“Anatta: Literally ‘not-self’. The teaching that there is nothing that we can call a fixed self.” Jim Pym, You Don’t Have to Sit On the Floor

“Buddhism is often accused of being a religion so aborbed in the impersonal and the eternal that it overlooks the importance of individual and temporal things. According to its teachings, all things that have form are subject to change and void of any enduring “self,” but this does not imply that such things are unimportant.” Alan Watts

“It may only be a certain nagging sense that the world you live in does not fit. The job you hold, the education you recieve, the institutions that claim authority over you ( the government, the corporations, the courts, the welfare system), all these may seem to have been crudely designed for everybody in general, but for no body in person – least of all you.” Theodore Roszak, Person/Planet

“And still, you know, with an instinctive conviction, that there is an essential you behind all the world’s imposed identities, a you that needs a meaning of your own making, a personal emblem to hold in the face of grief and before the advance of death.” TR

“To give a face to the faceless, a voice to the voiceless – and to each person the one face, the one voice that is uniquely theirs… that is the meaning of personhood.” TR

In Buddhism there is the idea of anatta or no-self. That really the self is just a composition of various elements, converging and diverging in a series of rebirths. Science seems to confirm this; “I” am just a product of a highly developed neurological system, evolved in order to give coherence to the psychological experience of being an organism, itself constituted from various cells, genes, molecules and atoms in a state of flux or “rebirths”.

According to this explanation self is an experience that appears when I awaken and disappears when I go to sleep. If this is the case then “I” do not exist when the brain rests, and perhaps it is a different “I” that wakes up than the one going to sleep the night before. Perhaps “I” am a different “I” every moment time passes. The brain is not static, all cells and molecules within it are in a constant state of flux and nor is its sense of self.

And yet, there it remains; a strong, persistent sense of self. Despite changing over time, despite interruptions in the flow of consciousness called sleep, there is a strong sense of continuity, that, despite being different ages and with different personal qualities, the “I” ten years ago is the same “I” that is experience by this brain now.

Science says I am an impersonal package of impersonal neurons and synapses evolved to ensure the survival of the whole organism and the species of which I am a part. They may well be right, and I don’t deny there is truth to that. But really, let’s be serious, this is not how I experience myself, and no matter how many times I try to convince myself otherwise there’s that persistent feeling that “I” am there and “I” am very real and undeniable.

And with a scientific view we might say that this is fine, it’s way we have evolved, it’s how the organism survives and ensures the survival of its species. But even such a reductionist explanation still doesn’t quite do it justice, not the way I live it every day of my life. I feel it needs more honouring than that (and perhaps that’s just another survival trait?).

From an impersonal “soup” we call the Universe, a person can emerge, consciousness can take on a personal form! Not like it is imposed from somewhere “outside” or “beyond” but that personality is latent in the physical laws of the Universe. “I” existed as sleeping potential in the very fabric of the Universe, but without form or presence. And then an impersonal egg and sperm came together and began a journey that would lead to personhood through a miracle of biology and neurology, with millions of years of evolution preceding this moment. And this has happened not just once but many times over. Millions of persons. Billions of persons. Individual persons, not just masses of people.

Amazing that each human face and each human voice is so distinctive as to not be confused with anybody else… most of the time. Imagine over 6 Billion people with a face and a voice that is uniquely theirs! And that’s only now, imagine all the unique humans there have been and the unique humans there will be! Even animals transmit some sort of instinctive self, if my Cocker Spaniel is in a room of similar Cocker Spaniels I’ll still know which one is “her”. It is imprinted in me. Something that happens with people we don’t know as well, though seem to know so well…

You hear a voice on the radio, you see a face on the TV and instantly you have a sense of recognition. Sometimes you may not remember the name or why they are famous but instantly you know it is that person and no one else. Looking at a DVD cover right now I see a woman’s face, I don’t recognise her. I see a name -Kate Beckinsale- and instant recognition comes to me, it is her, much much younger but you see it is the same “person”. And turning over to the back I see another picture of her with another man poring over a map or something and I recognise him instantly; Art Malik. I see only his face looking down, can’t see much of a profile but I know it is him. Why can’t I mistake him for anyone else if he and I are just impersonal bundles of neurons and synapses amongst billions?

Impossible! Isn’t it? And what if it isn’t impossible, what if it is true? Doesn’t that make it even more of a miracle that “I” am here communicating with “you”?

How can individual unique persons be so “mass produced” in such an unconscious and impersonal Universe? The mind boggles! The mind gropes for some plausible fantasy to explain this; a “superbeing” “out there,” or manifest destiny, or a ghost in the machine, or, or, or…

It’s a miracle of nature, an implausible reality, to distill many millions, billions, trillions of impersonal elements; like cells, atoms, subatomic particles, through long long processes of evolution to finally arrive at personhood! The machine is the ghost! There I am. And there you are!

Miracles, each of us.

