Categories
God Is With Us Religion

Selected Resources

By Dr. Ken R. Vincent

HomeChapter 7Chapter 16
DedicationChapter 8Chapter 17
ForewordChapter 9Appendix A
Chapter 1Chapter 10Appendix B
Chapter 2Chapter 11References
Chapter 3Chapter 12About Ken
Chapter 4Chapter 13Resources
Chapter 5Chapter 14Permissions
Chapter 6Chapter 15Acknowledge
God Is With Us Index

Table of Contents

  1. Websites on NDEs and other Spiritually Transformative Experiences
    a. The Alister Hardy Society Religious Experience Research Centre
    b. University of Virginia Medical School Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS)
    c. International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS)
    d. Near-Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF)
    e. Near-Death Experiences and the Afterlife
  2. Websites on Universalism
    a. Christian Universalist Association (CUA)
    b. The Universalist Herald
  3. Websites on Zoroaster
    a. Zoroaster (aka Zarathushtra)
    b. The Zoroastrian Connection with Judaism and Christianity
  4. Websites on the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
    a. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (arabiannights.org)
    b. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (theland.antgear.com)

1. Websites on NDEs and other Spiritually Transformative Experiences

a. The Alister Hardy Trust – (studyspiritualexperiences.org)

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.

b. University of Virginia Medical School Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS) – (virginia.edu)

This is the premier facility for research into life after death. DOPS was founded as a research unit of the Department of Psychiatric Medicine at UVA by Dr. Ian Stevenson in 1967. It is a unit of the Psychiatry and Neurobehavorial Sciences of the University of Virginia’s Health System headed by Dr. Bruce Greyson. Utilizing scientific methods, the researchers within DOPS investigate apparent paranormal phenomena, especially: (1) children who claim to remember previous lives (reincarnation), (2) near-death experiences, (3) out-of-body experiences, (4) apparitions and after-death communications, (5) deathbed visions, (6) psychophysiological studies of altered states of consciousness and psi, and (7) EEG Imaging Lab: experimental research of psi effects and altered states of consciousness.

c. International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) – (iands.org)

IANDS focuses most of its resources into providing the highest quality information available about NDE-related subjects. It is the only such membership group in the world. In addition to maintaining this information-rich website, IANDS publishes a peer-reviewed scholarly journal and a member newsletter, sponsors conferences and other programs, works with the media, and encourages the formation of regional discussion and support groups. IANDS’ purpose is to promote responsible, multi-disciplinary exploration of near-death and similar experiences, their effects on people’s lives, and their implications for beliefs about life, death, and human purpose.

d. Near-Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) – (nderf.org)

Dr. Jeffrey Long is a radiation oncologist in Tacoma, Washington and serves on the Board of Directors of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS). Dr. Long is actively involved in NDE research and recently published the a New York Times bestseller Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences. His wife, Jody Long is also a researcher and was on the Board of Directors for Seattle Friends of IANDS group. Jody is also the webmaster of this site. The Long’s also have other research sites relating to the NDE including: The Out-of-Body Experience Research Foundation (OBERF) and the After-Death Communication Research Foundation (ADCRF).

e. Near-Death Experiences and the Afterlife – (near-death.com)

Webmaster Kevin Williams maintains his website devoted to near-death experiences and the afterlife. NDE-related phenomena is also presented such as (1) NDE articles by the Webmaster, P.M.H. Atwater and an online book by Dr. Ken R. Vincent; (2) NDE archives; (3) profiles of NDE experts; (4) triggers of NDEs; (5) NDE skeptical arguments; (6) Religious NDEs; (7) Biblical support for NDEs; (8) Christian Universalism (universal salvation) (9) evidence of life after death; (10) out-of-body experiences; (11) reincarnation; (12) the paranormal; (13) after-death communications; (14) the Edgar Cayce revelations; (15) and other resources. This website also hosts the Survival After Death Information website.

  1. Websites on Universalism

a. Christian Universalist Association (CUA) – (christianuniversalist.org)

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.

b. The Universalist Herald – (universalist-herald.org)

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.

  1. Websites on Zoroaster

a. Zoroaster (aka Zarathushtra) – (zarathushtra.com)

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.

b. The Zoroastrian Connection with Judaism and Christianity – (fezana.org)

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.

  1. Websites on the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

a. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam _ (omarkhayyamnederland.com)

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.

b. The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam – (gutenberg.org)

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.

Categories
God Is With Us Religion

References

By Dr. Ken R. Vincent

HomeChapter 7Chapter 16
DedicationChapter 8Chapter 17
ForewordChapter 9Appendix A
Chapter 1Chapter 10Appendix B
Chapter 2Chapter 11References
Chapter 3Chapter 12About Ken
Chapter 4Chapter 13Resources
Chapter 5Chapter 14Permissions
Chapter 6Chapter 15Acknowledge
God Is With Us Index

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Sabom, M. (2000a). Response to Kenneth Ring’s “Religious wars in the near-death movement: Some personal reflections on Michael Sabom’s Light and Death.” Journal of Near-Death Studies, 18, 245-271. Reprinted with Permission.

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Zaleski, C. (1987). Otherworld journeys: Accounts of near-death experience in medieval and modern times. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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Permissions

By Dr. Ken R. Vincent

HomeChapter 7Chapter 16
DedicationChapter 8Chapter 17
ForewordChapter 9Appendix A
Chapter 1Chapter 10Appendix B
Chapter 2Chapter 11References
Chapter 3Chapter 12About Ken
Chapter 4Chapter 13Resources
Chapter 5Chapter 14Permissions
Chapter 6Chapter 15Acknowledge
God Is With Us Index

All the chapters in God Is With Us: What Near-Death and Other Spiritually Transformative Experiences Teach Us About God and Afterlife were initially published in the form of articles printed elsewhere. The articles previously published in the Journal of Near-Death Studies and De Numine are reproduced with permission. For the remainder of the articles, The Universalist Herald was granted First North American Serial Rights.

