Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On Being Led by the Lord

by Jeremy K. Finkeldey

Although I am not new to spiritual practice I am new to A Course In Miracles. I was aware of it way back whenever it was first published decades ago – but I never really looked at it. Others were excited about it but I felt that I had all the spirituality I needed. It turns out that spirituality doesn’t come in amounts – it’s either there, or partially blocked, or even totally blocked. And being, essentially, God – spirituality must be unbounded and eternal. So (me being partially blocked) what happened was, “life” or the “dark side” or whatever you want to call it, used my beliefs and what I “thought” to kick me around for a decade or so until I was ready again. I began to study the “Course” (as I have heard it called for short) only about 6 months ago. Now I’m in a ACIM study group and actively soaking up as much of the Course as I can fit in my daily schedule – and I’m loving it!

I am also experiencing a considerable amount of conflict between what the Course appears to be teaching and my own personal paradigm. I am told it is that way for many people and I regard it as a product of my less than helpful inclination toward semantic argumentation – an ego thing no doubt.

I sense that there is a vitally important lesson in the Course that I am now ready to learn – so I am hanging in there with it and actually benefitting quite a bit. I am expecting and hoping for considerable growth in the area of listening for, being led by, and following the “voice” of the Holy Spirit (as the Course calls it). Twelve Step literature says that we are in this world to “play the role [God] assigns” (Wilson, 2001, p. 68) and if we want our program to work it’s safe to assume that we have to work it. I believe the Course In Miracles is going to help me to better learn God’s will for me and gain the power to carry it out.

Anyway, I wanted to post some ideas here on being led by the Lord. They are derived from my study of the works of the 18th century mystic and revelator Emanuel Swedenborg as well as my investigation into the phenomenon of Alcoholics Anonymous and its remarkable non-denominational recovery program. I will include citations from A Course In Miracles where it seems appropriate.

Increasing, and eternal, conjunction with the Lord through the process of repentance, reformation, and regeneration is the essential goal of all Swedenborgian spiritual practice. Conjunction with the Lord, Whom I have elsewhere described as “Consciousness Itself” (see below and Finkeldey, 2007, pp. 6-8), amounts to an enhancement of human consciousness and the practices of introspection, prayer, and meditation are essential to that process. One of the human dynamics that grows during the process of reformation and regeneration is a greater willingness to be led by the Lord rather than by self.

The first thing to understand about the Lord’s leading is that everyone, whether willing or not willing, is led by the Lord. We may not be able to know exactly how this is accomplished by the Lord. Swedenborg writes:

“… the ways by which the Lord leads man are far more complicated and inexplicable, both those by which the Lord leads man through the societies of hell and away from them, and also those by which he leads him through the societies of heaven and interiorly into them. This, therefore, is what is meant by "the wind bloweth where it willeth, and thou knowest not whence it cometh and whither it goeth" (John 3:8), also by "the seed springeth up and groweth up, the man knoweth not how" (Mark 4:27). Moreover, of what consequence is it for a man to know how seed grows up, provided he knows how to plow and harrow the land, to sow the seed, and when he reaps his harvest to bless God?” (Swedenborg, 1960, AE 1153:9)

Our freedom is always kept intact by the Lord, regardless of any appearance to the contrary, since without freedom no spiritual reformation or regeneration is possible. Even when he is in hell as to his spirit a person is led by the Lord.

“… by freedom the Lord enters into man, even into the hell where he is, and by it leads him while in hell, and if he is willing to follow, leads him out of hell and leads him into heaven, and nearer and nearer to Himself in heaven. In this and in no other way is man led out of infernal freedom, which regarded in itself is slavery, because it is from hell, and is led into heavenly freedom, which is freedom itself, becoming by degrees more free, and at length most free, because it is from the Lord who wills that man should not be in the least compelled.” (Swedenborg, 1960, AE 1155:4, emphasis added)

Let A.A. serve as another example of this. In his explanation of the third step of the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program, Bill Wilson wrote, “All we need is a key, and the decision to swing the door open. There is only one key, and it is called willingness” (Wilson, 1986, p. 34, emphasis added). In his work on the Divine Providence Swedenborg describes reformation as a three stage process perhaps analogous to the first three steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 151). In that same passage Swedenborg explains:

“The external is reformed by means of the internal when the external desists from the evils which the internal does not will because they are infernal, and still more when the external for this reason shuns them and fights against them. Thus willing is the part of the internal and doing of the external. For unless a man does that which he wills there is within him the failure to will which eventually becomes want of will.” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 151, emphasis added)

Hence, there is the need for the alcoholic to actually stop drinking, and, to maintain a desire to stop drinking in order to avoid relapse. The Swedenborgian concept of human freedom is vital in understanding the process by which the Lord leads a person to a better life. To summarize it, all freedom is according to love in the sense that when a person is doing what he loves he feels free. When constrained from doing what he loves he feels not free (Swedenborg, 1983, AC 2870).

One of the most important concepts to understand regarding human freedom involves the teaching concerning the equilibrium between heaven and hell and how it provides people living in the natural world with freedom of choice (Swedenborg, 1995, HH 589-603). This is derived from our connection with angels and spirits in the spiritual world. The quality of this connection is such that we are continually kept in the appearance that we think, will, and act from ourselves. Swedenborg explains how the Lord keeps us in ‘free choice’ or ‘equilibrium’ as he calls it:

“…there is a constant emanation from hell of evil and falsity together; but from heaven there is a constant emanation of good and truth together. In this equilibrium every man is kept as long as he lives in the world, and is thereby kept in that liberty of thinking, willing, speaking and doing, in which he can be reformed. For this spiritual equilibrium from which man has freedom see the work Heaven and Hell (n. 589-596, 597-603).” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 23)

This appearance, however, is contrary to our deeper, inner reality. In the work on Divine Providence Swedenborg wrote:

