus' day wanted him to give a "sign" and bring in a worldly kingdom, he told them that his kingdom is not of this world but that it exists within? He tried to turn them away from the outer, to find their true nature within -- a nature that he claimed could link man ultimately with the being of God.

There is really no need to discuss how we can build a better world. The way to its achievement is fairly clear, even though humanity consistently has refused to see the well-marked path. It is the way of cooperation, understanding, love, thinking about the other fellow, using our finer qualities rather than our baser feelings. Perhaps one of the reasons we have failed so miserably in the outer kingdom is that we have not held the proper inner attitudes. In the final analysis, who is to say that harmony or discord in the world is not largely dependent upon our inner attitudes.

A great deal is being said these days about the realization of this outer kingdom, but the inner kingdom -- which in my estimate is by far the more important -- is usually avoided, or placed in a completely secondary aspect in our thinking. Why is it that most of us are afraid of this inner kingdom? Are we afraid to turn inward lest we lose contact with that which is outward, or because we may find something within our nature that we are not prepared to meet? Or, more basically, do we fear that all pretense will be pushed aside and we will see ourselves as we really are rather than as we would like to think we are? Is the inner world, after all, the world of reality? If this is so, we can understand why some people try so hard to escape from its challenges. In fact, one often wonders whether persons who work so furiously for some kind of outer kingdom are not as furiously running away from themselves.

One may ask, "But why should I seek the inner kingdom when the outer clearly is the real one?" I know this feeling; I understand the sense of security that one gets, for example, in the physical sciences where one can measure and test, develop graphs and statistical tables, all of which are very impressive. But I really question whether this outer world even of the scientific laboratory is as secure as it at first appears to be. For scientists also eventually must ask about the deeper meanings, and there is some question as to whether the deeper answers even to scientific queries are going to be found by weighing and measuring. Solid matter as such has disappeared in the world of science, and we talk chiefly about energy, and protons and electrons, which are basically immaterial and pretty hard to get one's fingers on!

If we are ever to find the secrets of being, we should turn to the inner world as well as to the outer one, because we will find them only by searching within. And it may well develop, much to our consternation, that the real world will turn out to be more akin to the ideas of Plato, the nirvana of the Buddha, and the inner kingdom of Jesus. Would it not come as a shock to the so-called realists to discover that this inner mind-like reality is essentially the basic reality, rather than the outer stuff of which the world appears to be made? It seems to me that we are moving in this direction in our thinking, both in scientific and religious circles.

What we ought to recognize is that when we turn to the inner spirit we are coming closer to the kingdom of God. For when we find the spirit of ourselves within, we also find the spirit of God. Some people strenuously object to the idea of God being within because they mistakenly assume that God is thus limited, and automatically does not exist without. But nothing could be further from the truth, for what we possess within is but a spark of the Eternal Fire -- and a spark which flies off from a fire certainly does not extinguish the fire itself. Yet, just as the spark reveals the essence of the fire, so the internal spark within each human being reveals the essence of the Divine. This may sound a bit sophisticated to some, but as Tennyson said of the "flower in the crannied wall" --

. . . if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

Jesus was not speaking of something eternally hidden when he talked about the God within, nor was he referring to something that only a specially endowed divine person, as some later thinkers considered him to be, could comprehend. He was speaking of the Christ that lives in every human being, because each of us truly has a spark of the divine within. This is essentially the beauty of the conception that God does not exist only in a unique person called Jesus Christ, but that the divine exists in every human being -- as he will learn who will search in his soul for his own Christos spirit. To my way of thinking Jesus was one of the forerunners of "the new being," to use the late Paul Tillich's phrase. He was not the only Christ, but was a forerunner of a race of advanced men who could be called "the Christs" or "the Anointed" because they have discovered far more than ordinary men about the real world of the spirit.

I do believe that unless the outer world is run on the basis of the intuitions of the inner world, we shall not find the solution to the global turmoil. As Albert Schweitzer said in his writings, until a man realizes the same preciousness about the Christ nature of other human beings that he feels for his own inner spirit, we shall not have true brotherhood. Fraternal cooperation may be furthered by certain outer actions, but only when this sense of the preciousness of life becomes more universal, and men cease to be willing to kill and destroy for limited causes and terroristic ambitions, can we properly govern the outer world. I must align myself with those who believe that changing the outer world without the proper inner motivations will never bring in the kingdom. I believe that the most basic intuition of religion is this sense of relatedness to others, not because of their or our ambitions or needs, but because of what we all are.

It is essential, therefore, not only for our own development but for the peace and security of our world, that we turn to this inner realm of our being, and find God within. For as surely as we find divinity within ourselves will we recognize it in others, and we shall begin to realize that the Golden Rule is written into the cosmic scheme of things. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is not just a good ethical ideal. It is to me the religion of the inner spirit.

 (From Sunrise magazine, January 1971; copyright © 1971 Theosophical University Press)

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