Chapter 1: The Search for God and the Afterlife in the Age of Science
Originally published in Journal of Near-Death Studies, 28 (3), Spring 2010, reprinted with permission.

Chapter 2: Developmental Revelation
Originally published in Universalist Herald, 153, 5, September / October 2002.

Chapter 3: Ken’s Guide to “Universals” In Religion
Originally published in Universalist Herald, 159, 5, September / October 2008.

Chapter 4: Separating the “Super” from the “Natural”
Originally published in De Numine, 42, Spring 2007, reprinted with permission.

Chapter 5: Religious Experiences of Jesus are Compatible with Modern Research
Originally published as “Religious Experience, Jesus, and Modern Research: An appraisal of the Jesus Seminar Findings” in De Numine, 49, Autumn 2010, reprinted with permission.

Chapter 6: Resurrection Appearances of Jesus as After-Death Communication
Originally published in Journal of Near-Death Studies, 30 (3), Spring 2012, reprinted with permission.

Chapter 7: Resurrection Appearances of Jesus as After-Death Communication (Rejoiner)
Originally published in Journal of Near-Death Studies, 30 (3), Spring 2012, reprinted with permission.

Chapter 8: Religious Experience Research Reveals Universalist Principles
Originally published as Religious “Experience and Universalism” in Universalist Herald, 160, 1, Winter 2010.

Chapter 9: Mystical Religious Experiences and Christian Universalism
Originally published as Chapter 7 , The Golden Thread, God’s Promise of Universal Salvation by Ken R. Vincent, 2005.

Chapter 10: The Near-Death Experience and Christian Universalism
Originally published in Journal of Near-Death Studies, 22(1), Fall 2003, reprinted with permission.

Chapter 11: An 18th Century Near-Death Experience: The Case of George de Benneville
Originally published in Journal of Near-Death Studies, 25 (1), Fall 2006, reprinted with permission.

Chapter 12: Zoroaster: The Prophet of the Magi and the First Universalist
Originally published in Universalist Herald, 158, 3, May / June 2007.

Chapter 13: Omar Khayyam: Sufi Universalist
Originally published in Universalist Herald, 158, 5, September / October 2007.

Chapter 14: Universal Salvation in Hinduism and Its Children
Originally published as “Hindu and Buddhist Universalism” in Universalist Herald, 160, 3, Summer 2010.

Chapter 15: A Scientific Investigation of the “Dark Side”
Originally published as “Dark Side STEs” in Universalist Herald, 160, 3, May / June 2009.

Chapter 16: Magic, Deeds, and Universalism: The Afterlife in World Religions
Originally published in Universalist Herald, 156, 4, July / August 2005.

Chapter 17: What NDEs and Other Spiritually Transformative Experiences Teach Us About God and the Afterlife
Originally published in DeNumine, No. 51 (9-13), autumn 2011.

Appendix A: The Salvation Conspiracy How Hell Was Made Eternal
Originally published in Universalist Herald, 157, 4, July / August 2006.

Appendix B: Where Have All the Universalists Gone?
Originally published in Universalist Herald, 157, 1, January / February 2006

Categories
God Is With Us Religion

Foreword

By Kevin R. Williams, B.Sc.

HomeChapter 7Chapter 16
DedicationChapter 8Chapter 17
ForewordChapter 9Appendix A
Chapter 1Chapter 10Appendix B
Chapter 2Chapter 11References
Chapter 3Chapter 12About Ken
Chapter 4Chapter 13Resources
Chapter 5Chapter 14Permissions
Chapter 6Chapter 15Acknowledge
God Is With Us Index

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:

Thanatology: near-death experiencesout-of-body experiencesafter-death communicationsdeathbed visionsthe scientific research of life after deathTheology: UniversalismJesus SeminarChristologyangelologyconceptions of afterlife in early civilizationsresurrectionreincarnationAnomalous Experiences: religious experiencespiritually transformative experiences (STEs)mysticismshamanismReligious Studies: science and religious studiescomparative religionsphenomenology of religionJewish and Christian originsmythologyConsciousness Studies: altered states of consciousnessneurosciencepsychiatrypsychedelic experiencesPsychology: psychology of religionpsychology of moral developmenttranspersonal psychologysocial psychologyanalytic psychologyphenomenological psychologyparapsychologyPhilosophy: phenomenologymetaphysicseastern philosophysocial philosophyHistoriography: ancient historyhistory of early Christianityhistory of UniversalismSocial Science: sociologysocial studiespsychical researchspirituality studies

Concerning comparative religion, Ken asks Christians the following:

“Do you know why Magi Zoroastrian priests are on your Christmas cards?”

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:

  1. What NDEs and STEs teach us about God and the afterlife
  2. Modern scientific research into religious experiences
  3. Psychology as it relates to NDEs and STEs
  4. The parallel levels of moral development between individuals, religions, and entire cultures
  5. The parallel levels of religious development in individuals and world religions
  6. The five universal concepts found in all religions
  7. Why religion would probably cease to exist without STEs
  8. Why modern STEs are identical to STEs in ancient religious texts when you remove the supernatural elements
  9. Why personal religious experience is becoming more fundamental than theology
  10. The nine categories of resurrection appearances of Jesus which are identical to modern ADCs involving Jesus
  11. How modern scientific research of religious experiences reveals principles of Universalism
  12. Personal cases of Universalist mystical religious experiences
  13. How NDEs agree with Universalism including Christian Universalism
  14. The vast amount of historical and Biblical evidence supporting Universalism
  15. One of the most profound NDE testimonies ever documented because of its authenticity, authority, and aftereffects
  16. How the more ancient religion of Zoroastrianism influenced doctrines found all the Western religions
  17. The scientific research into negative religious experiences
  18. The history of how the false doctrine of eternal damnation crept into Christianity hundreds of years after the death of Jesus
  19. The types of Universalists in America today
  20. How Universalism is the key for resolving the strife in the modern world
  21. 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.