“The appearance is that man is led and taught of himself; but the truth is that he is led and taught by the Lord alone. Those who confirm in themselves the appearance and not at the same time the truth, are unable to remove from themselves evils as sins [and cannot be reformed]. [They] are all interior idolaters, for they are worshippers of self and the world. If they have no religion they become worshippers of nature, and thus atheists; but if they have a religion they become worshippers of men and also of images. Such are they at the present day who are meant in the first commandment of the Decalogue, who worship other gods. Those, however, who confirm in themselves the appearance and also the truth become worshippers of the Lord; for the Lord raises them up from their proprium which is in the appearance... and He enables them to perceive interiorly that they are not led and taught of themselves, but by Him.” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 154:1-2)

This ‘appearance’ that we are led and taught by ourselves is an absolutely necessary ingredient in our ability to love both our neighbor and the Lord. It is provided by the Lord for that reason. Without it our eternal happiness would not be possible. No amount of spiritual growth or consciousness expansion takes away this ‘as if of self’ appearance. As I said in the section on influx (Finkeldey, 2007, p. 36), even Swedenborg, in his enlightened state, and aware of the true reality of cognitive and affective interdependence, never lost the feeling of thinking and willing from himself (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 290). It is an appearance that virtually takes care of itself and is with us regardless of our level of consciousness.

Swedenborg instructs that we are to confirm in ourselves both “the appearance” that we are “led and taught” of ourselves, and, “the truth” we are “led and taught by the Lord alone” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 154). My assertion is that “confirming” the latter involves far more spiritual effort, practice, and awareness than confirming the former. And yet, through spiritual effort, practice, and awareness the deeper, inner reality can begin to show itself to our conscious mind. We can begin to become aware of synchronistic, coincidental occurrences in our daily lives that give us a sense of the Lord’s presence. As we grow spiritually, we can begin to see the Divine Providence working and know that the Lord is leading us. Swedenborg describes this experience as follows:

“All who receive influx from heaven and acknowledge the Divine Providence, and especially those who by reformation have become spiritual, when they see events in some wonderful series, see the Divine Providence, as it were, from an interior acknowledgment and confess it. They do not desire to see it in the face, that is, before it comes into operation, fearing lest their will should enter into anything of its order and tenor. [2] It is otherwise with those who do not admit any influx from heaven but only from the world, especially with those who have become natural from confirming appearances in themselves.” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 187)

What Swedenborg is here referring to as the “Divine Providence” is what A Course In Miracles calls the “Holy Spirit.” The Course says that the Holy Spirit is the “Teacher” Who leads us back to our real state of oneness with God if we are willing to follow (T.12.V.9). He is, “the remaining Communication Link between God and His separated Sons” (CT.6.3.1). These ideas are in accord with Swedenborg’s hefty doctrine of the Divine Providence and yet when one reads through the Course it is possible to get the feeling that it is talking about a God divided into a trinity of separate Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Since dividing God in that way is a Divine impossibility it is important to state clearly that, “…God is one, in whom is the Divine Trinity, and He is the Lord Jesus Christ….” (Swedenborg, 1996, CL 82). Swedenborg explains in his theological works that God is emphatically One. The Trinity is One in the Lord, the “Father” being like the soul, the “Human” (or Jesus Christ) being like the body, and the “Holy Spirit” being like the operation of the soul in and through the body which creates a sphere of influence which proceeds from the Lord. This sphere of influence is the Divine Providence or Holy Spirit. The Oneness of God is important to always keep in mind in spiritual practice in order for one’s practice to be effective and real. Swedenborg warns against dividing God up in the mind which has the effect of putting reason “to sleep.”

“In every man there is soul, body, and operation; so also in the Lord, "for in the Lord dwells all the fullness of Divinity bodily," according to Paul (Col. 2:9); … In this mystical [yet false] notion that there are three Divine persons and yet one God, and that this God, although one, is nevertheless not one person, everyone can see that reason has no part, but has been lulled to sleep, and still it compels the mouth to speak like a parrot… At this day human reason, in respect to the Divine trinity, is bound like a man in prison, manacled and fettered … if the soul is made one God, and the body another, and the operation a third, how does this differ from making three parts, each distinct from the other, out of these three essentials of one man? And what is that but cutting him in pieces and slaying him?” (TCR 169)

A wrong idea of God “infects” all of the teaching drawn from it in the human mind. This will inevitably degrade the quality of a person’s spiritual practice whereas a right idea of God will have the opposite effect. Swedenborg writes:

“Who is there that cannot understand, that all dogmas founded on the idea of three Gods, must be interiorly erroneous and false? I say interiorly, because the idea of God enters into all things of the church, religion, and worship; and theological matters have their residence above all others in the human mind, and the idea of God is in the supreme place there; wherefore if this be false, all beneath it, in consequence of the principle from whence they flow, must likewise be false or falsified; for that which is supreme, being also the inmost, constitutes the very essence of all that is derived from it; and the essence, like a soul, forms them into a body, after its own image; and when in its descent it lights upon truths, it even infects them with its own blemish and error. The idea of three Gods in theology may be compared to a disease seated in the heart or lungs, in which the patient fancies himself to be in health, because his physician, not knowing his disease, persuades him that he is so; but if the physician knows it, and still persuades, he may justly be charged with deep malignity.” (BE 40)

Even though the Course often sounds, as do most modern Christian religious denominations, like it’s trying to divide God into three parts it occasionally makes very clear statements about the oneness of God. For example, here is one such passage which also refers the awakening involved in devoting one’s spirit to God (nb. the Course includes people in what it calls the “Sonship” as a way of reinforcing the idea that we are all one with God. Therefore a person is also a “Son of God”):

“Nothing can prevail against a Son of God [a person] who commends his spirit into the Hands of his Father. By doing this the mind awakens from its sleep and remembers its Creator. All sense of separation disappears. The Son of God [divine] is part of the Holy Trinity, but the Trinity Itself is One. There is no confusion within Its Levels, because They are of one Mind and one Will. This single purpose creates perfect integration and establishes the peace of God. Yet this vision can be perceived only by the truly innocent.” (T.3.II.5.1-7, emphasis added)

So the God we are waking up to be led by is One.

