The function of the Religious Experience Research Centre is the study of contemporary spiritual and religious experience. The Research Centre was founded by Sir Alister Hardy in 1969 as the Religious Experience Research Unit at Manchester College, Oxford. It moved to Lampeter from its previous home at Westminster College, Oxford in July 2000. The Centre’s aim is to study, in a disciplined and as scientific a manner as possible, contemporary accounts of religious or spiritual experiences and to publish its findings.
The CUA is an ecumenical organization uniting people and churches around the world with a vision of God’s all-inclusive love. They are active in evangelism and outreach to the public, spreading the Good News of God’s victorious plan of salvation for all people. They educate and ordain ministers, hold conferences, encourage networking and church planting by believers, and create new resources to deepen and reform Christianity and bring people together from various denominations and traditions in a shared discovery of truth. The CUA affirms in their Statement of Faith(1) the Golden Rule, (2) divine justice and life after death, (3) universal salvation, (4) human nature and destiny, (5) the mystery of faith, (6) divine revelation and the pursuit of truth.
The Universalist Herald is the oldest continuously published liberal religious periodical in North America. It is devoted to a living religion and vital faith that motivates individual responsibility and positive action. Their Universalist doctrine is about love, their sacrament is the quest for Truth, their prayer is service, to dwell together in peace, to seek knowledge in freedom, to serve humanity in fellowship, and to the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the Divine, to covenant with each other and with God. They provide (1) biographies and interviews of notable Universalists; (2) book reviews and editorials on Universalism; (3) articles on Universalism, Universalist theology, mysticism, social justice, the history of Universalism, (4) articles to reflect upon, the holidays, and Universalist hymns.
This website is dedicated to promoting the Spiritual Philosophy of Zarathushtra and Zoroastrianism. They provide (1) information about Zarathushtra; (2) articles and books for sale about Zarathushtra and Zoroastrianism; (3) various translations of the Gathas; (4) an online book entitled “Homage Unto Ahura Mazda”; (5) a Zoroastrian cyber-temple; (6) discussion group archives; (7) a picture gallery; and (8) a links page to other Zoroastrian resources.
This is a book available through the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America (FEZANA) website. For more information about this book please contact Roshan Rivetna (email address). Donations for costs of printing and postage can be made. FEZANA serves as the coordinating body for 27 Zoroastrian Associations in the United States and Canada. Other resources include: (1) the FEZANA Journal and Journal archives; (2) administration and activities; (3) a Zoroastrian Youth of North America (ZYNA) website; (4) Bulletin archives; (5) an events calendar; (6) important messages from the FEZANA President; (7) and a links page to other resources.
Edward Henry Whinfield (1836-1922) (see Wikipedia article) published an initial series of 253 quatrains in 1882, as “The Quatrains of Omar Khayyám.” One year later 500 quatrains were published in a bilingual edition: a Persian text with the English translation. This time eight collections of quatrains were used. A selection of 267 quatrains were selected from this edition, for a new edition, in 1893, with the English text only. In 1901 the collection of 1883 was corrected and enlarged in a second edition in 1901, to which eight quatrains were added. The final version can be downloaded as a PDF file. On this website you can search their library and English e-library; search the Rubaiyat; read their articles; and bibliography. And much more.
The Project Gutenberg website offers over 58,000 free eBooks. Browse their Catalog for free ebooks. Here you will find the world’s great literature here, with focus on older works for which U.S. copyright has expired. You can access a variety of versions of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: read the book online; download the EPUB with images; download the EPUB with no images; download the Kindle ebook with images; download the Kindle ebook with no images, download a plain text file version; and more.
Mitofsky International and Edison Media Research. (2002). Exploring religious America. Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, May 10, 2002, Retrieved May 16, 2002, from: www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week534/cover.html
Origen. (1994). Origen de principiis. In Roberts, A. R., and Donaldson, J. (eds.) Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4 (pp. 260-279). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers. (Roberts and Donaldson original work published 1885).
I am pleased to write the Foreword for this online book entitled God Is With Us: What Near-Death and Other Spiritually Transformative Experiences Teach Us About God and Afterlife by Dr. Ken R. Vincent. I am the publisher of this wonderful book written by Dr. Vincent (whom I will affectionately refer to as Ken from this point on) which I published as a labor of love and a with a sense of urgency – not only because of my great admiration of Ken – but because his book contains divine revelations which I believe can literally change the world and bring people from all religious backgrounds and cultures together. One glance at the news headlines tells you this is something desperately needed in this world today. Although all the major world religions and many scientific fields of endeavor are covered in this book – make no mistake – this is a book about God. The vision of God that Ken presents in this book is consistent with scholarship of both ancient and modern religious experiences. As Ken’s magnum opus, this book gives the reader a profound understanding of his conclusions drawn from his scholarly search for a “generic” or “universal” God developed from his research into a mind-boggling number of scientific fields such as the following:
In other words, do you know why the Christian religion describes priests of the Zoroastrian religion worshiping the King of the Jewish religion? Knowing the answer to this question is a crucial step in understanding the concept of a “universal” God and the tremendous influence the much older religion of Zoroastrianism had on the world’s major religions. Inside this online book, Ken answers this question by shedding light on information previously known mainly to scholars. He guides the reader into the historical religious concept of “Universalism” – the revelation that God has a plan to ultimately provide salvation to all humanity.
At its heart, Universalism describes a God of unconditional and inescapable love and light extending to everyone no matter what their religious belief or background. It is a divine revelation given to Zoroaster, the prophet of the Magi religion, which was eventually incorporated in all the major world religions. Zoroastrianism describes a God who occasionally sends “saviors” such as Moses, Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad to lead their people toward enlightenment and salvation. In this book, and to a greater extent, in Ken’s paperback book entitled The Magi: From Zoroaster to the “Three Wise Men,” he discusses this important fact.
Ken is a retired Psychology professor, a founding Board member of the Christian Universalist Association, an expert in Universalism and the major world religions such as Zoroastrianism, and a member of IANDS (along with many other qualifications). More about Ken can be found in the Chapter of this book labeled “About Ken.” I consider Ken a special “guru” of mine because of his greater understanding of these lofty subjects and how he provides the layperson with a thorough and easy-to-read understanding of how they relate to NDEs and other STEs.
I have several experts I consider gurus for whom I go to for gaining more knowledge on such subjects. They are experts in their field who mostly impart their expertise freely for the sake of humanity. In fact, the Urban Dictionary defines the word “guru” in a number of ways; but I prefer their definition as follows:
“A teacher – a learned man [or woman] who shares their knowledge and enlightens all ignorant [people] and works for the mass uplifting of the society by imparting knowledge.”
There are many such gurus to be found on the Internet who fit this definition; but there are several such experts like Ken who have contributed so much to making this www.near-death.com website what it is today. How these experts became so important to my own personal research and enlightenment is a story worth telling. I will try to be as brief and precise as I can.
