Delivered at the AMICI Convention, July 26 2013
Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for inviting me to speak about my beliefs and my search for a personal God.
I applaud the courage of the organizing committee to invite a management consultant to speak on a subject so far from his body of knowledge.
I am a management consultant, and my specialty is assisting organizations so that they meet their goals more effectively. Quite a few religious organizations, especially the Catholic church, use my managerial theories and practices to improve how they develop and nurture their congregations…even though the study of religion is not my field of inquiry.
I was not even raised in a religious family. But, I have been a seeker for much of my life, searching for some kind of meaning both in my personal and my professional life. And in the process, I found my God. In my own way.
I appreciate your willingness to hear my story. Thank you for inviting me to share with you my personal spiritual journey.
I thank you for your trust.
One often hears people say, “There is only one God. The God of the Christians, Jews, and Muslims is the same God. We should all live in peace, because we all worship the same God.”
One day, during meditation, I wondered whether I agreed with this statement.
The God of the Muslims orders His followers to kill infidels.
The Christian God, like Zeus, has a child with a human being. The Jewish God is jealous and controlling: He orders His believers around, telling them what to do and what not to do, and threatens them with a long list of punishments and disasters if they disobey Him.
I realize I am interpreting the Holy books literally, but still, are these three Gods the same?
I do not know, but I do know one thing: none of these Gods strikes a responsive chord in me.
But I do believe in God. Who is my God then and how did I find Him?
Two years ago, I joined the Sahaj Marg meditation community. It is based in India, with ashrams worldwide. I joined for a simple reason: I wanted to learn how to meditate. I believed it would be helpful for my work and my state of being. Perhaps it would even bring me some moments of serenity.
I learned how to meditate and came away with much more than I expected.
I found my God.
Let me explain.
This meditation starts off the morning with a prayer that says, in part: “Oh, Master, You are the true goal of human life, for all we are is slaves to wishes that bar our (spiritual) advancement.”
Let me analyze the prayer.
The “Master” is God. We pray to be united with Him.
And what is it we want to be united with? What does God represent?
LOVE. Total, absolute, unconditional LOVE.
And what is love?
Unity. Integration. Harmony.
The prayer basically says that we all strive to live in a state of love. In harmony. That is the true goal of our existence. But our wishes and desires enslave us, impede our ability to experience love. In essence, they hold us back from living in harmony, from becoming one with God.
By reinforcing dissatisfaction and unrest.
What are our wishes, desires, and expectations but expressions of unhappiness with what we have right now. We want and expect something else, something absent in our life.
The wishes become a source of disintegration within ourselves. But, it is the expectations that separate us from God.
Because expectations presume controllability. Expectations assume that we can control events and achieve our desires (which often are mistakenly translated into our needs). We mistakenly believe that power is in our hands.
Death is probably the ultimate example of how this way of thinking fails us. We wish someone we loved had not died. We prayed. Dutifully. But our wishes and prayers were in vain. Our beloved---friend, parent, partner, offspring---died.
We are upset and angry. What has God done to us? Why has He failed us? There is the expectation that our wishes and prayers should have been able to control even life and death!
Many holocaust survivors denounced God for this reason: How could He countenance such tragedies? Such evil?
When we expect, we want to control God.
And this is not the way to find Him.
Wishes, desires and expectation, distance us, undermine our chances of experiencing love and finding and becoming united with God, the ultimate manifestation of LOVE. They enslave us.
Because wishes, wants, and expectations are inevitably a moving target. They are temporary and ever-changing. We may satisfy ourselves for a short period of time. But then a new wish or desire emerges.
It never stops. Thus, the enslavement. We think: “If I had a million dollars, I would be happy.” But when that wish is achieved we now desire two million. And when we possess two million dollars, do we not crave five million?
We will stop being slaves when we are free of wanting and wishing and expecting.
Does that mean we should have no wants or wishes or expectations? Such a path would lead to an end of progress.
Of course not. It is important that we continue to strive; that progress not come to a halt.
What should drive us is reality; “what is,” rather than our wishes and our ego. When we go shopping, should we shop for the things we want, which have no end, or should we shop for the things we need, which are finite?
When I paint, compose, create, should I do so because I want fame and riches, or because I need to express myself artistically in order to be who I am?
Let go. Stop wishing and expecting. Surrender to God and His wishes. Accept life as is. Let go of the ego.
Surrendering to God is what makes us free.
Believing that we are free to wish, want and expect, is what enslaves us.
One brief example: The rejection of God’s will in the form of an unwillingness to surrender, expecting instead to be in control of life, had its manifestation in, among other places, political ideology, namely communism.
Communists rejected God.