Another passage from Swedenborg suggests that the Lord’s leading, with a presumably greater degree of personal spiritual development, can play a moment-to-moment role in our daily lives. Swedenborg wrote of this phenomenon in his work Spiritual Experiences:

“There is with those who are being led by the Lord a certain inward sight or consciousness in regard to things that are to be done, especially in the act of doing them. This sight is so clear to those who are led by the Lord, that they do not do any least thing unless it is either by the Lord's good pleasure, or by His consent, or by His permission. These are distinct from each other, and the person is also given to see them distinctly, but this fact cannot be understood by anyone except by such a one. Others, no matter how well the matter is explained, along with all the circumstances, still do not believe it, because they do not understand. For example, even spirits who are quite intelligent still cannot be convinced that it is so. They who know it, and do not want to think from themselves, and are therefore in the way of truth, acquire such a sight. The main reason why others cannot believe this is that they think they would then be deprived entirely of their own free will in doing and thinking what they love, supposing they would thus be as if dead. I said to them, however, that then they are alive, because living from oneself is rather death, because there is nothing of good from what is one's own.” (Swedenborg, 1998, SE 891a, emphasis added)

The acquisition of this kind of “sight”, or way of knowing, is the product of sustained spiritual practice resulting in an individual’s reformation and regeneration. This is not likely to occur overnight. More likely, it is the result of many years of spiritual practice and usefulness to all of our neighbors in the Lord’s kingdom – as well as the result of many mistakes along the way. Swedenborg described a way of knowing whether one is led by the Lord or not in terms of a “sign”. He wrote:

“Those who acknowledge God and His Divine Providence are like the angels of heaven, who regard with aversion being led of themselves, and who love to be led by the Lord; and a sign that they are led by the Lord is that they love the neighbor.” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 208, emphasis added)

I would like to end this section on being led by the Lord with a brief commentary on what I consider to be a manifestation of the Lord’s leading in the lives of others – Alcoholics Anonymous. One of A.A.’s traditions – Tradition Two - illustrates the truth of this assertion.

“For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority – a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.” (Wilson, 1986, p. 132)

When Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous wrote these words he was near the end of a very long and harrowing process. It was the process of leading the way in forging not only the 12 step recovery program for alcoholics but also the 12 traditions by which the fellowship he helped to create would govern itself. Alcoholics Anonymous is now a global organization with millions of members. Its spiritual program of recovery is based on building a conscious relationship with God however the individual member may understand Him. The service structure of A.A. is decidedly theocratic and emphatically non-ecclesiastical. All may join, regardless of background or belief, provided they meet the one membership requirement of A.A. – a desire to stop drinking. Non-members may attend open meetings for educational purposes. Having done so, I can attest to the effectiveness of its program and have shown in this paper how it is based in large measure on the practice of three basic spiritual principles – introspection, prayer, and meditation. These principles were gathered by the early members from various religious and philosophical traditions and tested in the laboratory of A.A. experience. In the words of one man I spoke with, “A.A. works – if you work it” (Anonymous A.A. member, personal communication, January 16, 2006).

Not only has A.A. gone global but many other fellowships, all cloned from A.A.’s model to help people deal with problems other than alcohol, have been started and have themselves gone global. It’s very difficult NOT to see the hand of Providence in the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is why I have featured it in this paper. From hours of personal interviews with A.A. members, all of whom by tradition choose to remain anonymous, I can only conclude that they are people who for the most part simply and selflessly work for the good of others. This is doubtless why A.A. is so effective, “for in good the Lord is present” (Swedenborg, 1983, AC 3263).


Finkeldey, J. K. (2007). Spiritual practice and consciousness. Unpublished Manuscript: The Swedenborg Library.

Schucman, H. and Thetford, W. (2007). A course in miracles: Combined volume. Third edition. Mill Valley, CA: Foundation for Inner Peace. Nb. In references T = Text, W = Workbook for Students, M=Manual for Teachers, CT = Clarification of Terms, PS = Psychotherapy: Purpose, Process and Practice, and SP = Song of Prayer: Prayer, Forgiveness, Healing.

Swedenborg, E. (1892). Brief Exposition of the Doctrine of the New Church Which is Meant by "The New Jerusalem" in the Apocalypse (J. Whitehead Trans.). New York, NY: Swedenborg Foundation. (Original work published 1769) BE

Swedenborg, E. (1949). Divine providence (Wm. Dick & E. J. Pulsford Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published 1764) DP

Swedenborg, E. (1960). The apocalypse explained (J. Whitehead Trans.). New York, NY: Swedenborg Foundation. (Original work written c. 1757-1759 and first published posthumously in the original Latin in 1870) AE

Swedenborg, E. (1983). Arcana coelestia (J. E. Elliott Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published c. 1749-1756) AC

Swedenborg, E. (1995). Heaven and hell (J. C. Ager Trans.). West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation. (Original work published 1758) HH

Swedenborg, E. (1996). Conjugial love (J. Chadwick Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published 1768) CL

Swedenborg, E. (1998). Spiritual experiences (J. D. Odhner Trans.). Bryn Athyn, PA: Academy of the New Church. (Original work written c. 1747-1765) SE

Wilson, W. (1986). Twelve steps and twelve traditions. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. (Original work published 1952)

Wilson, W. et. al. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous. Fourth edition. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. (Original work published 1939)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Consciousness Itself

by Jeremy K. Finkeldey


This blog post is a re-worked excerpt from my senior paper entitled Spiritual practice and consciousness. When you see a reference here to "this paper" it is to the larger paper that I am referring. The thesis of Spiritual practice and consciousness is that the spiritual practices of introspection, prayer, and meditation facilitate an enhanced connection with the Divine effecting a greater consciousness in the human mind. As you will see in this excerpt (among other sources) I draw heavily on the works of the 18th century mystic and revelator Emanuel Swedenborg as well as certain select Buddhist sources to support my thesis.