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“Let us feel and obey the urge aroused by the great need of healing the serious ills which at present are affecting humanity; let us realize the contribution we can make to the creation of a new civilization characterized by an harmonious integration and cooperation, pervaded by the spirit of synthesis.” Robert Assaggioli

 

“Whether we own it or not, most of us are deeply influenced by Christianity. With so many years of history, it could not be otherwise. We are influenced by it even if we consciously reject it.” Jim Pym, You Don’t Have To Sit On The Floor

The context: a Druid message board and I ask whether or not those trying to recreate a pre-Christian worldview (known as a Reconstructionist) take into account the history of Christianity and its influence on them? For instance, I had a Christian upbringing and the society I grew up in has had a heavy Christian influence built into it, can I legitimately disown this Christian influence to reconstruct a worldview that is more or less extinct?


 I was thinking of the value of the Christian worldview to the unfolding of history. Its claims of exclusivity have been detrimental, there’s no doubt about it. But it’s what I think of as a human-based worldview, much like Buddhism. Originally, it came from a Jewish background and it could have stayed that way, as one type of Judaism amongst others, like the Pharisees and Saducees of its time. If St Paul hadn’t converted it may have stayed that way. But Paul took the message further and broke its original Jewish context to make it more universal. In some of his writings he talks of men and women, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, all united “in Christ.” For me, this is an important aspect of Christianity and other human-based worldviews; it transcends local cultural boundaries and brings humanity together into the same basis for understanding each other.

 

In theory, it’s good. One example is in Tibet, where Buddhism “defeated” the native shamanic worldview. But it didn’t try to subdue it, it understood that the native worldview had its own valid expression in the world. All it did was to take the native practices and beliefs and bring it into line with a Buddhist understanding. Buddhism (in this case at least) respected the continuity of Tibetan culture but also had something valuable to offer to Tibet that it may not have found for itself; a common HUMAN understanding as opposed to a worldview in which only Tibetans can understand. Here we have a healthy mingling of a local worldview and a universal (human) worldview.

 

In Christian Europe, things were quite different. I think originally Christianity was like Buddhism in that it was something that didn’t impose itself on other cultures but could find itself happily “seeding” itself amongst different cultures because it wasn’t so constrained to local cultural views, like Jews, Celts, Vikings, Arabs, Romans, Greeks etc. Its basic human element meant it could fit almost anywhere (Rome, Greece, Egypt, Israel etc). I think when the Roman Empire took hold of Christianity that was when Christianity became a force to dominate the world with (because that was what the Roman Empire was doing) but this time it was doing it on a religious level, using Christianity’s universal human quality as a tool to dominate the world with, seeing themselves as the sole custodians of a human religion (as opposed to a local tribal religon) that gave them the rights to feel superior to their “pagan” subjects, who they saw as unenlightened “yokels”. A view that has tainted European thought ever since. Another problem (and one that Buddhism hasn’t been clean of either, except for some female Buddhas) is that women weren’t a valuable part of it, often being seen as somehow “less than human.” Perhaps something that some pre-Christian worldviews can help us resolve but once again, despite nominal “goddess worship” women have sometimes suffered the same.

 

But still, the Roman Christianity couldn’t completely convert the native cultures. Often the Christian worldview they imposed had to be adapted to native practices as much as it adapted the natives, so we often see old Pagan celebrations hidden beneath a thin veneer of Christian language. Then later, with the Protestant Reformation, there have been attempts to shed even this and get down to the basics of a human worldview without the trappings of culturally specific practices.

 

The universal human quality of Christianity is the aspect that I feel is the best of the legacy that it represents. In it I am black, I am white. I am man, I am woman. I am HUMAN. I think in this day and age though, Christianity’s true nature could be revived through the gentle clarity of Buddhist understanding and more able to shed its “Roman” quality of Imperial Domination and the Jewish God’s claim to exclusivity. But that’s my own idea and various interfaith efforts are working towards this.

 

For me to reject the Christian legacy of my culture’s history is to deny a universal human worldview, to once again divide humanity up into local tribes. For me the true legacy of Christianity is human unity, which is why I don’t believe in rejecting it nor in reconstructing a pre-Christian worldview as a replacement. What I do believe in is what I’ve recently taken to calling Reconnectionist Paganism.

 

For me, this is to go beyond the Christian-centric vision of history we have. It seems that history has forgotten about what happened before Christianity in Europe. The Pagan roots were hidden and denied by Christianity (unlike the spread of Buddhism, possibly). For me, the coming of Christianity in Europe was not the problem. The problem was the suppression of Pagan culture. We could have been more peacfully united in a human-Christianity, where local tribal cultures still flourished and yet had a common human understanding “through Christ”. That did not happen though and the Roman and Jewish baggage that Christianity had aquired skewed our historical identity so that we forgot about Pagan Europe, or at least denied its identity. Paganism, for me, is about reconnecting the roots of my British-European identity to a deeper, pre-Christian, one. But I still maintain my Christian heritage, especially its Humanist elements.

 

The problem, for me, is that if I adopted the Reconstructionist approach and tried to learn to think like my pre-Christian ancestors (Germanic, Celtic and/or Norse) I’d be learning a worldview suited to the way the world was back then, when you stood for your tribe against the potentially hazardous forces of nature and competition against other tribes. In this day and age, when we’re in such a small and delicate world, with powerful technologies at our disposal, this tribal worldview (fragmented and competitive, like Celtic cattle raiders or Viking pirates) is not to our advantage, we are in desperate need of basic human values of collaboration and common understanding, something we can find in the Humanist elements of Christianity (at least in the heritage of the Western World).

 

But humans are not an isolated subject, we cannot have a Humanist worldview without recognising its wider context; that of our living planet. For me, this offers another common worldview, alongside our common humanity. It is the universal context in which we have all evolved within and carry on evolving. In this stage of history, we need to develop a “Gaian” worldview especially since our influence on the environment is so powerful that we cannot afford not to coordinate and focus ourselves together, with the same worldview to orientate ourselves.

 

The Earth is ONE thing. Humanity is learning this, but in a detrimental and destructive way. No matter what culture you are in, no matter where you live, no matter what beliefs and values you hold dear, we all live under global influence, the collapse of which will be universal, affecting every human being (and plenty of other species as well). Favoritism is not a part of this system, so either we have to find a coherent way of thinking and behaving within the living Earth or go extinct, along with all the worldviews we have developed.

 

On one level, that of the planet, there is conformity. But at the same time there is room for diversity as the diversity of species and ecosystems (and even worldviews) can attest. Then the “conformity” I’m talking about is not conformity at all otherwise our ecological diversity would not be possible. Instead, I talk about coherence and synthesis.

 

As a student of Psychosynthesis (founded by Robert Assagioli), I view my life as a single, progressive, path and the various aspects of my personality as a coherent whole working towards synthesis. So too with the history of things, which I view myself as a “synthetic” part of. Humanity is on a coherent evolutionary course, despite appearances (we are diversified as a species but at present humanity is undeniably going through a process of globalisation).  For me, the course of our historical developments i.e. practical (agricultural, industrial) or spiritual (monotheistic, polytheistic etc) are legitimate ways through which humanity, as a coherent whole, express what we are, what we have become and what we are becoming.

 

For me, to deny my Pagan heritage is to cut away at a root of my human identity, depriving it of a vital part of what my humanity is. On the other hand, denial of the more recent Christian developments is to regress, depriving me of a vital part of what humanity, for me, has become. To be “totally Christian” or “totally Pagan” I see as an impossibility in these times where both have played a fundamental part in our evolution as a species. I cannot just “baptise” my past away, thinking it is not a part of my spiritual journey.

 

To be honest I don’t care about whether there is one God or many gods or none at all. I don’t believe that’s neither important nor REALLY relevant to our present place in history. What I do believe in is humanity and the Earth. I seem to remember one fiction book’s take on King Arthur where he was asked what he believed in, the old polytheist religion or the newer monotheistic religion. His reply was something like “I don’t know but I know I believe in humanity.”

 

I’ll add to this “I believe in Gaia,” that humanity cannot regard itself in a separate way from its ecological context, although a distinction can be made. Humanity’s current process of globalisation means that all the cultures that have found themselves estranged from each other, diversifying from each other, are now converging, with our new atmosphere of international travel, communication and politics. This is a very volatile time, where incompatible or competing cultures are finding themselves at odds. We grew from Africa and spread around the globe, becoming diversified. But because of the inventive, communicative and organisational nature of humanity, the process of globalisation seems an unavoidable part of our evolution.

 

My view of Druidry is coloured by this. I do not view Druidry as a local Irish-British-Gaulish “wisdom tradition” to be reconstructed but something that could have found itself growing beyond this culturally bound context. The Druids I view as an intertribal network, providing different tribes and different cultures with a common way of understanding and communication, at its heart I can see that it may have had humanitarian values. I wonder, if the Roman Empire had not invaded Britain, and later Christianity had not usurped the Druids, that Druidry may have expanded and evolved across Europe, uniting fragmented tribes and their different pantheons with common principles. Speculation, true, but one that influences how I practice my Druidry. What’s more, what the “humanitarian” Druidry does that Christianity and Buddhism often don’t so much is to consider the importance of our environmental context, it has a place for humans within nature. It is mainly seen as an Earth-based spirituality.

 

The Conclusion: For me, this is perhaps best summed up in “To be “totally Christian” or “totally Pagan” I see as an impossibility in these times where both have played a fundamental part in our evolution as a species.”

My journey through Paganism helped me recognise and integrate a deeper pre-Christian identity that was within me and within my culture. But also I see the evolution of humanity as one process, and all of its world views, developments and challenges are part of that process, from the dispersal from Africa and subsequent diversification to the global reconnection we are going through now. Ultimately I view myself as a Gaian, because within the living Earth all of our worldviews has developed, from Animism to Materialism, Shamanism to Scientific Pantheism, Nihilism to Idealism, Polytheism to Monotheism, all have grown within humanity, and humanity has grown within Gaia. Our ideas are as much a part of Gaia  as we are.