Before I had my own personal computer, I was a book worm reading everything I could get my hands on the subject of NDEs and Christianity. One of the books I read was Ken’s wonderful book entitled Visions of God from the Near-Death Experience which I highly recommend. But as a fundamentalist, the information I was reading about NDEs conflicted a lot with my strict Christian belief system. During the 1980’s, I had a “crisis of faith” partly due to this conflict which ultimately led me to being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The medication I began taking was in every way a lifesaver. One might say the medicine took away the “manic street preacher” inside of me and ultimately made me a more liberal Christian. The major source of information which greatly resolved my internal conflict between fundamentalist Christianity and near-death studies was my first guru – Edgar Cayce (www.edgarcayce.org) – the Christian mystic whose information was my “bridge” connecting Christianity with near-death studies. The brand of Christianity revealed by Edgar Cayce agreed with what I was reading in all the NDE books which is: (1) the reality of Universal Salvation; (2) the Unconditional Love and Universal Mind that is God; and (3) the higher teachings and “hidden mysteries” of Jesus concerning a personal “resurrection” as a spiritual regeneration within a living person and – for those who have not experienced this spiritual “resurrection” – a bodily “resurrection” of the soul by means of reincarnation which is the divine method for the evolution of the soul. According to Cayce, this system of bodily reincarnation also allows those who have already attained spiritual regeneration to reincarnate to help others in their soul’s evolution and to help prepare the way for the “Kingdom of Heaven” on Earth. The Cayce Organization and their website is filled with wisdom on these mysteries which were ordained to be revealed at this time in history.
When I graduated with a computer science degree in the 1990’s, the World Wide Web was in its infancy. At this time, I discovered my second guru – Marcus P. Zillman, M.S., A.M.H.A. (www.zillman.us). He is an international Internet expert who played a major role in bringing artificial intelligence to the Web in the form of bots and intelligent software agents. He has authored hundreds of free publications available for downloading including over 80 white papers, Internet MiniGuides, How-To videos, and eBooks about a variety of subjects available to both the “newbie” as well as the “seasoned” veteran. His free resources allows me to be currently aware of important Internet sources especially in web development. One might say he was my “bridge” connecting my desire to present near-death studies on the World Wide Web via a website.
Then when I began creating the www.near-death.com website, I had already known whom I refer to as my third guru – P. M. H. Atwater, L.H.D, (pmhatwater.hypermart.net) – who was one of the early researchers in near-death studies and one of the very few researchers who actually is an NDE experiencer. Her books, articles and website gave me a perspective of NDEs which agreed with my growing liberal Christian view. From almost the beginning of my website, she has personally allowed me to freely reprint numerous articles of hers including a column in my monthly newsletter which spanned almost a decade. As someone who often presents NDE information to the Edgar Cayce organization, her knowledge was my “bridge” connecting NDE studies with NDE mysticism .
Sometime after the new millennium, I read an article in the Journal of Near-Death Studies entitled “The Near-Death Experience and Christian Universalism.” I was so impressed with the article that I contacted the author who eventually became my fourth and latest guru, Dr. Ken R. Vincent, to ask permission to reprint it on my website. After reading other articles by Ken published on the website The Universalist Herald (www.universalist-herald.org) of which he is now the retired Webmaster, another profound element to my knowledge base was added. His expertise provided me with another vital bridge for connecting NDE studies with Universalism in a way I have never known before. At the time, I considered myself somewhat of an NDE and Christian universalism expert; but in reading Ken’s writings I discovered someone who actually is a scholar of both of these subjects and someone who stands far beyond my comprehension of them. We agreed that he would be the NDE and Universalist guru on my website.
After reprinting his article “The Near-Death Experience and Christian Universalism” – which is now Chapter 10 of this online book – I became diverted with webmaster duties as my site was getting larger. Reprinting some of Ken’s articles remained at the top of my To-Do list. Ultimately, Ken emailed me a number of his articles in book format which are the Chapters of this book. Upon reading them, I knew I had to immediately build this book which Ken is offering at no cost. I know this new book of Ken’s will enlighten many people as it enlightened me. Building his book on my website has definitely been a labor of love.
And there is an enormous amount of profound information in this book as each Chapter ties in with the next. Much like the so-called “crimson thread” which weaves revelations of Jesus in the Hebrew Bible, so does Ken’s paperback book The Golden Thread: God’s Promise of Universal Salvation – as well as this new book – weave a “golden thread” of Universalism through all the major world religions tying them all together. Ken shares some Chapters of his paperback book here in this new book.
The reader will also be amazed how Ken ties near-death studies with scholarly topics such as:
What NDEs and STEs teach us about God and the afterlife
Modern scientific research into religious experiences
Psychology as it relates to NDEs and STEs
The parallel levels of moral development between individuals, religions, and entire cultures
The parallel levels of religious development in individuals and world religions
The five universal concepts found in all religions
Why religion would probably cease to exist without STEs
Why modern STEs are identical to STEs in ancient religious texts when you remove the supernatural elements
Why personal religious experience is becoming more fundamental than theology
The nine categories of resurrection appearances of Jesus which are identical to modern ADCs involving Jesus
How modern scientific research of religious experiences reveals principles of Universalism
Personal cases of Universalist mystical religious experiences
How NDEs agree with Universalism including Christian Universalism
The vast amount of historical and Biblical evidence supporting Universalism
One of the most profound NDE testimonies ever documented because of its authenticity, authority, and aftereffects
How the more ancient religion of Zoroastrianism influenced doctrines found all the Western religions
The scientific research into negative religious experiences
The history of how the false doctrine of eternal damnation crept into Christianity hundreds of years after the death of Jesus
The types of Universalists in America today
How Universalism is the key for resolving the strife in the modern world
and much more…
In conclusion, I know Ken’s research will enlighten you in so many ways as it did me. A vast number of the missing pieces in my knowledge base concerning NDEs, STEs, religious studies, and Universalism have been filled in thanks to Ken and I am eternally grateful. – Kevin R. Williams, B.Sc.
In 1975, the near-death experience burst into contemporary consciousness with the publication of Raymond Moody‘s famous book Life After Life. The public was newly fascinated, unaware that the phenomena had been described throughout recorded history (the story of Er in Plato’s Republic being the most famous example).
From the beginning of NDE studies, some researchers have included individuals who had only come “close to death” with those who were resuscitated after being clinically dead for a brief period of time. In their effort to clarify the terminology, Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick in their book The Art of Dying coined the term “temporary death experience” to separate those who came near to death from those who revived following clinical death.
Continuing this effort to define the characteristics of the NDE, Vince Migliore used a large sample from the files of the International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS) and published it in his book A Measure of Heaven. Comparing a sample of 193 accounts of clinical death to a sample of 189 accounts of “NDE-like” experiences (e.g., mystical experiences) that were not near death, Migliore found that the NDEs were more in-depth than the mystical experiences, but the difference was not statistically significant.
Unfortunately, there is still no agreed-on definition of the NDE or other religious experiences in the literature.