Categories
God Is With Us Religion

Dedication

By Dr. Ken R. Vincent

HomeChapter 7Chapter 16
DedicationChapter 8Chapter 17
ForewordChapter 9Appendix A
Chapter 1Chapter 10Appendix B
Chapter 2Chapter 11References
Chapter 3Chapter 12About Ken
Chapter 4Chapter 13Resources
Chapter 5Chapter 14Permissions
Chapter 6Chapter 15Acknowledge
God Is With Us Index

This book is dedicated to my wife Pam who is my best friend and first editor.

Categories
God Is With Us Religion

Chapter 17: What Near-Death and Other STEs Teach Us About God and Afterlife

By Dr. Ken R. Vincent

HomeChapter 7Chapter 16
DedicationChapter 8Chapter 17
ForewordChapter 9Appendix A
Chapter 1Chapter 10Appendix B
Chapter 2Chapter 11References
Chapter 3Chapter 12About Ken
Chapter 4Chapter 13Resources
Chapter 5Chapter 14Permissions
Chapter 6Chapter 15Acknowledge
God Is With Us Index

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction to the Near-Death Experience
  2. Defining the Near-Death Experience
  3. Near-Death Experience Commonalities
  4. NDEs as the Basis for World Religions
  5. Insights into God and Afterlife
    a. God (aka, Ultimate Reality/Great Spirit) Is With Us and Not Distant
    b. Judgment Is a Reality
    c. Hell Is Not Permanent
    d. Jesus Is Not An Only Child
    e. What’s In Your Heart – Not What You Believe – Is What Matters
    f. “By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them”
    g. The NDE Implies Mind-Body Dualism
    h. Reincarnation Is THE Unanswered Question
    i. The NDE Is Not Without Its Skeptics
  6. Conclusion
  7. References

1. Introduction to the Near-Death Experience

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).

2. Defining the Near-Death Experience

In 1979, Sir Alister Hardy began his exploration of all types of religious/spiritual/mystical experiences with the publication of his book The Spiritual Nature of Man in which he reported that one “trigger” for these phenomena was the “prospect of death.” Working with cases from Hardy’s original sample, Mark Fox in his book Religion, Spirituality, and the Near-Death Experience labeled these “crisis experiences” because it was unclear whether some persons had been clinically dead. Fox found little difference between these “crisis” cases and other religious experience cases.

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.

(2) NDErs provide evidence from verifiable OBEs.

(3) NDErs blind from birth report a form of “vision” during their NDE.

(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.

4. NDEs as the Basis for World Religions

Over a century ago, William James in Varieties of Religious Experience made the case that:

“The founders of every church owed their power originally to the fact of their direct personal communication with the Divine.”

His research was reinforced by the work of Evelyn Underhill who in Practical Mysticism proclaimed:

“This unmistakable experience has been achieved by the mystics of every religion; and when we read their statements, we know they are all speaking of the same thing.”

In Conceptions of Afterlife in Early Civilizations, Gregory Shushan makes the case that the NDE is the basis for afterlife accounts in the world’s religions. His main points are:

(1) There is a remarkable consistency among largely unconnected cultures and times regarding belief in life after death.

(2) The core elements of these religious beliefs are largely similar to the core elements of the NDE.

(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

Sir Alister Hardy in The Spiritual Nature of Man states that, from the evidence:

“[God is] partly transcendent, and felt as the numinous beyond the self, and partly immanent within him.”

“The spiritual side of man is not the product of intellectuality.”

In other words, the data from NDEs and other religious experiences indicate that the God of the panentheist is the Ultimate Reality; in The God We Never Knew, Marcus Borg makes a strong case for panentheism being biblical.

b. Judgment Is a Reality

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.

c. Hell Is Not Permanent

Hell is for purification and rehabilitation — not eternal punishment. In Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church During Its First 500 Years, J. W. Hanson makes a good case that universalism was the dominant theology of early Christianity. In the West, it has been relegated to a minority position for the past 1,500 years; nevertheless, it is the norm in the religions of the East (e.g., Hinduism, Buddhism).

Whether they use the word “universalism” or not, a large number of NDE and/or religious experience researchers have come to the conclusion that ALL people are unconditionally loved by God and that, in the end, ALL will be “saved” regardless of religion or denomination. A list of 20 researchers who express this view can be found in Chapter 8: Religious Experience Research Reveals Universalist Principles.

But there is also a dark side. Nancy Evans Bush offers her analysis of distressing NDEs using 21 studies (N=1,828) in The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation by Jan Holden, Bruce Greyson, and Debbie James. Nine of these studies had no distressing NDEs, but the remaining 12 had a 23% rate of distressing NDEs. One of her blockbuster findings was that anyone – not just “evil” people – can face a “time of trial.” Evidence that hell is not permanent includes the fact that NDErs are rescued from hell when they call out to God (or in the West, Jesus).

One very interesting case regarding the impermanence of hell is that of an 18th century NDEr, Dr. George De Benneville, who died of a consumptive-like illness and revived 42 hours later at his wake. During his tour of heaven and hell, he saw angels taking people out of hell and into heaven when they repented. A full account of his experience can be found in Chapter 11: An 18th Century NDE: The Case of George de Benneville.

Both George Ritchie in his book Return from Tomorrow and Raymond Moody in his book Reflections on Life After Life report accounts of people trapped in negative/hellish states as having beings of light standing by them, waiting to rescue them. James McClenon in his book Wondrous Events describes a 7th century Japanese account of a butcher having a hellish deathbed vision which turns positive when he begins chanting the name of the Amida Buddha. Merete Jakobsen notes in Negative Spiritual Encounters that the antidote for negative spiritual experiences is prayer and religious rituals.

d. Jesus Is Not An Only Child

Jesus is called “the only begotten son” four times in the Gospel of John and one time in the 1st Letter of John, but none of the other New Testament writers mention this. There are also a number of Bible verses which indicate that God is the King of the gods (Psalms 82:1, John 10:30-36, Daniel 2:47, 1 Corinthians 8:5). While non-Christians sometimes encounter Jesus in their NDEs and mystical experiences, they also report encounters with other divine entities. Divine beings that individuals encounter are discussed in Religious Experience in Contemporary China by Xingong Yao and Paul Badham and in At the Hour of Death by Karlis Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson. The latter book compares the death-bed visions and NDEs of people in India and the United States.

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.

g. The NDE Implies Mind-Body Dualism

In The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation, Jan Holden notes that attempts to place targets in hospitals for NDErs to see during their OBEs have been unsuccessful to date; however, the sheer volume of veridical perception anecdotes over 150 years demonstrates the reality of NDErs being out of their bodies. Additional evidence for mind-body dualism is presented in E. F. Kelly et. al.’s Irreducible Mind and Pim van Lommel‘s Consciousness Beyond Life.

h. Reincarnation Is THE Unanswered Question

Reincarnation is an essential part of the belief system of Eastern religions. The “official” position in Western religions is “no,” although 25% of Christians in the UK and USA tell us that they believe this. The data supporting reincarnation is beginning to come in, as this is a major research area at the University of Virginia Medical School’s Division of Perceptual Studies. Jim Tucker‘s book Life Before Life is based on 2,500 cases of reported reincarnation from the division’s files.

i. The NDE Is Not Without Its Skeptics

The NDE has attracted numerous detractors, many of whom offer only explanations rather than data. An excellent refutation of questions raised by major skeptics of the NDE can be found in Bruce Greyson’s chapter on the topic in The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation.

6. Conclusion

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.

7. References

Borg, M. (1997). The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.

Fenwick, P., & Fenwick, E. (2008). The art of dying. New York, NY: Continuum.

Fox, M. (2003). Religion, spirituality and the near-death experience. New York, NY: Routledge.

Hanson, J. W. (2007/1899). Universalism, the prevailing doctrine of the Christian Church during its first five hundred years. San Diego: St Alban Press.

Hardy, A. (1997). The spiritual nature of man: A study of contemporary religious experience. Oxford, England: The Religious Experience Research Centre. (Original work published 1979).

Holden, J., Greyson, B., & James, D. (Eds.). (2009). The handbook of near-death experiences: Thirty years of investigation. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger/ABC-CLIO.

Jakobsen, M. D. (1999). Negative spiritual experiences: Encounters with evil. Lampeter, Wales: Religious Experience Research Centre.

James, W. (1958). The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York, NY: Signet. (Original work published 1901).

Kelly, E. W. & Kelly, E. F., et al. (2007). Toward a psychology for the 21st century. In E. F. Kelly, E. W. Kelly, A. Crabtree, A. Gauld, M. Grosso, & B. Greyson, Irreducible mind: Toward a psychology for the 21st century (pp. 577-643). New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield.

Lommel, P. (2011). Consciousness beyond life: The science of the near-death experience. HarperOne.

Long, J., & Perry, P. (2010). Evidence of the afterlife: The science of near-death experiences. New York, NY: Harper One.

McClenon, J. (1994). Wondrous events: Foundations of religious beliefs. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Migliore, V. (2009). A measure of heaven: Near-death experience data analysis. Folsom, CA: Blossom Hill Books.

Moody, R. (1975). Life after life: The investigation of a phenomenon – survival of bodily death. Covington, GA: Mockingbird Books.

Moody, R. & Perry, P. (2010). Glimpses of eternity: Sharing a loved one’s passage from this life to the next. Guideposts; Book Club Edition.

Moody, R. (1977). Reflections on life after life. Bantam.

Osis, K., and Haraldsson, E. (1977). At the Hour of Death. New York, NY: Avon.

Ritchie, G. G., and Sherrill, E. (1978). Return from Tomorrow. Old Tappan, NJ: Sprite.

Shushan, G. (2009). Conceptions of afterlife in early civilizations: Universalism, constructivism, and near-death experience. London, England: Continuum International.

Tucker, J. (2005). Life before life: Children’s memories of previous lives. New York, NY: St. Martin’s.

Underhill, E. (2006). Practical mysticism: A little book for normal people. Cosimo Classics.

Yao, X & Badham, P. (2007). Religious experience in contemporary China. Cardiff: University of Wales.

Categories
God Is With Us Religion

Chapter 16: Magic, Deeds, and Universalism: Afterlife in the World’s Religions

By Dr. Ken R. Vincent

HomeChapter 7Chapter 16
DedicationChapter 8Chapter 17
ForewordChapter 9Appendix A
Chapter 1Chapter 10Appendix B
Chapter 2Chapter 11References
Chapter 3Chapter 12About Ken
Chapter 4Chapter 13Resources
Chapter 5Chapter 14Permissions
Chapter 6Chapter 15Acknowledge
God Is With Us Index

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction to the Developmental View of Religion
  2. Magic, Deeds and Universalism as Levels of Religious Development
  3. A Final Judgment of Deeds as the Intermediate Level of Religious Development
    a. The Egyptian Book of the Dead
    b. Zoroastrianism
    c. The Abrahamic Religions
    d. The Eastern Religions
  4. Magic as the Rudimentary Level of Religious Development
    a. Magic in the Egyptian Book of the Dead
    b. Magic in Greek Mythology
    c. Magic in Judaism’s Day of Atonement
    d. Magic in Christianity’s Faith in the Name of Jesus
    e. Magic in Hinduism’s Devotion to a God’s Name
    f. Magic in Buddhist Texts and Chants
  5. Universalism as the Highest Level of Religious Development
    a. Universalism in Zoroastrianism
    b. Universalism in Judaism
    c. Universalism in Christianity
    d. Universalism in Islam and the Eastern Religions
  6. Conclusion
  7. References

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.

One important thing to know about the study of comparative religion is that it is a wide-open field with many scholars from various disciplines participating, such as Joseph Campbell (literature), Mircea Eliade (history), Paul Brunton (philosophy), Carl Jung (psychiatry), and Sir James Frazier (anthropology). Today, we’ll touch on the Afterlife from the perspectives of religion, history, psychology, sociology, and art.

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!

b. Zoroastrianism

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.

c. The Abrahamic Religions

In the HEBREW Bible, in the Book of Daniel (Daniel 12:1-3), it is the Archangel Michael who presides over the resurrection. Judaism for the most part forbids artwork, but in CHRISTIANITY, Michael takes his place right below Jesus in the judgment of the dead. It is Michael who holds the scales in which your deeds are weighed. This same scene is repeated in ISLAM, but here the Archangel holding the scales is Gabriel.

d. The Eastern Religions

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.

This shows the development of morality and justice in the Egyptian religion, and some Christian scholars think this is the origin of the story of the rich man and Lazarus in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 16:19-31). The main point here is to underscore the great antiquity of the belief that salvation is by works.

b. Magic in Greek Mythology

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.

Judaism in its early years presented a shadowy Afterlife called Sheol which was very similar to the Hades of early Greece. Jewish writing from 400 – 100 BCE which is found in the Catholic, Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, and Coptic Christian Bibles (which Protestants refer to as the Apocrypha) have some references to a Heaven or Hell state prior to the last judgment (2 Esdras 7:75-101). The Apocryphal books also abound with angels who are named (e.g. Raphael in the Book of Tobit). The Jewish Pseudepigrapha (200 BCE – 70 CE) have Heaven and Hell (especially Enoch I, Enoch II, and Enoch III). These books of Enoch are not in the Hebrew Bible, and only 1st Enoch made it into the Coptic Christian Bible. The books were, however used by the Essenes and figure into the Judaism prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. The Rule of Community (also known as the Manual of Discipline) and the War of the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness in the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Essenes are especially rich in imagery of Heaven and Hell. After 70 CE, Rabbinic Judaism developed, and the resulting Hebrew Bible has references to Sheol, the Messianic Time and to the Last Judgment in the Book of Daniel.

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:

“God – Satan, Good – Evil, Light – Darkness, Angels – Demons, Death – Judgment, Heaven – Hell, and at the end of time, Resurrection of the Body and Life Everlasting”

He also preached that:

“There is a long period of punishment for the wicked and reward for the pious, but thereafter, eternal joy shall reign forever” (Yasna 30.11).

In other words, Hell is for rehabilitation, not for torture.

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.

b. Universalism in Judaism

In Judaism, Universalism is reflected in the Messianic Time described primarily in the Book of Isaiah and Jeremiah (Isaiah 2:2, Isaiah 2:4, Isaiah 12:1-2, Isaiah 25:6-8, Isaiah 39:3-5, Isaiah 66:18, Isaiah 66:23, Jeremiah 31:31-34). The Rabbis of the Midrash say that one can stay in Hell only one year.

c. Universalism in Christianity

In Christianity, the idea of Universalism is a very old and enduring theological position. Its major proponent in early Christianity was Origen (185–254 CE). In the nineteenth century, the Universalist Church was for a time the fifth or sixth largest denomination in the United States. In the twenty-first century, Universalism is advocated by Christians from diverse backgrounds, including some post-Vatican II Catholics and Primitive Baptists. The Biblical references which support Universal Salvation [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] are second in number only to Good Works as the way to Salvation [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11].

d. Universalism in Islam and the Eastern Religions

Other religions have Universalist hopes too. Although not in the Koran, it is written in the Hadith (the oral history of Muhammad) that:

“Surely a day will come over Hell when there shall not be a human soul in it.”

The Bahai religion sees a continuous progression of souls toward perfection after death. In the East, Hinduism and its children — Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism — all allow for the potential for all to be saved. When Pam and I attended the Jade Buddha Temple a few years ago, they were singing:

“We are not discouraged by the time it takes to save all the humans and all of the animals.”

6. Conclusion

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.

7. References

Flotz, R. (2004). Spirituality in the land of the noble: How Iran shaped the world’s religions. Oxford: Oneworld, p. 73.

Nigosian, S. A. (2000). World religions: A historical approach (3rd ed.). Palgrave Macmillan, p. 89.

Teiser, S. (1988). Having once died and returned to life: Representations of hell in medieval China. Harvard Journal of Asiatic studies, p. 187.

Vincent, K. R. (2005). The golden thread: God’s promise of universal salvation. New York, NY: iUniverse.