Consciousness Itself

Before delving into the subject of enhancing personal human consciousness through the spiritual practices of introspection, prayer, and meditation it is necessary to ask the question “What is consciousness itself?” This topic is, of course, too large and involved to do it thorough justice in a paper of this scope. However, the thesis of this paper stands on several basic assumptions. The first of these is that, as Swedenborg has revealed, “God is one, in whom is the Divine Trinity, and He is the Lord Jesus Christ” (Swedenborg, 1996, CL 82). A second basic assumption, also from Swedenborg’s Writings, is that all real created things have in fact been created by and from the one true God of the universe. The following, from Swedenborg’s work entitled Divine Providence, expresses it well:

"Every created thing, and especially man, and the love and wisdom in him, have reality and are not merely ideas of being. For unless God were Infinite there would be no finite; and unless the Infinite were the All there would be no reality; and unless God had created all things from Himself there would be nothing. In a word, we are because God is." (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 46, emphasis added)

This passage is clearly stating that all things have been created, not from nothing, but from the Lord. Because the Lord is infinite, and all created things are finite, this necessarily implies that there is a process by which the Lord makes finite that which is infinite - a "finition" process (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 1-167). Logically then everything that exists from first things to last, with the exception of evil and its falsity (since that cannot be attributed to the Lord), is from the Lord. This is why Swedenborg, when discussing some quality human beings are capable of, will often do so with reference to the Lord. For example, in his work on the Divine Providence in a discussion with angels on the subject of human wisdom, he can be seen referring to the Lord as “Wisdom itself” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 36). Therefore the Lord is the source of all human wisdom. For its metaphorical beauty, and its abundance of truth relevant to the thesis of this paper, I will cite this passage here in full:

"I have sometimes conversed with angels about wisdom; and they said that wisdom is conjunction with the Lord, because the Lord is Wisdom itself; and that a man attains that conjunction who casts hell out from himself, and that he attains it so far as he casts out hell. They said also that they picture to themselves wisdom as a palace, magnificent and highly adorned, the ascent to which is by twelve steps, and that no one reaches the first step unless from the Lord through conjunction with Him. Further, they said that everyone ascends according to the measure of the conjunction; and as he ascends he perceives that no one is wise from himself, but only from the Lord, and that the things in which he is wise, compared with those in which he is not wise, are as a few drops of water to a great lake. By the twelve steps leading to the palace of wisdom are signified principles of good conjoined to those of truth, and principles of truth conjoined to those of good." (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 36, emphasis added)

Similar “Itself” statements can be found throughout the Writings of Swedenborg in reference to the Lord. To point to a few, the Lord is said to be:
* Wisdom itself (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 36)
* Love itself (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 4)
* Life itself (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 4)
* Peace itself (Swedenborg, 1983, AC 1726)
* Mercy itself (Swedenborg, 1904, Lord 18:1)
* Justice itself (Swedenborg, 1904, Lord 18:1)
* Good itself (Swedenborg, 1997, De Verbo 12)
* Truth itself (Swedenborg, 1997, De Verbo 12)

If the Lord is all these things “themselves” – indeed, if the Lord (as stated above in DP 46) is the “All” – then it seems reasonable to say that the Lord is also Consciousness Itself. In the same way that the Lord is Life Itself – He is also Consciousness Itself. Or, as Swedenborg wrote:

"… nothing whatever in the created universe is substance and form in itself, nor love and wisdom in itself, indeed neither is man a man in himself, but all is from God, Who is Man, Wisdom and Love, and Form and Substance in Himself. That which is in itself is uncreate and infinite. But whatever is from itself… is created and finite, and this represents an image of Him from Whom it is and from Whom it exists." (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 52, emphasis added)

Therefore human consciousness is, or should be, an image of the Divine consciousness from which it exists. Indeed, the same number from Divine Love and Wisdom tells us something of the quality of human consciousness very deserving of reflection:

"Each and every thing which exists in the created universe has such a correspondence with each and every thing of man, that it may be said that man also is a kind of universe. There is a correspondence of his affections and hence of his thoughts with all things of the animal kingdom; of his will and hence of his understanding with all things of the vegetable kingdom; and of his ultimate life with all things of the mineral kingdom." (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 52)

The third, and final, basic assumption on which the thesis of this paper stands is that there are two foundations of truth provided to the human mind by the Lord. Swedenborg writes:

"The foundations of truth… are two, one from the Word, the other from nature or from the truths of nature… still, they [i.e., these two foundations of truth] agree the one with the other… Since sciences have shut up the understanding, therefore, sciences may also open it; and it is opened so far as men are in good… all things of heaven constantly have their foundation in the laws of the order of nature, in the world and in man, so that the foundation remains permanently fixed." (Swedenborg, 1902, SE 5709, emphasis added)

These two foundations of truth are, according to Swedenborg, the two avenues by which humans can gain knowledge of God. Ultimate reality involves a finite universe created from the Divine substance of an infinite God as described in Swedenborg’s work on the Divine Love and Wisdom (Swedenborg,1969; DLW 154). The universe, or nature, created by this infinite God is compared in Swedenborg’s work True Christianity to “a stage on which proofs are constantly being demonstrated that God exists and that there is one God” (Swedenborg, 2006; TCR 12:1). The study of nature, also known as ‘science’, is the study of one of the foundations of truth upon which confirmations of genuine truth can rest. And so, psychology, neuroscience, and even Buddhist philosophy and practice (or any disciplined consideration of natural reality) can legitimately augment and support the study of genuine Divine truth. It must be kept in mind however, that: “nothing can be founded upon scientifics except it be previously founded upon the Word. This must be first: the other is only a confirmation from man's scientifics” (Swedenborg, 1902, SE 5710). Therefore the thesis of this paper rests on three basic assumptions as follows:

* “God is one, in whom is the Divine Trinity, and He is the Lord Jesus Christ” (Swedenborg, 1996, CL 82).
* All real created things have been created by and from the one true God of the universe. The Lord is Consciousness itself and “we are because God is” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 46).
* There are two foundations of truth by which genuine truth can be known and confirmed: i) The Word, and ii) Nature (Swedenborg, 1902, SE 5709-5710).