Communists, at the turn of the 20th century, believed they could plan and control everything. Communists behaved as though they were the 20th century’s replacement for God. They would take control and provide everything. We only needed to respect and obey and surrender to them and their system, in place of God.
It was with a certain irony that some of the leading former communist writers and thinkers of the last century ultimately became critics of communism. Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, Richard Wright and Andre Gide among others, published a book about their experiences with the communist political system which they called “The God That Failed.”
Let me repeat: When we refuse to surrender, we consciously, or by default, reject His existence.
The first condition for finding God then is to stop believing that we are in control.
Stop expecting. Surrender. Stop wishing and accept His will.
OK, to find God, we need to surrender to His will.
Ah, but there is a catch.
To find Him, we need to surrender. But in order to surrender, we need to have found Him first. How can we surrender to Somebody we have not found yet?
Is this the religious form of Catch 22?
The solution: In order to find Him, we have to start with the belief that there is God.
If we do not believe, we will not seek, and if we do not seek, we will never find Him.
Ok, so, where is God?
I believe that all religions share the same perspective: namely, that God dwells in our heart.
And how do we find Him there?
In meditation, when we calm our mind and surrender to His will, our heart will speak, and we will experience LOVE.
We will experience God’s presence by finding love in our heart.
Listening to the heart via meditation and experiencing God’s presence is not a new discovery.
Come to think of it, did not all religions start with a message from God via meditation?
Moses went to the mountain and meditated for forty days and nights before he received the Ten Commandments. Jesus meditated too. Buddha found enlightenment meditating under the tree.
I suspect that is how all religions started: With the heart. It is only over time that the heart was replaced by a “manual,” that is, the various religious books with instructions interpreting God’s will.
Following the “manual” blindly represents to me the negation of surrendering to God, because in that case we do not listen to our heart anymore. On the contrary, it is as if we took control of our destiny by just assuming that all we need to do is follow “the manual.”
We need to go back to the essence: Listen to the heart rather than follow “the manual” blindly, whether it is the Old or the New Testament or the Quran.
Read it? Yes. Study it? Yes. But listen to the inner voice of our heart. That is my belief.
When we listen to our mind we encounter a debate: pros and cons on any issue. When our heart speaks, there are no questions. No doubts. No disagreements. No cost-benefit analysis. We are complete. There is peace. We experience LOVE. Or as Gurudev, a yogi master says: “When you resist nothing, you automatically experience love.” And since love is God, you experience His presence.
Let me now rephrase the Sahaj Marg prayer in its totality and replace God or Master with the word LOVE:
“LOVE, you are the true goal of human life, for we are merely slaves to wishes that bar our capability to LOVE. You are the only power that can make us advance (spiritually).”
Our goal is to love and be loved. Expectations undermine our efforts. And only love can make the difference; only love may change us.
And when we experience LOVE and find peace, we are on our way to finding GOD, because LOVE is GOD. Total harmony. Total integration. Thus, the One and Only. Thus the power.
For a long time, I could not accept this way of thinking and behaving. I was unable to let go and connect with my heart. I trusted my mind. Not my heart.
Listening to the heart to me meant losing control . The mind was different. I believed that I was in control of my mind.
Are we in control of our mind or is it in control of us? Maybe our mind is controlled by wishes implanted by others. By people we want to please. Or by the media that influences us with advertising and promotions and headlines. Or maybe our mind is ruled by an ego we do not control. It is not solely under our control.
How false this world of ours is. The world of non-believers.
When we calm our mind and surrender our ego, give up expectations based on a false sense of control, we are ready to hear the voice emanating from our heart. We will find a kind of peace, a peace of mind. We will then cultivate a sense of gratitude for whatever we have in our life, for better or worse. We will experience love. We will experience God.
Is that all?
Sitting in a cave, or seminary, meditating, listening to our heart , experiencing love, is all well and good. These are all prerequisites for finding God.
But we must also share our love. A song is not a song unless heard. And Love is not love unless shared. The more we express our love in action the closer, we are connected to GOD. We have to love others. And not just other human beings .
Do we love the air we breathe? The water we drink? The people we live among?
Do we love the sea, the whales, the birds, the forest, the city, the country we live in?
If so, what are we doing about it?
Love needs to be expressed in action: To make a better world. That is what mystic Judaism called Tikkun Olam. ( Hebrew for Improve the world ).
To find God, we need to express our love with loving action.
And when we embrace, and are embraced in turn by this way of being, we will find God everywhere. In the smile of a child that has finally been fed. In the whispering of the leaves on a tree that is surviving a natural disaster. In the gratitude of people who are finally feeling safe from war and danger. We will find God everywhere and all the time . Because we opened our heart. Because we listened to our heart and accepted God.