3. Near-Death Experience Commonalities
People can and do have mystical experiences that resemble near-death experiences without dying. St. Paul’s out-of-body experience (OBE) in which he went to heaven is a famous example (2 Corinthians 12). The NDE is unique among religious /mystical /spiritual experiences in that its “trigger” is clinical death, and we now have over 35 years of research that enable fascinating insights into what the NDE teaches us about God and afterlife.
I begin with Jeff Long‘s “proofs of afterlife” from his book Evidence of the Afterlife because of the magnitude of the sample (N=1300) and the fact that 613 subjects were given an objective questionnaire. They are as follows:
(1) NDErs report increased alertness and consciousness.
(4) NDErs report experiences while under anesthesia.
(5) NDErs report life reviews that include experiencing the feelings of others.
(6) NDErs report seeing dead relatives, including people unknown to them who were identified to them later by viewing family photographs.
(7)NDErs who are children report having every NDE element of older NDErs, and this is true whether their account is told during childhood or as an adult who had the experience in childhood.
(8) NDErs who were non-English-speakers from Long’s database form the largest collection of cross-cultural NDEs and provide evidence that NDEs are the same all over the world.
(9) NDErs report that their lives were changed as a result of their NDE and, for the majority, the change was for the better.
To this list of “proofs,” we can add the “Shared Death Experience” which Raymond Moody describes in his book Glimpses of Eternity. This occurs when a person or persons at the bedside of an individual who is dying experiences the beginning of the dying individual’s first moments of death, including such things as alternate reality, mystical light, OBE, coliving the life review, unworldly or heavenly realms, and mist at death.
(3) These consistent beliefs in life after death contrast with the widely divergent creation myths of different religions.
In other words, the above studies taken together demonstrate the NDE to be a world-wide phenomenon and that it is at the generic core of afterlife beliefs in the world’s religions. Organized religion is, at best, second-hand.
5. Insights into God and Afterlife
Using the same tools that social scientists employ to study all other facets of human behavior, researchers have gained fresh insights into how humans experience God in the here-and-now and in the hereafter. The following 9 findings are the ones I personally find most compelling:
a.God (aka, Ultimate Reality/Great Spirit) Is With Us and Not Distant
In the NDE, the experiencer is often brought before a divine judge/being of light for a “life review“. This can be frightening, comforting, or both; nevertheless, it is awesome. Judgment is virtually universal in world religions.
e. What’s In Your Heart – Not What You Believe – Is What Matters
Religious groups that declare that theirs is the only path to God and salvation are totally wrong. NDE and other religious experiences (e.g., after-death communications, death-bed visions) are replete with stories of people of all faiths and denominations in heaven.
f. “By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them”
Virtually all of the books on the NDE and other religious experiences mentioned in this article speak to the fact that these events change people’s lives for the better, with some authors devoting a whole chapter to this finding.
Research into the NDE and other spiritual experiences broadens our understanding of God and afterlife and serves as an essential counter to the oppressive religion that is all too common in today’s world. Thanks to research over the past 150 years, we currently know more about how humans experience God and afterlife than at any time in recorded history.
To me, the greatest contribution of Sir Alister Hardy and the Religious Experience Research Centre has been to demonstrate that religious /spiritual /mystic experiences are, in fact, quite common. The picture emerging is of a generic God and afterlife that are universal; its essential elements are an “off-the-rack” fit for all the world’s religions but a “tailor-made” fit for none of them. What is universal is from God; the remainder of religion is cultural. I pray that we continue this research.
1. Introduction to the Developmental View of Religion
When I was a freshman at Baylor University, I took a required religion class from Prof. Kyle Yates. Professor Yates was one of the scholars who worked on the Revised Standard Version of the Old Testament (a.k.a. the Hebrew Bible). When we got to the Persian period of Hebrew history, he began to talk about Zoroaster, the prophet of the Magi. Inspired by his lectures, I went to the library and read the hymns of Zoroaster and thought to myself, “Wow! God talked to someone who wasn’t Jewish!” This started my life-long quest for the generic God in the world’s religions.
For many years, I’ve been active in interfaith work, and my friends and colleagues here in Houston form a tapestry of the world’s religions. I have learned from them. Now that I’m retired, I’m a little old man who lives on the fourth floor of the Rice University Library, still steeped in the world’s religions.
Today, I will be your guide to the Afterlife. You may have been hoping for Beatrice and Dante, but the worship committee wasn’t quite able to conjure them up. I’m going to give you a three-layer view of how people — both ancient and modern — have viewed Afterlife. This is what we in psychology call a “developmental” view of religion because it reflects the way both individuals and societies normally mature.
2. Magic, Deeds and Universalism as Levels of Religious Development
The most rudimentary level of religious development is MAGIC, which includes bribery or other manipulation of the gods in order to guarantee a positive outcome for your Afterlife. In the middle layer, Afterlife is dependent on your DEEDS during your life on Earth, and the history of religious art illustrates the development of this idea across time and cultures. (Interestingly, MAGIC has often been practiced in conjunction with GOOD DEEDS.) The top layer of development is UNIVERSALISM, the concept that God is too good to condemn anyone to Eternal Hell, and that all humans will go to Heaven, either immediately or eventually.
Most people in the world, regardless of their religion, believe that judgment for the Afterlife is determined by one’s deeds in this life. Simply stated, if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, you go to Heaven. But if your bad deeds outweigh your good deeds, you go to Hell.
This is the story of humanity. My point is that human beings across time and culture share one story, although I must tell you that in the East, after an intermediate stage of Heaven or Hell, you have a “sequel” — called “reincarnation“. In other words, in the East, your deeds affect not only your intermediate destination of Heaven or Hell, but also determine the condition of your next life.
3. A Final Judgment of Deeds as the Intermediate Level of Religious Development
a. The Egyptian Book of the Dead
The oldest judgment scene we have in art is a depiction of the EGYPTIAN Book of the Dead which has been seen in tomb art as early as about 3,000 BCE. After the deceased goes into the darkness (which is the body of Nut), he or she comes forth into the light, into the Great Hall of Truth. Osiris is the King of the Afterlife, and Isis is his queen. For over 3,500 years, Osiris was known as the “Resurrection and the Life”. Your deeds in life were judged by weighing your heart against a feather, and woe to those whose heart is heavy with sin!
Next we have judgment in ZOROASTRIANISM, the religion of the Magi. Here, three angels preside over judgment — Mithra, Sraosha, and Rashnu. Rashnu holds the scales, Sarosha is the judge, and Mithra listens to appeals. Your good deeds are weighed against your bad deeds, and then you pass over a bridge. If your good deeds are heavier, the bridge is wide open to you, and you pass over easily. If your evil deeds outweigh your good ones, the bridge becomes narrow, and you fall into Hell. This razor-sharp bridge imagery lives on in Shi’ite Islam.