Human Consciousness

Let us begin with a discussion of what a working definition of “human consciousness” might look like. Human beings, and everything that has been created, are “so formed that the Divine can be in them” (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 4). Elsewhere in the Writings, this idea is stated even more clearly: “Every created thing is in itself inanimate and dead, but it is animated and given life by this: the Divine is in it, and it is in the Divine” (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 53). In addition:

“In things first and last, and in things greatest and least, He is the same… the [Lord's] Human is the inmost in every created thing, though apart from space.” (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 285, emphasis added)

Our personal experience of life is made possible by Life itself and, as Swedenborg wrote, “love is the life of man” (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 1). Divine Love flows continuously into human beings (and other created things) and animates them giving them life such as their particular created form is capable of receiving. This is one of the main points of DLW 1 in Swedenborg’s description of human beings’ relationship with the Lord. The other equally important point of the same passage is that human beings DO NOT KNOW what love actually is or that love flowing in from the Lord is their “very life”. The truth that human beings do not know this is acknowledged by one of the most contemplative and penetrating minds of our time, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In his book The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, he writes: “the conceptual and philosophical question of what life is remains open” (Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 2005, p. 160). To repeat, in the mid-18th century Swedenborg answered this question of what life is, “love is the life of man” (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 1, emphasis added).
Knowledge of the true nature of the substance of life is a revelation from the Lord put to paper by means of Swedenborg’s quill. There is no other way to know it because of the strong appearance to the contrary – the appearance that life is from ourselves. This truth that love from the Lord is our very life cannot be shown using the objective scientific method.
Not only is life given to us moment to moment by the Lord, but our very ability to experience life is similarly provided by the Lord. One aspect of human consciousness, the ability to gather sensory impressions, is an example of this. That this ability is also from the Lord is explained by Swedenborg. He states:

"… it is [man’s] spirit that sees, not his eye: the spirit sees through the eye… The case is the very same in regard to this interior sight, or that of the spirit; this again does not see from itself, but from a still more interior sight, or that of man’s rational… neither does this see of itself, but does so from a still more internal sight, which is that of the internal man… And even this does not see of itself, for it is the Lord who sees through the internal man, and He is the Only One who sees because He is the Only One who lives, and He it is who gives man the ability to see, and this in such a manner that it appears to [the man] as if he saw of himself. Such is the case with influx." (Swedenborg, 1965, AC 1954)

The ‘appearance’ we have that our life and our consciousness is from ourselves, rather than from the Lord (which is the actual truth), is an essential aspect in our ability to change and grow through spiritual practice. Our spiritual freedom depends on the appearance of self-life - without it we could not learn to love.
No wonder modern science (in spite of its ever-increasing levels of advancement) has such difficulty discovering the true nature of human consciousness which, in its origin, is spiritual. And yet the sciences, especially psychology, neurology and modern physics, appear to have a growing interest in exploring the nature of this mystery.
For example, in a recent issue of Time magazine about 46% of its pages were devoted to articles on the brain and its relationship to consciousness and consciousness-related topics (Time, January 29, 2007). This growing interest together with major technological advances in neuroscience will doubtless go a long way in describing and defining human consciousness. In one of the Time magazine articles, a Harvard psychology professor (and dedicated atheist) discusses the two “problems” in consciousness studies known as the “Easy Problem” and the “Hard Problem” (Pinker, 2007). The Easy Problem, he says: “is to distinguish conscious from unconscious mental computation, identify its correlates in the brain and explain why it evolved” (Pinker, 2007, p. 61). The Hard Problem is how to explain: “how subjective experience arises from neural computation” and “why it feels like something to have a conscious experience going on in one’s head – why there is first-person, subjective experience” (Pinker, 2007, p. 61).
This is an especially hard problem since most of the neuroscientists studying human consciousness are doing so with a view to confirm what they already believe philosophically – that, as Pinker says: “Consciousness does not reside in an ethereal soul that uses the brain like a PDA; consciousness is the activity of the brain” (Pinker, 2007, p. 62). While acknowledging the experience we all have that there really is a subjectively distinguishable “I” or a separate self that chooses and thinks and decides, Pinker concludes his description of human consciousness with the unsatisfying, and simultaneously intriguing, idea that the self is an illusion created by the brain. He writes:

"Consciousness turns out to consist of a maelstrom of events distributed across the brain. These events compete for attention, and as one process outshouts the others, the brain rationalizes the outcome after the fact and concocts the impression that a single self was in charge all along." (Pinker, 2007, p. 62)

In Pinker’s view, human beings are merely a collection of fleshy structures walking around concocting an illusion of a self that does not really exist. The idea that neural events are competing for attention implies the existence of a self for whose attention they are competing rather than an after-the-fact concocted self. The self as a brain-concocted illusion also flies in the face of Swedenborg’s teaching cited above that: “Every created thing, and especially man, and the love and wisdom in him, have reality and are not merely ideas of being” (Swedenborg, 1949, DP 46).
I propose that we think of human consciousness as having, in general, three levels. The first is Basic Consciousness. This would be simple awareness of one’s own personal existence as contrasted with ‘unconsciousness’ or the lack of awareness of one’s own personal existence. If Basic Consciousness could speak (which it can’t), it would only be able to say, “I am”. The formation of Basic Consciousness, or of the anatomical structures associated with Basic Consciousness, begins at conception and is made functional by the infant’s first breath. One study concludes (tentatively) that: “a fetus becomes conscious at about 30 to 35 weeks after conception” (Burgess, 1996). However, this finding appears to be inconsistent with Swedenborg’s teachings regarding embryonic development and consciousness. He writes:

"In the embryo before birth there is life, but the embryo has no consciousness of it… the life from which the embryo lives in the womb is not life of its own, but of the Lord only, Who alone is life." (Swedenborg, 1942, DW 3:e, emphasis added)