To me, to find God, it takes more than following rituals and manuals. We need to believe that He exists and be willing to search. We will find Him when we surrender to His will, listen to our heart, find love and share it by making the world a better place in which to live.
Is that all then?
I am a management consultant. I am trained to provide something more concrete. What does it mean: “experience love and share it?” What is love? What is the Lord’s will? We are supposed to surrender to His will but what is His will operationally? (Pardon my management consultant term, “operationally.”)
What should we do? What is the action we are supposed to take when we share our love?
Some people behave atrociously in the name of “love;” by that I mean, in the name of God.
I am a descendant of the Jews of Spain whom the inquisitors tortured and expelled because they refused to convert to Christianity. Is that love? Is that what God wanted?
If God is Love, in order to find Him, we need to understand in an active way what it means to love. And comprehend “operationally” what is His will? What is the essence of His being?
Let me try.
Can we agree that Love is total integration?
I believe so. That is what happens when we are immersed in creating something we love. We forget everything around us. We are inspired. As Wayne Dyer says, the word inspired comes from the word IN SPIRIT.
When we create something we love, a painting, a sculpture, compose music or write a book, we are united with the Spirit, with God. We are inspired and become a vehicle of His will. We transmit his wishes. We are totally integrated with our creation.
Now the next question: if love is total integration what is integration?
It took me forty years to discover what integration is about.
I will not bore you with how I figured it out. Let me give you the bottom line: it is Mutual Respect and Trust.
You can not be integrated with something you do not respect or trust.
There is no love without mutual trust and respect.
When is a marriage over? Not when the couple signs the divorce papers. That is the final official act. The marriage is de facto over when there is no more MT&R, when the loss of Mutual Trust and Respect is irreversible.
Now, what is respect and what is trust?
The philosopher Immanuel Kant said that respect is to recognize the sovereignty of the other person to think differently.
When we do not accept that a person can think differently, believe differently, we are not respecting his or her sovereign, undeniable, right to be different.
When there is mutual respect, there is growth, we learn from each other’s differences and grow intellectually and spiritually.
When differences are prohibited we find ourselves in a desert. An intellectual and emotional desert.
But when they are allowed and nurtured, our surroundings are transformed into a garden; an ecological system in which we are touched and enveloped by synergy.
And when there is MUTUAL respect the other party has to appreciate our differences too.
That is not what is happening with some radical religious off- shoots: either be like us, believe like us, or we reject you; and in some more extreme religious sects, the litany goes further: we will even torture or kill you unless you behave like us.
In my view that is not serving God.
And what is trust?
It is faith that the other person has our interest at heart. That we do not have to fear turning our back to him. That he will protect our back and when it is mutual we will protect his. We share common interests.
When there is mutual trust we reach symbiosis. We help each other. We enrich each other. We seek our common interest. Not Self interest. And not other people’s interest at the cost to our own.
Look at my hand. Five different fingers together forming a hand. And this is how all Saints hold their hand in all icons, straight fingers touching each other. It is like a message they give us. It is a blessing: be different but still be together.
So. what does it mean to serve God? What is His will?
Respect your fellow man and woman. Appreciate their differences. And at the same time, in spite of their differences, protect their interests.
A businessman who prays dutifully at church every Sunday, but the rest of the week exploits workers, pollutes air and water, is he or she serving GOD?
In my formulation the answer is NO. With capital letters: NO.
The person who does not go to church but works with homeless people, who helps the destitute, even if he is an atheist , he is serving God without even knowing it.
To summarize, let us try again:
GOD is LOVE,
LOVE is total INTEGRATION
Total INTEGRATION is
the existence of absolute
MUTUAL TRUST AND RESPECT.
God is IN us, in our heart, but it is expressed in how we relate to each other, how we relate to air and trees, the environment we live in.
THE WORLD IS A SYSTEM OF INTERDEPENDENCIES AND
GOD IS THE ESSENCE THAT DRIVES THE SYSTEM: MUTUAL TRUST & RESPECT
What makes or breaks the system is the existence or the lack of MUTUAL TRUST AND RESPECT.
M T& R is life. It is love. It is workable unity. It is Harmony ( different voices singing in unison, complementing each other.)
Without Mutual Trust and Respect there is destructive conflict. Disharmony. Social, political, physical BREAKDOWN.
When we do not practice MT&R, we are defying God, defying His will. And our world falls apart in more ways than one.
Without Self Respect and Trust we fall apart as individuals.
Without Mutual Trust and Respect our marriage falls apart, our country falls apart, our environment collapses...We defy rather than serve God.
Serving God is expressed in the way we behave. And how much LOVE we have is weighed not by intent, but in our action: That is, by respecting differences and seeking common interests.
Hallelujah and may it be His will.
Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes