Depending on whether you query conventional religion about the way of salvation, or ask your question of the Sophia Perennis (the transcultural tradition of spiritual wisdom), you’re likely to get very different answers. Religion will speak in dogmatic terms of what you need to believe and what you need to do in order to qualify yourself for the salvation you’re seeking. Joining a local “chapter” (church, temple, mosque, or ashram) will be strongly encouraged, since belonging to and surrounding yourself with like-minded folks offers good protection against backsliding.
The wisdom tradition, on the other hand, will respond differently to your question. Before the conversation goes too far, it will want to know what you think salvation is and why you think you need it. You may find you’re chasing after or looking for something that really isn’t relevant – or even real. Like that old saw about a ladder against the wrong wall, you don’t want to reach the top only to realize that your true longings are elsewhere.
Paradoxically the wisdom teachings will challenge you to see that looking for salvation (or wanting to “get saved”) is your deeper problem.
Do this instead – or rather, stop chasing and simply be present to your life, just as it is. Your problem is rooted in the difficulty of remaining for any significant length of time completely in this place, right where you are. So stop the chasing, drop the pursuit, release your craving for something else (the false promises of retail marketing and bad religion), and let yourself just relax into being, here and now. A few deep and slow breaths will let the tension slide away, as you hold a soft gaze in front of you or gently close your eyes.
It won’t be long before you become aware that this is all there is, and that you presently dwell at the center of all things. This is known as solitude, and it really has nothing to do with being by yourself somewhere in a remote cabin or monastery – although it can happen there as well. The key thing, the absolutely essential thing, is that you are fully present in centered awareness wherever you happen to be. It’s not yesterday or tomorrow, over there or somewhere else.
The Christian mystic Meister Eckhart named it the “Eternal Now”: not everlasting but timeless, the moment where time breaks open to being-itself and this is all there is.
Another interesting paradox is how, in this deep centered space of solitude, you are simultaneously one with all things. The Sophia Perennis names this fact-of-facts communion, referring to the undifferentiated oneness in which you and everything else are presently grounded. The deeper into yourself consciousness is able to descend, the more you see that the grounding mystery of your existence gives rise to all existence, and that everything – including, of course, you in your solitude – is rooted in this same ground.
This is where Sophia Perennis and conventional religion are most different, perhaps, in their very different perspectives on that in you which makes you most uniquely you: your ego. As your executive center of personality management, ego (Latin for “I”) is what actually generates the delusion of your separate existence – with you here and everything else flung out and away from you as “not me.”
If that earlier exercise of dropping into deeper solitude was especially challenging for you, your hang-up was likely here, in the insecurity that inevitably – and to some extent for everyone – comes along with the prize of becoming a unique “somebody.”
Your ego requires this separate workspace to exist, and yet the separation is what provokes its insecure feelings of anxiety, exposure, and alienation. Much of conventional religion is organized around the project of reducing this (what is called) existential anxiety, by giving you something to hope for and hang onto. Salvation, according to this system, is about saving you (i.e., your egoic self) from what threatens your security: pain, illness, decrepitude, death, your body (because it will die), and the sucking drain of time.
Conventional religion is intolerant of any notion suggesting that getting out is not the answer, and that dropping deeper in is. And yet, this is indeed the fundamental message of the wisdom teachings. The delusion of a separate identity (i.e., your ego) doesn’t need to be saved, but rather released and left “up here” at the shimmering surface of illusion, as consciousness drops into deeper registers of present awareness, solitude, and communion.
Those obsessed with saving the ego typically cannot comprehend why anyone should go deeper into “the problem” they’re needing to escape, and for this reason conventional religion has a long history of condemning, excommunicating, persecuting, and killing Wisdom’s children (aka mystics).
Once you have awakened to the fact of oneness, released your ego and dropped into the grounding mystery of solitude-in-communion, the true way of salvation opens itself to you. A “peace that surpasses understanding,” not merely a non-anxious presence of mind but a profound sense of inner calm and wellbeing, flows from a quiet spring deep within your soul. As this “water of eternal life” rises in you, it fills you with an uncontainable joy, which just as irresistibly flows out from you to others in gestures, expressions, and demonstrations of love.
Once again we can contrast the different attitudes of the Sophia Perennis and conventional religion, now with respect to the motivation for loving others.
Conventional religion tries to put you under the command of some divine law (“Thou shalt love your neighbor …”) or the urgency of obedience for the sake of some future reward (“… if you want to live forever in heaven someday.”). Here love needs a reason, an ultimatum, or incentive of some kind. Religion recognizes that there is little hope for society if members can’t get along and care for each other, but it also knows that self-interested egos require some pressure – both external and internal – to extend or sacrifice themselves for the sake of others.
But when your love is the outflow of a joy which is sourced from a wellspring of a peace deep, deep in the solitude of your oneness with everything, it is spontaneous, generous, and indiscriminate in its generosity, for there is no self-interest to persuade or separation to overcome. You know that you and the other are mere manifestations of the same grounding mystery, participants together in the transpersonal unity of life.
This is the kindom of spirit, where the deeper oneness of communion finds expression through the diverse fellowship of beings, resolving at last in a great harmony of “peace on Earth.” Religion says you have to wait and hope for it. Wisdom says it’s already here, if you have eyes to see it.