Swedenborg clarifies that: “sense-life and… motor-life… cannot exist from the beating of the heart alone; it exists from the conjunction of this with the respiration of the lungs” (Swedenborg, 1942, DW 3:82). Basic Consciousness could therefore be called “the Observer” only after the first breath is taken - it has no conscious observational power prior to the first breath. Basic Consciousness contains both natural and spiritual consciousness “in potentia” and is necessary to the development of the other levels of human consciousness.
I propose that the next level of human consciousness is Natural Consciousness. This level of consciousness includes literally everything that can possibly be observed in nature and/or talked about in natural language. It is at once the product of learning and the realm of illusion. It could be called “the Observed”. The formation of Natural Consciousness begins with the infant’s first breath, ends with the natural heart’s last beat, and contains spiritual consciousness within it – either realized or unrealized.
Finally, I call the third level Spiritual Consciousness. While only fully actuated after the death of the body, it begins to be formed, and more or less realized, during the life of the body. The development of Spiritual Consciousness is a life-time process that includes the formation of natural consciousness (as its containant) as well as the development of Spiritual Consciousness itself. The development of Spiritual Consciousness is referred to in the Writings of Swedenborg as “reformation and regeneration” (Swedenborg, 1988, TCR 572-620). Reformation is analogous to spiritual conception and regeneration to spiritual gestation.
So I will posit that all levels of human consciousness are derived from conjunction with Consciousness Itself (i.e. the Lord). Human consciousness is developed and enhanced through reciprocal conjunction from love in personal freedom. Since the Lord is infinite and humans are gifted with the ability to reciprocate spiritually, human consciousness is eternally enhanceable. If, as I assert, the Lord is Consciousness Itself and all created things are from the Lord, the idea that non-human forms in the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms are possessed of some form of non-human consciousness does not seem too far-fetched. This seems especially possible since, as I noted above, Swedenborg wrote that, “the [Lord's] Human is the inmost in every created thing, though apart from space” (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 285). I do not intend to pursue this line of thinking in this paper since it seems to be more of a topic for the science of physics than psychology. I only offer it as food for thought and possible further research in the light of Swedenborg’s revelation.
For the purpose of this paper, human consciousness is more than mere awareness, sensory/motor function, and cognition. It is an evolutionary product of cooperative interaction between the Lord and an individual human being effecting a mutual, love-based conjunction between the two. The purpose of this paper is to explore the enhancement of personal consciousness through conjunction with the Lord by means of the spiritual practices of introspection, meditation, and prayer.


Finkeldey, J. K. (2007). Spiritual practice and consciousness. Unpublished manuscript: The
Swedenborg Library.

Gyatso, T., His Holiness the Dalai Lama. (2005). The universe in a single atom: The
convergence of science and spirituality (T. Jinpa Trans.). New York, NY: Morgan Road Books.

Pinker, S. (2007, January 29). The mystery of consciousness. Time, 169(5), 59-70.

Swedenborg, E. (1890). Divine love and wisdom (J. C. Ager Trans.). New York, NY: Swedenborg
Foundation. (Original work published 1763)

Swedenborg, E. (1902). Spiritual experiences (J. F. Buss Trans.). West Chester, PA: Swedenborg
Foundation. (Original work written c.1747-1765) SE

Swedenborg, E. (1904). Doctrine of the Lord (J. F. Potts Trans.). New York, NY: Swedenborg
Foundation. (Original work published 1763) Lord

Swedenborg, E. (1942). Divine wisdom (E. C. Mongredien Trans.). London: The Swedenborg
Society. (Original work written 1763) DW

Swedenborg, E. (1949). Divine providence (Wm. Dick & E. J. Pulsford Trans.). London:
The Swedenborg Society. (Original work published 1764) DP

Swedenborg, E. (1965). Arcana coelestia (J. F. Potts Trans.). New York,
NY: Swedenborg Foundation. (Original work published c. 1749-1756) AC

Swedenborg, E. (1988). True christian religion (J. Chadwick Trans.). London: The Swedenborg
Society. (Original work published 1771) TCR

Swedenborg, E. (1996). Conjugial love (J. Chadwick Trans.). London: The
Swedenborg Society. (Original work published 1768) CL

Swedenborg, E. (1997). De verbo (N. B. Rogers Trans.). Bryn Athyn, PA: General Church of the
New Jerusalem. (Original work written 1762). De Verbo

Swedenborg, E. (2006). True christianity (J. S. Rose Trans.). West Chester, PA: Swedenborg
Foundation. (Original work published 1771) TCR


By Jeremy K. Finkeldey


My purpose in posting this excerpt is to help to illustrate, in part, how Buddhist concepts can collaborate nicely with those revealed in the theological Writings of 18th century mystic and revelator Emanuel Swedenborg. It is in keeping with Swedenborg’s doctrine of charity to strive to discover the commonalities which exist among the various and divergent religious/spiritual traditions that have been provided by the Lord for the salvation of the human race. The increasing perfection of heaven is dependent on the growth of its diversity, and the practice of finding, focusing on, and connecting with the good in others is essential to the emergence of the Lord’s kingdom on earth. Can we benefit from learning about the spiritual views and practices of others? Considering what Swedenborg says about the “Gentiles” in the following citation, how could one think otherwise? “… [M]ore from the Gentiles are saved than from Christians; for those Gentiles who have thought kindly of their neighbor and have wished well to him, receive the truths of faith in the other life better than those who are called Christians, and acknowledge the Lord more than Christians do. For nothing is more delightful and blessed to the angels than to instruct those who come from the earth into the other life” (Arcana Coelestia 2284:5).

Is it possible to speak of prayer without speaking of God? In the Afterword by David Loy to D. T. Suzuki’s Swedenborg: Buddha of the North, Loy comments: “Inasmuch as God is infinite, all our conceptions of Him must miss the mark, but inasmuch as we need a conception of Him, the best image is that of a man. To a Buddhist, this is reminiscent of the old nineteenth-century argument that since a religion must have a God, Buddhism cannot be a religion. “The question this begs is: is it possible to have a religion (such as Buddhism) that criticizes all conceptions of the Divine, including the image of God as human, yet still functions as a religion because its spiritual practices nonetheless promote the divine influx?” (Suzuki, 1996, pp.103-104)
I find it reasonable that Buddhism “promotes the divine influx” by means of its practice of love towards the neighbor (through the cultivation of compassion and loving-kindness) and by means of its disciplined use of the mind in meditative practice. Buddhism is essentially a subjective exploration of the nature of reality and of the mind (by means of the mind) in meditative states (Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 2005, p. 141). Further, Thich Nhat Hanh explains his perspective on the Divine as follows: “In Buddhism we do not speak of God, we do not speak of creation, we do not speak of revelation, we do not speak of redemption or punishment. In Buddhism, what is equivalent to God is Mind, especially the collective mind. Mind is the ground of everything…. If we understand God as the ground of being from which everything is manifested, then our understanding is not different from the Buddhist vision of mind; because in the teaching of Buddhism, mind is the artist who designs everything, especially the collective mind” (Hanh, 2006a, First Question).