Next we move from West to East. Most Westerners think that reincarnation is instantaneous, but this is not generally so. For the overwhelming majority of HINDUS and BUDDHISTS, there is an intermediate state between death and re-birth. This intermediate state is presided over by Yama or Yamaraj. In HINDU mythology, Yama was the first king and king of the dead. His assistants weigh your good deeds and, depending on the outcome, you go to Heaven or Hell for three generations. In BUDDHISM, as in its parent religion, Yama judges the dead. Yama is known as “Yama” in Tibet, Nepal, Southeast Asia and Western China. In Eastern China, Korea, and Japan, his name changes, but he is always the same fair judge of the dead. Where he is the king of Heaven in Hinduism, he presides over Hell in Buddhism. In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, a twelfth-century Buddhist work, the intermediate state lasts for 49 days before you are re-born.
4. Magic as the Rudimentary Level of Religious Development
Now let’s step back to analyze the way MAGIC is used to influence Afterlife. Obviously, we are aware of cultures in both the Eastern and Western hemispheres that have used human or animal sacrifice to bribe the gods to do or not do something the petitioner asks. However, this practice has been abandoned by the world’s major religions and can be found in only indigenous religions today. On the other hand, belief in magical powers is still very much a part of our modern culture when it comes to “stacking the deck” in favor of a Heavenly Afterlife.
In most religions, there is a tension between the moral justice of judgment according to deeds and magic to insure a positive verdict. The keys to effective magic are that:
(1) You have to be “in the club”, and (2) You or your priest must know the “secret words”.
a. Magic in the Egyptian Book of the Dead
In ancient Egypt, the scales of judgment are older than the pyramids, but they co-exist with the magic text of the Egyptian Book of the Dead that enables the deceased to overcome past sins. Countering this are not only the scales, but the instruction for Merikare (2200 BCE) which reinforces the idea of judgment according to deeds.
Additionally, there is the story of Si-Osiris (son of Osiris) and his father, Setne Khaemweset (fourth son of Ramesses II). Si-Osiris is a seer. He and his father watch a funeral procession in which a rich man was being carried with his elaborate belongings to a princely tomb. Shortly after this, they observed the funeral of a poor man wrapped only in a cloth who was being taken for burial in the desert sand. The Egyptian prince remarks to his son that he hopes for a good funeral in preparation for a glorious Afterlife, but his seer son remarks that all things are not as they appear to be. He puts his father into a trance, and the two are transported to the land of the dead where the evil rich man is suffering a hellish fate and the righteous poor man is being comforted by Osiris, Isis, and the Egyptian gods, and is living afterlife in regal splendor.
In ancient Greece, the Afterlife in very early times was seen as a very gloomy place where everyone went. But by the time of Plato, the idea of judgment according to deeds had developed. In Plato’s Republic, the story is told about Er, the world’s oldest recorded near-death experiencer, who revives on his funeral pyre and tells of a judgment at death by three judges. The good ascend to Paradise, and the evil descend to Hell. But after a period of time, Plato also mentions the possibility of reincarnation. Pythagoras also was an advocate of reincarnation. In the mysteries that were popular in the later Greek and Roman periods, we are given a chance for an “up-grade” in the Afterlife via the magical rites of the mysteries of Orpheus, Dionysus, Demeter and Persephone, Mithra, Isis and Osiris, etc. According to the mysteries of Orpheus, one of the things you were to say was, “I am a child of Earth and the starry Heaven, but Heaven is my home”. Here again, you have to be in the club, and you have to know the secret words.
c. Magic in Judaism’s Day of Atonement
In ancient Judaism, the sins of the Jewish people were magically put into a goat (scapegoat) on the Day of Atonement. Here again, you have to be “in the club” and you (or the priest) have to know the secret words (Leviticus 16:21-22). Modern Jews no longer do this, knowing that God hears our prayers.
d. Magic in Christianity’s Faith in the Name of Jesus
In Christianity, this magic level is practiced by those who say that “belief in Jesus” assures an exclusive ticket to Heaven. You have to be “in the club” (that is, be a Christian), and you have to know the secret words, which in Fundamentalist Christianity are found in John 3:16 or John 14:6. While Liberal Christians and many moderate Christians see Jesus as the “suffering servant” of Isaiah who died to bring us the word, Fundamentalist Christians delight in being “saved“. That belief alone will save you is an idea as old as the followers of the Hindu gods Shiva and Lord Krishna. Its positive side is the devotional path in which the followers identify with and emulate the god. In Christianity, we see this positive emulation in those kind and loving souls who model their lives on Jesus. One is reminded of the words of the beautiful old Gospel hymn, “In the Garden”:
“He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own.”
e. Magic in Hinduism’s Devotion to a God’s Name
In Hinduism, the devotional path is expressed in the prayer:
“Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare”, in other words, “Krishna, Krishna, Redeemer, Redeemer.”
Magic in Hinduism is best illustrated by the idea that if you die with the name of Vishnu or one of his incarnations, such as Rama or Krishna, on your lips all of your sins are taken away and you go straight to Nirvana (heaven). There are times when we all need a little magic. The last words of Gandhi were “Rama, Rama.”
f. Magic in Buddhist Texts and Chants
In Buddhism, magic is represented in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Being “in the club” (that is, being Buddhist) and having your relative or a monk read the secret words of the Book of the Dead by your corpse. This will enable you to become aware in the Afterlife and chose the things which will assure you a good re-birth. Also in Pure Land Buddhism by invoking the name of the Buddha at death, you will be transported to a Pure Land of Bliss in the West by Amitabha (the Buddha of Infinite Light), who is also known as O-Mi-To (China) and Amida (Japan) (Flotz, 2004, p. 73; Nigosian, 2000, p. 89). There you can continue the process of liberation under blissful conditions. Another “savior” Bodhisattva is Ti-tsang and anyone who chants his name will have their sins wiped away (Teiser, 1988, p. 187).
5. Universalism as the Highest Level of Religious Development
a. Universalism in Zoroastrianism
Having looked at the developmental level below judgment by deeds, let us look at the level above it — UNIVERSALISM. The concept of Universalism as an idea is as old as Zoroaster. Around 1600 – 1200 BCE (like Moses, the exact date of his life is not known), Zoroaster preached these basic concepts; see if they sound familiar:
This idea may be as old as Zoroaster, but it is as new as modern-day near-death experiencers, many of whom died into Hell but found themselves rescued when they called out to God or (in the West) called out to God or Jesus.
“We are not discouraged by the time it takes to save all the humans and all of the animals.”
When one looks at the plight of humanity through the eyes of a parent, it is easy to see that Universalism makes sense. God is infinitely nicer than the best human beings you know. If you are a panentheist like me, you know that God is in all of us, and we are all in God. God knows the assets and limitations of each human soul. Unlike the State Board of Pardons and Parole, God knows how to rehabilitate people.
Once upon a time before time mattered, people worshiped the Great Spirit, saw every living thing as possessing a spirit, and saw Afterlife as a Happy Hunting Ground. That sounds Universalist to me. So maybe we have come full circle. To quote Jesus in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas:
“Have you discovered the beginning, then, so that you are seeking the end? For where the beginning is, the end will be.”
As a Universalist Christian, I look forward to the time when, as Jesus taught, God will save the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son.
1. Introduction to Spiritually Transformative Experiences
Religious experiences, currently known by the term, “Spiritually Transformative Experiences” (STEs) have been studied scientifically for the past 150 years by social scientists and biomedical researchers. For purposes of this study, Spiritually Transformative Experiences have been divided into four categories:
While most reported STEs are “positive” in that they are pleasant and provide clarity or insight, a significant minority of reported cases are “negative” in that they are frightening. As indicated by the word, “Transformative,” the most consistent characteristic of both positive and negative STEs is that they change people’s lives.
Most of you know me as a Professor of Psychology, but you may not realize that my main research focus over the past 20 years has been to ascertain the role that religious experience plays in the human psyche. The material I research can usually be found in no more than one or two chapters of a Psychology of Religion textbook. Just let me remind you again: Research into Spiritual Experiences CAN BE and IS conducted using the same criteria that we use to investigate any other psychological phenomena (Vincent, 2006). These include:
(2) Sociological surveys that tell who and what percentage of the population have STEs
(3) Psychological tests that measure not only the mental health of the individual but also evaluate the depth of mystical experiences
(4) Biomedical and neuroscience testing, including the EEG, PET-scan, and functional MRI to, in some cases, document genuine altered states of consciousness and demonstrate that mystical experiences are not just wishful thinking; additionally EEGs and EKGs allow us to document death in NDEs that occur in hospitals
(5) Sociological and psychological investigations that assess the after-effects these experiences have on people
Even though we are talking about human experience that is basically “religious” in nature, scientists have a legitimate role to investigate it using all the tools of analysis at our disposal. In this way, we separate ourselves from the sensational and fictitious accounts of the National Enquirer and gradually move toward a greater understanding of the broad spectrum of human experience.
2. Surveys of Spiritually Transformative Experiences
Current research documents the following facts:
(1) A large percentage of the population have experienced STEs.
(2) The overwhelming majority of those having STEs are mentally normal and not psychotic.
(3) STEs change people’s lives for the better (Vincent, 2006).
To date, research has shown that negative STEs are far less common than positive ones.
Somewhat later, using 4,000 cases at the RERC, Merete Jakobsen (1999, p. iv) also found 4% negative experiences.
Recently, Zinzhong Yao and Paul Badham (2007, pp. 9,45-46) of the RERC found in studying 3,196 Chinese that 56.7% had religious experiences, but only 8.5% of them were negative. They compared this to a 1987 British survey which found 12% negative experiences (Yao & Badham 2007, p. 185).
Regarding NDEs, in a monumental analysis of over 21 studies, Nancy Evans Bush (2006) found 17.2% of them to be negative.
Also, most researchers of STEs feel that the numbers are under-reported because of the stigma sometimes associated with having a negative STE.
3. Judgment and Afterlife in Ancient and Modern World Religions
Do Spiritually Transformative Experiences prove the existence of a God who interacts with us personally? Do encounters with dead humans prove the existence of an afterlife? From my perspective, they point in that direction for this reason:
Virtually all religions have their genesis in the Spiritually Transformative Experience of their founder.
Also, the subsequent theology of virtually all ancient and contemporary religions includes some form of Judgment by Divine Beings and subsequent relegation to Heaven or Hell based on the ratio of good to bad deeds of the deceased person while on Earth. Hell, of course, is the ultimate experience of the “Dark Side.”
Before we go any further, it is important to realize that when one studies the experiential aspect of comparative religion that:
The angels, saints, and jinn of the West = The “gods” of the East.
This is because they perform the same function. This will become apparent as we look at some variations in cultural expectations surrounding Judgment.
In Ancient Egypt, we have a Judgment in the Book of the Dead whereby the heart of the deceased is weighed against a feather, and woe to those whose heart is heavy with sin! This Judgment is presided over by the savior god Osiris and his wife Isis (Budge, 1895/1967, pp. 253-261).
Later, in Zoroastrianism (the religion of the Magi), Judgment is conducted by three angels whose duty is to weigh the good deeds against the bad deeds of the deceased. If his or her life reflects an overwhelming preponderance of GOOD deeds, they are allowed to proceed across a WIDE bridge; if the deceased has been more evil than good, the bridge becomes narrow, and he or she falls into hell.
This same bridge imagery lives on in Shiite Islam where it is the job of the Angel Gabriel to hold the divine scales of Judgment (Vincent, 1999, pp.5-6; Masumian, 1995, p.79).
In Medieval Christian artwork, the Archangel Michael still holds the scales, but Jesus sits above him as judge.
Now let us move from West to East. In Hinduism and its children, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism, Yamaraj (King Yama) is the judge of the dead. In all these religions, weighing your good deeds against your bad deeds on the divine scales of justice determines not only whether or not you go to heaven or hell in the intermediate state but also the status of your next life after reincarnation (Masumian, 1995, pp.5-7, 143). To me, reincarnation is the only major theological difference in world religions. The East has it, and in the West, reincarnation is only a minority position (such as in the Christianity of the Gnostics and the Islamic sect of the Druze).
We see these same themes repeated in the Native American religions of North America, Mezzo-America, and South America where the themes of Paradise and Punishment are repeated (Nigosian, 2000, pp. 382, 384).
In virtually all religions, assignment of the deceased to the “Dark Side” is either:
(1) determined by God’s emissaries, or (2) determined by the natural law of the universe.
The following two examples describe distressing near-death experiences that turn positive. (Note that both contain graphic imagery of hell.)
“I was in hell … I cried up to God, and it was by the power of God and the mercy of God that I was permitted to come back.” (Rommer, 2000, p. 42)
“God, I’m not ready, please help me … I remember when I screamed (this), an arm shot out of the sky and grabbed my hand at the last second. I was falling off the end of the funnel, the lights flashing; and the heat was really something.” (Greyson & Bush, 1992, p. 100)
“It was not peaceful, much baggage, much unfinished business. All things are connected. You are not your body, you are a soul. Mine was in limbo. I knew I would be in limbo for a long time. I had a life review and was sent to the void. The life review was so disquieting. I saw many different ways my life could have taken. I saw my past life in there and other past lives I was unable to recall.” (Vincent, 1994, p. 119)
It is interesting to note that these experiences are highly similar despite differences in time or culture. Thomas Harriot (who was a member of the Jamestown Colony in 17th Century Virginia) recorded two stories of NDEs told to him by the Roanoke Indians which, significantly, took place prior to the arrival of the British settlers. The first story told of an Indian who died and was buried; the next day, the grave seemed to move, and he was dug up. He told of being very near a terrible place of torment, but the gods saved him and let him come back to life to teach his friends what they should do to avoid hell. The second story was similar, except that in this story, the Indian went to Paradise (Baym, pp. 76 – 80).
James McClenon (1991) discusses NDEs in Medieval China and Japan. In one case, he tells of a ruler named Muh who died but revived 2-1/2 days later. He told of meeting the Emperor of Heaven, hearing beautiful music, seeing 10,000 dances, and returning to life with prophetic information. Prof. McClenon notes that these Medieval Taoist NDEs resemble modern ones.