Categories
God Is With Us Religion

Chapter 14: Universal Salvation in Hinduism and Its Children

By Dr. Ken R. Vincent

HomeChapter 7Chapter 16
DedicationChapter 8Chapter 17
ForewordChapter 9Appendix A
Chapter 1Chapter 10Appendix B
Chapter 2Chapter 11References
Chapter 3Chapter 12About Ken
Chapter 4Chapter 13Resources
Chapter 5Chapter 14Permissions
Chapter 6Chapter 15Acknowledge
God Is With Us Index

Table of Contents

  1. Universalism in Hinduism
  2. Universalism in Buddhism
  3. Universalism in Sikhism and Jainism

1. Universalism in Hinduism

Hinduism and its children — Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism — allow for the potential for ALL to be saved.

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” Bodhisattva Amitabha 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!

Categories
God Is With Us Religion

Chapter 13: Omar Khayyám: Sufi Universalist

By Dr. Ken R. Vincent

HomeChapter 7Chapter 16
DedicationChapter 8Chapter 17
ForewordChapter 9Appendix A
Chapter 1Chapter 10Appendix B
Chapter 2Chapter 11References
Chapter 3Chapter 12About Ken
Chapter 4Chapter 13Resources
Chapter 5Chapter 14Permissions
Chapter 6Chapter 15Acknowledge
God Is With Us Index

Table of Contents

  1. Omar Khayyám: His Influence on the Author
  2. Omar Khayyám: The Theologian
  3. Omar Khayyám: His Parallels With Jesus
  4. Omar Khayyám: The Polymath
  5. Omar Khayyám: The Poet of the World
  6. Omar Khayyám: The Philosopher of the World
  7. Omar Khayyám: The Cosmologist
  8. Omar Khayyám: The Sufi Universalist
  9. Omar Khayyám: The Panentheist
  10. Omar Khayyám: The Mystic

1. Omar Khayyám: His Influence on the Author

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.

In all Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), there is tension between GOOD WORKS and GRACE as the basis for Salvation. Is Heaven earned by good works or does God’s unconditional love insure our place in Heaven? Another paradox involves EVIL: If God is all-powerful, why does evil endure?

102 If grace be grace, and Allah gracious be,
Adam from Paradise why banished He?
Grace to poor sinners shown is grace indeed;
In grace hard-earned by works no grace I see.

This verse speaks to the philosophy of the late Russian mystic Rasputin who saw sin as a prerequisite to redemption:

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.

Omar is comfortable with Christianity – in the sense that all religions are one:

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!

10. Omar Khayyám: The Mystic

Omar also expressed his belief that nothing bad can come from God – the same doctrine of Universal Salvation espoused by Zoroaster and Universalist Christians:

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.

Categories
God Is With Us Religion

Chapter 12: Zoroaster: The First Universalist

By Dr. Ken R. Vincent

HomeChapter 7Chapter 16
DedicationChapter 8Chapter 17
ForewordChapter 9Appendix A
Chapter 1Chapter 10Appendix B
Chapter 2Chapter 11References
Chapter 3Chapter 12About Ken
Chapter 4Chapter 13Resources
Chapter 5Chapter 14Permissions
Chapter 6Chapter 15Acknowledge
God Is With Us Index

Table of Contents

  1. Zoroaster, the Prophet of the Magi
  2. An Introduction to Zoroastrianism
  3. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of God as Light
  4. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of a Final Judgment
  5. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of Angelic Beings
  6. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of Universalism
  7. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of Dualistic Good Versus Evil
  8. Zoroastrianism’s Influence on World Religions
  9. References

1. Zoroaster, the Prophet of the Magi

Once upon a time, before wisdom was confined to books, Shamans of the “Great Spirit” anticipated an afterlife for their peoples. But the earliest existing expression of the Universalist idea of an afterlife where God saves ALL people can be found in the revelation of Zoroaster, Prophet of the Magi. Truly, it is one of many profound influences that Zoroaster’s new religion had on the subsequent development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]. Known as Zoroaster by the Greeks and Zardust by the Arabs, he is properly called Zarathustra by the followers of the religion he founded. (Since he is best known in the West by the Greek name Zoroaster, that name will be used in this paper; interestingly, the Greek name “Jesus” also became favored over the Hebrew “Yeshua.”)

According to the Holy Book of the Magi, Zoroaster was born in eastern Iran and lived from about 660 BCE to 583 BCE. Like Moses (who is thought to have lived between 1600 and 1200 BCE), there is virtually no corroborative historical evidence for his life outside the religious writings. Most scholars place Zoroaster’s life earlier in history (as long ago as 1200 – 1800 BCE), mainly due to the ancient Eastern Persian language he used to compose his Hymns (Gathas).

Zoroaster’s parents were middle-class, and his father was probably a horse or camel trader as well as a priest. He was married and had children. His major revelations occurred at age 30 after he, like Jesus, went into the wilderness to seek God. After this experience, he was inspired to say that:

“God declared to me that silent meditation is the best for attaining spiritual enlightenment” (Y43.15).

The Holy Book of the Magi relates how Satan tempted him in the wilderness with a promise of a 1,000-year rule. He preached for ten years without success, after which he converted his cousin, the rest of his family, and King Vishtaspa.

2. An Introduction to Zoroastrianism

Once Zoroastrianism was adopted by the kings of Persia, the religion spread throughout the Persian Empire. The Magi, who at that time were priests of the old pagan religion in western Iran, accepted and taught the new religion of Zoroaster; some believe that Zoroaster himself was a Magus of the old religion prior to his divine revelations. His Hymns to God (Gathas), about the length of the Gospel of Matthew, were first recited orally and eventually written into the Holy Book of the Magi (Avesta). We know that he was assassinated by a rival priest at the age of 77 years. While Zoroaster claimed no divinity for himself, later traditions created miraculous stories that were characteristically attached to persons held in high esteem in the ancient world. A fond tradition claims that Zoroaster laughed (instead of crying) at birth!

In the religion of the Magi, humanity has free will to choose between good and evil, and we are required to be active participants with God in the eventual defeat of evil. The core beliefs are often summarized succinctly in the phrase:

“Good thoughts, good words, and good deeds.”

Zoroaster’s name for God is “Ahura Mazda” which means, “Lord of Life and Wisdom” or simply “Wise Lord.” This can be compared to the literal translations of the names for God in Hebrew Scriptures: “Yahweh” which means “I AM” and “Elohim” which means “God“. For Zoroaster, God is wholly good; God unconditionally and totally loves all his Creation and all humanity – always. God is not angry, jealous, or vengeful; God would never tempt humans into doing evil. We are made of the essence of God and are cherished by God. Fasting, celibacy, and the austere life have no place in the religion of the Magi; one is simply directed to BE LIKE GOD – Do Good and Oppose Evil. (Christians may recall that in Matthew 5:48, Jesus also commands us to be like our heavenly Father.) Because all creation is sacred, it is also humanity’s duty to protect creation and not defile it or pollute it. (In a very real way, Zoroaster was the first environmentalist!)

God is opposed by an evil force called “The Demon of the Lie” which Zoroaster described as “that which is not and never was” — almost as if he saw the devil as a vacuum. Satan is responsible for all death, destruction, decay, and darkness. Satan has no physical presence on Earth but does have the ability to corrupt God’s creation. However, Satan is dim-witted and disorganized and can be defeated by the Good!

Like Christianity, the religion of the Magi has a concept of the Holy Spirit as being the part of God that is present with us on the Earth. God is both immanent (present) and transcendent (other). It is the Holy Spirit or Mentality of God (Spenta Mainyu) that counters the Evil Spirit or Mentality (Angra Mainyu). In the words of Zoroaster:

“Through his Holy Spirit
And his Sovereign mind,
Ahura Mazda will grant
Self-realization and immortality
To him whose words and deeds
Are inspired by righteousness,
Moral courage and Divine Wisdom.” (Y47.1)

3. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of God as Light

Both the ancient Magi and the modern followers of Zoroaster see God as Light, the oldest non-anthropomorphic conception of God. God is the light above us, around us, and within us. For Zoroaster, the contrast between light and darkness is always a metaphor for the conflict between Good and Evil. In speaking of the God of the Magi, the 3rd-century Greek philosopher Porphyry said:

“God’s body is Light, and His Spirit Truth.”

In more modern times, Einstein saw all matter as frozen light, and physicist Stephen Hawking stated:

“When you break subatomic particles down to their most elemental level, you are left with nothing but pure light.”

Sometimes observers of this religion from ancient to modern times have mistaken the Magi for fire worshipers because of the “eternal flame” present in all of their temples. However, the fire has never been worshiped; the flame of the fire represents LIGHT, their symbol for God.

4. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of a Final Judgment

Concepts of the afterlife in the religion of the Magi are almost identical to those of Christianity. Joseph Campbell suspects direct borrowing of the ideas of the Magi by Dante in his vivid descriptions of a multi-layered Heaven and Hell. According to Zoroaster’s vision, each human soul is required to face judgment on the “Bridge of Judgment.” If there is a preponderance of good deeds, the soul is allowed to pass over a wide bridge to Heaven on which the good deeds meet him or her in the form of a beautiful 15-year-old girl. The soul of the saved asks:

“Who are thou, for I have never seen a young girl on Earth more beautiful or fair than thee?”

In answer, the young girl replies:

“I am no girl, but thy own good deeds.”

If the human soul contains a preponderance of evil deeds, a young girl “who has no semblance of a young girl” comes to meet it, and the soul of the damned says:

“Who are thou? I have never seen a wench on Earth more ill-favored and hideous than thee.”

In reply, the ill-favored wench says:

“I am no wench, but I am thy deeds – hideous deeds – evil thoughts, evil words, evil deeds, and evil religion.”

Unlike Dante whose Limbo is for the righteous who are not Christians, Limbo in the religion of the Magi is for those whose good deeds and bad deeds are in equal balance. The Hell of the Magi is not eternal but only a temporary detour while you “shape up” and the evil in you is purified. Zoroastrians, like other Universalists, believe God is too good to sentence humans to Eternal Hell. Some modern minimalist scholars dispute the fact that Zoroaster was a Universalist and say that Universal Salvation came into Zoroastrianism later; however, as Mary Boyce points out in Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism, the religion was definitely Universalist many years before Christianity when the 4th century B.C. Greek, Theopompus stated that:

“Zoroaster prophesies that some day there will be a resurrection of all the dead. In the end Hades shall perish and men (people) shall be happy …”

5. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of Angelic Beings

In the religion of the Magi, the Archangels – called the “Bounteous Immortals” – are very powerful, as you can tell from their names: “The Good Mind“, “Righteousness”, “Divine Power”, “Universal Love”, “Perfection”, and “Immortality.” Interestingly, half are male and half are female. They were created by God and with the Angels serve as a link of communication between humanity and God. Additionally, they are manifestations of the characteristics present in men and women of good will – those that each of us needs to integrate into our lives in order to serve God. For instance, good men and women manifest the characteristics of the Archangel of the Good Mind, while evil people are beset with the Evil Mind. The Archangels have been called deities erroneously by some scholars. Some scholars maintain that Zoroaster’s original conception was that of highly abstract Archangels which represent mere aspects of God. Tradition and, more importantly, followers of the modern Zoroastrian religion interpret them literally as Archangels. The Magi also believed that there were Earth Angels of which the prophet Zoroaster was one. Dr. J. J. Modi sees parallels between the Christian angel Michael and the Zoroastrian angel Mithra, as well as between the Christian angel Gabriel and the Zoroastrian angel Sraosha.

The name of Mithra may sound familiar to Westerners because of a heretical cult during Roman times that extended as far west as England. This “mystery religion” (which allowed only men) worshiped Mithra as a god, and its popularity is said to have rivaled the early Christian movement. Curiously, Mithra’s birthday is December 25, a date adopted later by the Christian Church for Christmas in its effort to discourage participation in this pagan celebration. Mithra is still worshiped as a god in India. However, in the orthodox religion of the Magi, Zoroastrians consider Mithra “only” an Angel and not even an Archangel! Sophy Burnham, author of A Book of Angels, credits Zoroaster with the development of the concept of angels. Before their contact with the Magi, the Hebrews often refer to the messengers of God as simply men (as in Genesis 18 when three men, one of whom is God, appear to Abraham). After their contact with the Magi, Judaism and later Christianity and Islam have a well-developed system of Archangels and Angels.

6. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of Universalism

Both a spiritual afterlife of the soul and a physical resurrection at the end of time are concepts of Zoroaster. Humanity can fall prey to evil, but after “purification” in Hell, ALL are saved at the end of time. When the victory over evil is complete, the end of time will come where nothing ever dies or decays, and there is no darkness – only LIGHT.

In the spirit of Universalism, Zoroaster tells of future Saviors possibly coming from different nations:

“Indeed such shall be the Saviors
Of the countries who follow
The call of Duty by good thoughts
Because of their deeds
Inspired by righteousness
In accord with your command
O Mazda, they certainly have been marked out
As smiters of wrath.” (Y48.12)

7. Zoroastrianism: The Origin of Dualistic Good Versus Evil

One ongoing issue in Zoroastrianism present since antiquity is the debate between those who interpret Zoroaster’s understanding of God as “ethical dualism” (monotheism) and those who maintain the concept of “cosmic dualism” (God and Satan co-exist). Although Zoroaster was very sure that God is wholly good and that man is free to choose good or evil, his teachings were unclear about the source of evil in the world. That is, if God the Creator is all good, where does evil come from? Those supporting ethical dualism (monotheism) would answer that evil originates in the mind of humanity and is the byproduct of creation; because the Universe is incomplete and unfinished, there is a capacity to alter the status quo. That is why humanity must be active in helping God to overcome evil. The Zoroastrian scholar and modern-day believer, Professor Farhang Mehr, sees Zoroaster as a pure monotheist who taught ethical dualism rather than cosmic dualism.

Throughout the long history of this religion, the concept of cosmic dualism has been more widely accepted; that is, a belief that good comes from God and that evil comes from Satan, although God is Eternal and Satan is not. Interestingly, this same concept of cosmic dualism is used throughout the New Testament by both Jesus and St. Paul, although the monotheism of Christianity is never doubted. Satan is a very real and powerful being to Jesus; he is tempted by Satan in the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13). He asks:

“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand” (Matthew 12:25-26, Mark 3:23-24, Luke 11:17-18).

In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul writes:

“Put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil.” (Ephesians 6:11)

The proponents of cosmic dualism feel comfortable with modern-day “Process Theology” which expresses the idea that God cannot bestow free will and remain all powerful. A concept in modern physics that may reinforce the reality of cosmic dualism is that “a little chaos” is present in every atom of the Universe.

The God of the Magi is Universal, and Zoroaster was the first to proclaim this truth. In the words of the Persian (and Zoroastrian) King Darius:

“I am King of all the Nations by the will of God.”

In the words of Zoroaster, God is supreme:

“When I held you in my very eyes
Then I realized you in my mind, O Mazda,
As the first and also the last for all Eternity,
As the Father of Good Thoughts,
As the Creator of Righteousness
And Lord over the actions of life.” (Y31.8)

8. Zoroastrianism’s Influence on World Religions

Although the Persian Empire fell to Alexander the Great (331 BCE), the Magi continued to be very influential throughout the Middle East and the Western World, and the religion of the Magi continued as the primary religion in the middle east until the Moslem conquest (642 CE). The Magi were prized as teachers of great wisdom and power, and Zoroaster remained a highly respected figure.

Of course, Zoroastrian ideas have been enormously important to subsequent religious thought. Many scholars contend that it was Zoroaster’s cursing of the Hindu gods that initiated the break between the religious approaches of the East (Hindu, Buddhism) and those of the West (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). In the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Essenes, the imagery of the “Sons of Light” and “Sons of Darkness” is a direct borrowing from the Religion of the Magi. Six hundred years after the Muslim conquest, the Sufi Mystic, Attar of Nishapur, wrote:

“We are the Eternal Magi, we are not Muslims.”

The Cypress slender Minister of Wine in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is a Magi. Omar Khayyam once said he wore the belt of a Magi because he was ashamed of his Islam.

Zoroaster taught that God loves us all and that, after evil is finally defeated, ALL humanity will be saved at the end of time, although those whose bad deeds outweigh their good deeds will need to be “purified” in Hell before joining God in Heaven.

The following example illustrates the views of Zoroaster concerning Universal Salvation:

“If you understand these laws of happiness and pain
Which Mazda has ordained, O mortals,
(There is) a long period of punishment for the wicked
And reward for the pious
But thereafter eternal joy shall reign forever.” (Y30.11, emphasis added)

9. References

Boyce, M. (1984). Textual sources for the study of Zoroastrianism. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Burnham, S. (1992). A book of angels: Reflections on angels past and present and true stories of how they touch our lives. Ballantine Books.

Mehr, F. (2003). The Zoroastrian tradition: An introduction to the ancient wisdom of Zarathushtra. Mazda Pub.

Modi, J. J. (2010). A catechism of the Zoroastrian religion. Nabu Press.

Vincent, K. R. (1999). The Magi: From Zoroaster to the “Three Wise Men.” North Richland Hills, TX: Bibal Press.