This Buddhist concept of God as Mind, as the ground of being from which everything is manifested, is derived in part from the Buddhist philosophical concept of “no-self” (or emptiness). This notion refers to the idea that all things are empty of a separate existence. This is simply a way of saying, among other things, that everything is connected to everything else. Nothing has an entirely independent existence. In Buddhism, everything is thought of as being interdependent. In western thought there is a tendency to philosophically separate humans from God, turning each into separate entities. This has its truth of sorts. The Lord is divine. People are human. The Lord is infinite. People are finite (and eternal). The Lord is the Creator. People (and everything else not divine) are that which is created. The “rub” in this western view, in my opinion, is that it tends to incline people to see themselves as being separated from God. Swedenborg explains that the Divine is indivisibly One, and yet is in every created thing apart from time and space (Divine Love and Wisdom 4, 59, 69-76, and 285).

There are other conflict-causing glitches in the western Judeo- Christian “God-concept” when seen from a Swedenborgian viewpoint. For example, the Jewish tradition denies the divinity
of the Lord Jesus Christ. In their struggle for influence over freethinking minds, Christian Fundamentalism and other forms of Christianity run the risk of tending to divide the one God into a committee of three equal Gods by destroying the right understanding of the Divine Trinity and the necessary oneness of the Divine. This goes hand-in-hand with the Reformed Christian doctrine of salvation by faith alone, which makes introspection and true repentance irrelevant. Consider also the propensity for conflict currently manifest between Islam and the Judeo- Christian west—in the name of God and the defense of the self.

Much better is the Buddhist teaching of emptiness. We are empty of a separate existence—we “inter-are”. Or, as Swedenborg expressed it, “we are because God is” (Divine Providence 46).
The no-self, or emptiness idea is one of the deep teachings of Buddhism. It is deep in the sense that it refers to the inner dimension of reality, rather than the phenomenal world at the outer natural level. In the phenomenal world there is the very clear and powerful experience of a “self” distinguishable from other “selves”. It is therefore remarkable that the Buddha (and his followers), through deep meditative introspection and apparently without the help of a “Swedenborg-type” divine revelation, could reach the deep insight that everything is connected. This insight is very close to the idea that, “we are because God is” (Divine Providence 46). It is the knowledge of this interdependence of all things that fuels the powerful lovingkindness energy and practice in Buddhism.

Buddhist practitioners are highly inner self-managed individuals who tend to be thought of as being more involved with meditation than with prayer. In a recent Psychology Today article Katherine Ellison notes: “Practiced Buddhist meditators deploy their brains with exceptional skill. Drawing on 2,500 years of mental technology—techniques for paying careful attention to the workings of their own minds—they develop expertise in controlling the flow of their mental life, avoiding the emotional squalls that often compel us to take personal feelings oh, so personally, and clearing new channels for awareness, calm, compassion and joy. Their example holds the possibility that we can all choose to modulate our moods, regulate our emotions and increase cognitive capacity—that we can all become high-performance users of our own brains” (Ellison, 2006, p. 72).

Although Buddhists are most well-known for skills in meditation, it should be noted that Buddhists also pray. This is made clear by Thich Nhat Hanh in his delightful treatise on
prayer entitled The Energy of Prayer: How to Deepen Your Spiritual Practice (Hanh, 2006c). In the introduction to this work, written by Larry Dossey, an author and medical doctor who advocates prayer in the practice of medicine, prayer is defined with a question: “What is prayer but communication with the Absolute, from whence we arose, with whom we are connected, and to whom we shall return...? Prayer is… a bridge to the Absolute” (Hanh, 2006b, pp. 9 & 13). As I mentioned earlier with emphasis, Buddhism is profoundly non-theistic. Why, then, would Dossey, in his introduction to this Buddhist commentary on prayer, capitalize “Absolute”? Indeed, why would the Buddhist author himself, whom I cited previously as saying “In Buddhism we do not speak of God” (see above), speak of God in the following quote? “In Buddhism, we know that the one we are praying to lies inside us as well as outside of us. Buddha lies in our heart and so does God. It is a mistake to think that God is only outside” (Hanh, 2006b, p. 57, emphasis added).

This statement by Thich Nhat Hanh, one of my primary representatives of Buddhism, is a virtual echo of Swedenborg’s comment in Divine Love and Wisdom regarding the angelic view of the Lord. He writes: “[T]hese things can be little understood by a man who thinks about God from space. For God is everywhere and yet not in space. Thus He is both within an angel and outside him. Consequently an angel can see God, that is, the Lord, both within and outside himself, within himself when he thinks from love and wisdom, outside himself when he thinks about love and wisdom…. Let every man beware lest he fall into that abhorrent heresy that God has infused Himself into men, and that He is in them and no longer in Himself, when yet God is everywhere both within and outside man; for He is in all space apart from space…. [I]f He were in man [not apart from space]… man then could even think himself to be God. So abominable is this heresy, that in the spiritual world it stinks like a dead body” (Divine Love and Wisdom 130).

The only real difference between the two statements is that Hanh warns against thinking that God is only outside of us while Swedenborg warns against thinking that God is “infused… into
men” thus dividing an indivisible and omnipresent Divinity. I believe that the answer to the question as to how a Buddhist can speak of God is that the non-theism of Buddhism is not the atheism with which we in the west are generally familiar. According to Webster, “[A]n atheist rejects all religious belief and denies the existence of God; an agnostic questions the existence of God, heaven, etc. in the absence of material proof and in unwillingness to accept supernatural revelation” (Neufeldt, 1988, p. 86). I have not found an authoritative modern source that categorically states that Buddhism denies the existence of God, or, is anti-God. I assert that Buddhism belongs more in the category of agnosticism, as defined above, than atheism.

Hanh offers a view of prayer as a spiritual practice that has been tempered and influenced by his extraordinary life and practice as a Buddhist meditator and teacher. It is a view that looks at prayer as a means of transcending the self in its space/time milieu and touching the interdependence and oneness of all things (Hanh, 2006b, pp. 42-43). This interdependence and oneness of all things, I assert, is established by the Lord’s presence apart from space and time as the necessary element in every created thing (see Swedenborg, 1969, Divine Love and
Wisdom 53 & 285). Hanh explains that there are many elements of effective prayer; but there are two that, in his view, are the most important. The first is, “to establish a relationship between ourselves and the one we are praying to” (Hanh, 2006c, p. 41). The second of his two most important elements of prayer is the “energy” of “love, mindfulness, and right concentration” (Hanh, 2006b, p. 43).

Hanh stresses the importance of visualization in prayer (Hanh, 2006b, pp. 30 & 42). This kind of visualization establishes the relationship between the one who is praying, the one who is being prayed to, and sometimes the one who is being prayed for. From his Buddhist tradition, he offers a visualization ‘gatha’ that is like a small verse designed to remind us of that relationship:
“The one who bows and the one who is bowed to are both, by nature, empty. Therefore the communication between us is inexpressibly perfect. (Hanh, 2006b, p. 42, emphasis added)
“Empty”, that is, of a separate existence. Visualization is also essential in Swedenborgian prayer. In his work entitled True Christian Religion, Swedenborg stresses the importance of visualizing the Lord in His Human form: “Linking with an invisible God is like linking the sight of the eye with the expanse of the universe, the bounds of which are not to be seen. Or it is like looking out in the middle of an ocean, when the gaze falls on air and sea and is frustrated. But linking with a visible God is like seeing a man in the air or the sea opening his arms and inviting you into his embrace. For any linking of God with man must also be a reciprocal linking of man with God; and this second reciprocity is only possible with a visible God” (Op. Cit. 787). Hanh seems to echo something of this Swedenborgian idea in his work on prayer: “You will not find God in an abstract idea. This is something very important. God is here for us through very concrete things” (Hanh, 2006b, p. 71).

The second most important idea offered by Thich Nhat Hanh regarding effective prayer is the idea of cultivating the “energy” of “love, mindfulness, and right concentration” in prayer. He writes that, “when you have mindfulness, then you have concentration.” He defines “mindfulness” as being “the real presence of our body and our mind. Our body and our mind are
directed toward one point, the present moment….To pray effectively, our body and mind must dwell peacefully in the present moment” (Hanh, 2006b, p. 43). The real presence of the body in prayer is augmented by “prostration”. Hanh advises assuming a prostrate position with one’s body when praying. He says, “It is a position that diminishes the ego, opens one up, and brings one close to the earth” (Hanh, 2006b, p. 63). This is necessary, he says, because, “It is essential for prayer that body, speech, and mind are one, and are all truly present. It is not enough to pray with words; effective prayer also takes mental and physical concentration” (Hanh, 2006b, p. 63).

So, dwelling peacefully in the present moment, with the real presence of body and mind, and praying from love while visualizing our connection with the one to whom we are praying summarizes Hanh’s Buddhist view of effective prayer. In his explication of the Buddhist qualities of the (Christian) Lord’s prayer, Hanh reminds us to avoid trivialities and to remember what the true purpose of prayer is. He does so by asking: “What are we looking for? We are looking for something very great. We are not asking God to let the sun shine so we can have a good picnic….We are looking for the kingdom of God. Our first aim in prayer is the kingdom of God” (Hanh, 2006b, p. 75).

Clearly, Hanh’s view of prayer incorporates his life-long experience as a meditator, to the point that his model of prayer looks very similar to meditation itself. Before moving on to the topic of meditation, I would like to add one more thing from Thich Nhat Hanh that is critical to the thesis of this paper – and that is his idea of the importance of healthy communities and environments. He explains: “When we live in an unhealthy environment, the negative thinking, speaking, and actions of that environment influence us, and sooner or later we may fall sick. Living in an environment where people seek only to satisfy sensual desires can cause collective suffering, despair, and depression…. If we want to have good health, we have to be determined to develop a good environment….A larger community that is committed to spiritual, physical, and mental
health is our best opportunity for healing” (Hanh, 2006b, p. 99). And specifically regarding prayer done as a community: “In the Buddhist tradition, we know that praying as a community, a “Sangha,” is stronger than praying as an individual….When we simultaneously practice sending spiritual energy, then that energy is magnified and much more effective…. When the whole community prays with us, it can be a significant moment in our lives. We are one of the Sangha who is praying. Our own undivided attention is a key to open the door of the ultimate reality, and the undivided attention of our friends in the practice is an even greater key” (Hanh, 2006b, p. 55).

Whether one is an early Christian, a Swedenborgian, or a Buddhist, prayer plays a vital role in spiritual development and thus in consciousness enhancement. It has tremendous value for the individual and for the group, as a result of its power to conjoin both individuals and groups— not only with each other but also with Ultimate Reality—which is the Lord.


~Ellison, K. (2006, October). Mastering Your Mind. Psychology Today, 39, 70-77.

~Finkeldey, J. K. (2007). Spiritual Practice and Consciousness. Unpublished Manuscript: The Swedenborg Library.

~Gyatso, T., His Holiness the Dalai Lama. (2005). The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality (T. Jinpa Trans.). New York, NY: Morgan Road Books.

~Hanh, T. N. (Winter/Spring, 2006a). Answers of Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh to Questions from Publishers Weekly Magazine, Retrieved June 25, 2006 from

~Hanh, T. N. (2006b). The Energy of Prayer: How to Deepen Your Spiritual Practice. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.

~Neufeldt, V. E. (Ed.). (1988). Webster’s New World Dictionary of American English (3rd College ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster.

~Suzuki, D. T. (1996). Swedenborg: Buddha of the North (A. Bernstein Trans.). West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation.

~Swedenborg, E. (1949). Divine Providence (Wm. Dick & E. J. Pulsford Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original Work Published 1764)

~Swedenborg, E. (1965). Arcana Coelestia (J. F. Potts Trans.). New York, NY: Swedenborg Foundation. (Original Work Published c. 1749-1756)

~Swedenborg, E. (1969). Divine Love and Wisdom (C. & D. H. Harley Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original Work Published 1763)

~Swedenborg, E. (1988). True Christian Religion (J. Chadwick Trans.). London: The Swedenborg Society. (Original Work Published 1771)