5. Deathbed Visions
The next example describes the death-bed vision of a 7th Century Mahayana (Northern) Buddhist. They believe that the Amida Buddha is a “savior god” who can rescue you from hell and take you to the pure land of bliss. Once there, you can work out your final ascent to Nirvana under blissful conditions:
“A butcher is dying. He first has a vision of hell, whereupon he was terrified into chanting the name of ‘Amida;’ He then had a vision of the Amida Buddha offering him a lotus seat and passed peacefully away.” (McClenon, 1994, p.176)
“This evil presence was masculine and seemed to come from the wall facing me, nearer and nearer as though straining to get me. I saw nothing but the blackness of the room, as my sister had (previously), but although it is 20 years or more ago, I’ll never disbelieve that there are powers of evil. A very violent family had lived there.”
The second account is Danish and takes place in the woods:
“As we progressed, I found several dead birds along the path. We reached an open space where there had been a bonfire. I felt more and more anxious and eventually said to my husband, ‘I don’t know how you feel, but I have a sense of evil and horror in this wood.’ My husband said he had not wanted to tell me, but he had heard that a satanic cult had used the wood. I wanted to go home immediately. I find it extraordinary that human evil can change the whole atmosphere in a large wood.”
Other religious figures in history have had encounters with evil, including Jesus’ encounter with Satan recorded in the Synoptic Gospels and Buddha’s encounter with the demon, Mara. The following is St. Teresa of Avila‘s account of her mystical experience of hell:
“The entrance, I thought, resembled a very long, narrow passage like a furnace, very low, dark and closely confined; the ground seemed to be full of water which looked like filthy, evil-smelling mud, and in it were many wicked-looking reptiles. At the end, there was a hollow place scooped out of a wall like a cupboard, and it was there that I found myself in close confinement. But the sight of all this was pleasant by comparison to what I felt there … I felt a fire within my soul, the nature of which I am utterly incapable of describing … The fact is that I cannot find words to describe that interior fire and that despair which is greater than the most grievous torture and pains … There was no light, and everything was in the blackest darkness” (Bush, 2002)
There are accounts of individuals who are given tours of both heaven and hell. One is the story of Arda Viraf, a 9th Century follower of the religion of the Magi who was given hensbane (a non-hallucinogenic drug) that put him in a coma for several days. (Segal, 2004, pp.195-196) The Magi had chosen him for this holy quest because of his righteousness. He awoke to tell of his tour of heaven and hell. The psychiatrist George Ritchie (1998, pp.37-41) who had an NDE in 1943 tells of visiting hellish realms invisible but on the earth-plane, as well as tours of other realms where people were trapped because of their own desires. All around these lost souls were Beings of Light just waiting to assist them out of their hellish state. During his NDE, Ritchie reports that he was given this tour by Jesus Christ himself!
Regarding mystical religious experiences, Merete Jakobsen (1999, p.52) notes that evil encounters are terminated when the person calls upon God or God’s emissary, usually through prayer.
8. Hell is for Rehabilitation and is Not Eternal
Is there a way out of hell? Most (but not all) religious experience researchers think so. Both Nancy Evans Bush (2002) and Barbara Rommer (2000, p. 27) note that these negative NDEs are for instruction and are thought to be a “wake-up call” to those who have them. This echoes the purpose of hellish experience as expressed in the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Evans-Wentz, pp. 28-68).
“For Christ also suffered for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey.” (1 Peter 3:18-20, NRSV)
“For this reason, the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is, they might live in the spirit as God does.” (1 Peter 4:6, NRSV)
It would seem from modern NDE accounts like some of those mentioned above; Jesus is still rescuing people from hell (Vincent, 2003). There is also an interesting 18th Century autobiographical NDE account by Dr. George de Benneville who died of a “consumption-like” illness and revived at his wake 42 hours later (Vincent & Morgan, 2006). He told of seeing angels rescuing people from hell, after they had repented.
As in the Buddhist DBV above, the Amida Buddha stands ready to save any human who finds him or herself in hell if they call out to him as few as ten times (Nigosian, 2000, p.89). It should be noted that in all of the Eastern religions, hell is not permanent but is a method for instruction. In the West, this was the view of the Christian church for its first 500 years but has become a minority view since that time (Hanson, 1899/2007, p. 139-141). In Islam, there are a few references in the Hadith to the view that hell is not permanent, but this view is held by only a few of the Sufis (Vincent, 2005, p. 12).
Only 150 years ago, scientific research into STEs began. The scientific methods used to do this research are the same as those used to research any other social or biomedical phenomena. We now know that, like positive STEs, negative STEs are widespread, that they occur in people who are normal and not mentally ill, and that they change people’s lives for the better. While it may be too early to reach any final theological conclusions from this data, it would appear that there is a universal underpinning to the religions of the world, that humans are accountable for their actions, and that nothing good is ever lost.
Hinduism is very diverse, but all Hindus believe in the Law of Karma. Karma means that good actions bring good results and evil actions bring evil results, i.e., your actions in this life determine your fate in the afterlife and reincarnation. For Hindus, union of the soul (Atman) with the Most High God (Brahman) is the ultimate goal. Although the Atman and Brahman are of the same substance, the soul retains its identity when it unites with Brahman (Moksha) in virtually all denominations of Hinduism. It is analogous, they say, to a drop of water (the soul) that unites with the ocean (God) but always knows it is a drop of water. This concept is retained in most forms of Buddhism but changes in some sects of Theravada Buddhism which claims that the soul loses its identity in God (the Infinite), as stated by John Hick his book, Death and Eternal Life.
In Hinduism, the high God (Brahman) is beyond form, but is manifest in many forms (gods). After all, how is God manifest to a hamster? Here are some Hindu verses that speak to this:
“Whatever form any devotee with faith wishes to worship Me, I make that faith of his steady” (Bhagavad-Gita 7.21).
“Whosoever offers to Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water-that offering of Love, of the pure-hearted I accept” (Bhagavad-Gita 9.29).
“By Me is pervaded all this universe, by Me in the form of the unmanifest. All beings rest in Me, and I do not rest in them” (Bhagavad-Gita 9.4).
2. Universalism in Buddhism
Buddhism does not deal with God per se, but rather is a “fast track” salvation system of the reincarnation type which allows for the Buddhist to attach him/herself to other religions such as the shamanic Bon religion of Tibet, Daoism in China, or the Shinto religion in Japan.
Most Westerners think that reincarnation is instantaneous, but this is not generally so. For the overwhelming majority of Hindus and Buddhists, there is an intermediate state between death and rebirth. This intermediate state is presided over by Yama or Yamaraj. In Hindu mythology, Yama was the first king and king of the dead. His assistants weigh your good deeds and bad deeds and, depending on the outcome, send you to Heaven or Hell for three generations. Other Hindus assert that Karma is constantly reassessed on a sort of “Karma credit card,” and that the length of your stay in Heaven or Hell is determined by how much “good” or “bad Karma you have “charged.” Obviously your Karma also determines your fate regarding reincarnation.
Saviors (avatars) are also a part of Hinduism. Dying with the name of Vishnu or one of his incarnations on your lips (such as Rama or Krishna), assures that all of your sins will be taken away and you advance directly to paradise. The last words of Gandhi were, “Rama, Rama.”
In Buddhism, as in its parent religion, Yama judges the dead. Yama is known as “Yama” in Tibet, Nepal, Southeast Asia and Western China. In Eastern China, Korea, and Japan, his name changes, but he is always the same fair judge of the dead. Although he is the king of Heaven in Hinduism, he presides over Hell in Buddhism. In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, a twelfth-century Buddhist work, the intermediate state before rebirth lasts 49 days.
In Pure Land Buddhism, by invoking the name of the “savior” BodhisattvaAmitabha Buddha at death, you will be transported to a Pure Land of Bliss by Amitabha (the Buddha of Infinite Light), who is also known as O-Mi-To (China) and Amida (Japan). Once there, you can continue the process of liberation under blissful conditions for as long as it takes. Other Pure Land Savior Bodhisattvas include Ti-tsang and Guanyin (Khuan-Yin) the female Bodhisattva of Compassion.
3. Universalism in Sikhism and Jainism
The other children of Hinduism — Sikhism and Jainism — also have a judgment after death by Yama (king of the Dead), reincarnation, and the potential for ALL to achieve union with God (the Infinite).
Sikhism is a merger of Islam and Hinduism that developed in the 16th Century when its founder, Guru Nanak, had a revelation from God. The god of the Sikhs is a personal god, much like the god of the Abrahamic religions; however, the Sikh salvation system is the Hindu model of reincarnation in which ALL have the potential to reach the highest state:
“‘How then is truth to be attained? How is the veil of illusion to be destroyed? Nanak says, ‘through obedience to the divine order, which is written in your heart.'”
Jainism is a religion of the “axial age” (6th Century BCE), when Mahavira, the last of its twenty-four “holy ones,” appeared. Hindus and religious scholars see Jainism as an off-shoot of Hinduism, but some Jains maintain that it evolved independently. Jains see the Universe as having always existed, but having different eons or ages. Humans reincarnate through heavens, earth, and hells, but ALL have the possibility of reaching the infinite.
So we see that Universalism is fundamental to the ancient religion of Hinduism and its children. Hell is not permanent in the intermediate state between death and rebirth, and the process of reincarnation allows for ALL to ultimately unite with God (the Infinite).
Some years ago, I was attending a Hindu workshop for teachers, and they talked about their religious “children,” namely, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. I can’t recall if there was a Jain in attendance, but I do remember talking at length with the Sikh who presented that day. Can you imagine this happening with Western religions? Think of a Zoroastrian conference where Jews, Christians and Muslims show up and congenially admit that Zoroastrianism is the basis for all three of their religions!
Omar Khayyám is one of my heroes. I have read translations of his poem, the Rubaiyat, hundreds of times over the past 50 years. Amazingly, each repetition still brings some fresh insight! Rubai means “quatrain,” a four-line stanza in which there are two sets of rhyming lines. The Rubaiyat is a collection of quatrains written over a period of many years by Omar Khayyám, a Sufi mystic living in the late 11th and early 12th Centuries.
Within Omar’s poetry, I recognize a person much like myself: someone unable to be an orthodox believer but too optimistic to be agnostic! His verses reflect the impossibility of certainty in religion, philosophy, or science; he questions the theological tenants of all religions. Ultimately, he was simply a lover of God. He believed his own mystical experiences which became the basis of his faith.
287 Although the creeds number some seventy-three, I hold with none but that of loving Thee; What matter faith, unfaith, obedience, sin? Thou’rt all we need, the rest is vanity.
2. Omar Khayyám: The Theologian
One of Omar’s most important theological truths is that God is ONE. His mystical experiences convinced him that there is ONE TRUTH behind all the world’s religions:
63 Hearts with the light of love illuminated well, Whether in mosque or synagogue they dwell, Have their names written in the book of love, Unvexed by hopes of heaven or fears of Hell.
Omar had the good fortune to live in Nishapur, a prosperous city on the Silk Road, at a time when the Moslems had ruled Iran for 500 years. Significantly, a large minority of followers of the Zoroastrian religion whom Omar called “Magians” still resided in this area. He was also acquainted with the beliefs of smaller religious minorities in the region – Jews and Christians, as well as Buddhist travelers. In his poem, he shows respect for all of these religions. He recognizes that ALL yearn for God – that all are seeking the ONE.
34 Pagodas, just as mosques, are homes of prayer, ‘Tis prayer that church-bells chime unto the air, Yea, Church and Ka’ba, Rosary and Cross Are all but divers tongues of world-wide prayer.
3. Omar Khayyám: His Parallels With Jesus
While any monotheist may become a Sufi, they are most often associated with Islam. Ultra-orthodox Sufis may choose to obey Islamic law but add some mystical component. Other Sufis (like Omar) view Islamic law much the way Jesus viewed the ritualistic Jewish Law – that it is more important to obey the spirit than the letter of the law. Consequently, Omar was admired by some Sufis who used his poem as a teaching tool but, like Jesus, he was cursed by those who were victims of his barbed criticisms of religious hypocrisy. In another behavior reminiscent of Jesus, Omar openly associated with sinners. Both believed that God wants us to speak, act, and live from our hearts.
368 Hear now Khayyam’s advice, and bear in mind, Consort with revelers, though they be maligned, Cast down the gates of abstinence and prayer, Yea, drink, and even rob, but oh! Be kind!
4. Omar Khayyám: The Polymath
Omar was a scientist, astronomer, and mathematician. Everyone who has ever taken algebra has been taught his binomial theorem! As an astronomer, he revised the Persian calendar to be as accurate as our present Georgian calendar, but he did so 500 years earlier and without the use of telescopes!
Many people have attempted to translate the Rubaiyat; some translations are academic, literal, and “dry as a bone,” while others are simply paraphrases. At one time or another, I have owned 21 different translations. Probably the best-known one is that of Edmund Fitzgerald who first published in 1859 but subsequently made 4 other translations over the next 30 years. It is Fitzgerald’s version of this familiar verse that falls so easily on our ears:
“A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou, A book of poems beneath the bough.”
5. Omar Khayyám: The Poet of the World
However, my favorite translator is E. H. Whinfield because of his effort to balance the meaning of the poems with a pleasing rhythm. While keeping the words as literally accurate as possible, he takes enough “poetic license” to insure that the poems remain beautiful when read aloud. Whinfield made 3 translations of the Rubaiyat. His second translation was selected by Joseph Campbell for the epic series, The Masks of God, so I assume that Campbell favored this translation too.
Contrary to what you may have assumed when you were exposed to the Rubaiyat as an adolescent, the poem is NOT about living for the moment without regard for tomorrow! Omar does not advocate irresponsibility, but he does want to persuade people to BE ALIVE IN THE MOMENT – to enjoy what we have today – NOW! He is addressing those who live “in the past” or those who imagine that happiness is not possible until some imagined goal is achieved or current problem resolved!
30 To-day is thine to spend, but not tomorrow, Counting on morrows breedeth naught but sorrow; Oh! Squander not this breath that heaven hath lent thee Nor make too sure another breath to borrow!
6. Omar Khayyám: The Philosopher of the World
Omar’s respect for the insight of other religions includes the “middle way” of Buddha and Lao Tzu which asserts that it is best to live modestly – shunning poverty or wealth.
168 Let him rejoice who has a loaf of bread, A little nest wherein to lay his head; Is slave to none and no man slaves for him; In truth, his lot is wondrous well bested.
Like Jesus who told us that “the Kingdom of God is within you,” Omar claims that one can attain mystic union with God in the “here and now.” This is the universal insight repeated by all mystics throughout the ages. When our primary goal is to truly seek and love God, we are joined by persons from a diversity of religious affiliations, and academic arguments on textual minutia become irrelevant.
49 In Synagogue and cloister, mosque and school, Hell’s terrors and heaven’s lures men’s bosoms rule, But they who master Allah’s mysteries, Sow not this empty chaff their heart to fool.
Omar explains that some time may be needed to achieve mystic unity with God – it can’t be bought or obtained through reason alone:
302 The “Truth” will not be shown to lofty thought, Nor yet with lavished gold may it be bought; But, if you yield your life for fifty years, From words to “states” you may perchance be brought.
One of the many points argued by scholars is Omar’s meaning of the word, “wine.” Obviously, wine is forbidden in Islam. Is the meaning of “wine” literal, symbolic, or both? Personally, I think Omar often uses “wine” literally as “beverage,” but he also uses it metaphorically to express “mystical ecstasy.” In this stanza, “wine” is clearly symbolic:
262 In taverns better far commune with Thee Than pray in mosques and fail Thy face to see! Oh, first and last of all Thy creatures Thou ‘Tis Thine to burn, and Thine to cherish me!
In this stanza, the meaning of “wine” is literal:
349 Tell Khayyam, for a master of the schools, He strangely misinterprets my plain rules: Where have I said that wine is wrong for all? ‘Tis lawful for the wise, but not for fools.
46 Khayyam! Why weep you that your life is bad? What boots it thus to mourn? Rather be glad. He that sins not can make no claim to mercy, Mercy was made for sinners – be not sad.
7. Omar Khayyám: The Cosmologist
Omar touches on the idea of predestination, which is a major theological position in Islam, as well as the “Christianity” of Protestant Reformer John Calvin. As an astronomer, Omar is aware of the predictability of most of the visible cosmos, and he fears that predestination is a possibility:
100 When Allah mixed my clay, He knew full well My future acts, and could each one foretell; Without His will no act of mine was wrought; Is it then just to punish me in Hell?
One of the recurring analogies in Omar’s poetry is God as “potter” and humankind as “pots.” Literally, we are made of dust, and to dust we return. Omar reminds us that the clay in our earthenware cup could, in the past, have been human!
32 This jug did once like me, love’s sorrows taste, And bonds of beauty’s tresses once embraced. This handle, when you see upon its side, Has many a time twined round a slender waist!
He acknowledges the possibility that there may be no afterlife:
107 Drink wine! Long must you sleep within the tomb, Without a friend, or wife to cheer your gloom; Hear what I say, and tell it not again, “Never again can withered tulips bloom.”
He hopes that, at death, all our questions will be answered:
87 Make haste! Soon must you quit this life below, And pass the veil, and Allah’s secrets know; Make haste to take your pleasure while you may, You wot not whence you come, nor whither go.
This stanza is a favorite of mine and Joseph Campbell’s:
491 Man is a cup, his soul the wine therein, Flesh is a pipe, spirit the voice within; O Khayyám, have you fathomed what man is? A magic lantern with a light therein!
8. Omar Khayyám: The Sufi Universalist
Omar knows he is a heretic and cannot be otherwise:
60 From Mosque an outcast, and to church a foe, Allah! Of what clay didst thou form me so? Like sceptic monk or ugly courtesan, No hopes have I above, no joys below.
293 Did no fair rose my paradise adorn, I would make shift to deck it with a thorn; And if I lacked my prayer-mats, beads, and Shaikh, Those Christian bells and stoles I would not scorn.
A discussion about Omar wouldn’t be complete without mentioning his affinity for Zoroastrians. Another Sufi, Attar of Nishapur, went so far as to declare, “We are the eternal Magians – we’re not Moslems.” Attar felt that the Islamic religion, as it was practiced, lacked the quality of love that dominated the old Persian religion of Zoroaster and Christianity. In the next verse, Omar talks about being a Zoroastrian and not being a good Moslem:
281 Ofttimes I plead my foolishness to Thee, My heart contracted with perplexity; I gird me with the Magian zone, and why? For shame so poor a Moslem to be.
Some scholars postulate that Omar was a Zoroastrian and that his frequent use of “tavern” is a symbol for “Magian fire temple,” but the following verse suggests otherwise:
334 Am I a wine-bibber? What if I am? Zoroastrian or infidel? Suppose I am? Each sect miscalls me, but I heed them not, I am my own, and what I am, I am.
9. Omar Khayyám: The Panentheist
Sufiism is pantheist or panentheist. Pantheist means that God is all. Panentheist means that God is all and more. Panentheism is acceptable to Islam – as it is to Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism. The next verse speaks to this:
389 Nor you nor I can read the eternal decree To that enigma we can find no key; They talk of you and me behind the veil But, if that veil be lifted, where are we?
The mystic knows the panentheistic reality that God is everywhere, although many people fail to realize this or take the time to recognize it. The following verse echoes William Blake‘s idea that, if the doors of perception were cleansed, all could see the reality of God and God’s Universe:
247 The world is baffled in its search for Thee, Wealth cannot find Thee, no , nor poverty; Thou’rt very near us, but our ears are deaf, Our eyes are blinded that we may not see!
305 Allah, our Lord, is merciful, though just; Sinner! Despair not, but His mercy trust! For though today you perish in your sins, Tomorrow He’ll absolve your crumbling dust.
318 Sure of thy grace, for sins why need I fear? How can the pilgrim faint whilst Thou art near? On the last day Thy grace will wash me white, And all my “black record” will disappear.
193 They say, when the last trump shall sound its knell, Our Friend will sternly judge, and doom to hell. Can aught but good from perfect goodness come? Compose your trembling hearts, ’twill all be well.
276 O Thou! Who know’st the secret thoughts of all, In time of sorest need who aidest all, Grant me repentance, and accept my plea, O Thou who dost accept the pleas of all!
204 Can alien Pharisees Thy kindness tell, Like us, Thy intimates, who nigh Thee dwell? Thou say’st, “All sinners will I burn with fire.” Say that to strangers, we know Thee too well!
This last verse refers to mystical insight in which the knowledge of God is gained directly. Like mystics and Universalists everywhere, Omar knows that in the end, we will ALL be united with God.