GOD: An Autobiography, As Told to a Philosopher - The Podcast

91. Eastern Religions | Series: Two Philosophers Wrestle With God | Dialogue 9 [Part 1]

September 08, 2022 Jerry L. Martin, Scott Langdon, Richard Oxenberg
GOD: An Autobiography, As Told to a Philosopher - The Podcast
91. Eastern Religions | Series: Two Philosophers Wrestle With God | Dialogue 9 [Part 1]
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Analytical and energetic philosophical and spiritual discussion of God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher- a revelatory revelation preserved for this special point in history.

Jeremiah, Ramakrishna, the writers of the Upanishads, and Lao Tzu-illustrations of God's contact through unique cultural traditions, language, technology, resources, and developed consciousness. Dialogue 9 examines the impact of Eastern spirituality on the development of divine reality through transpersonal interactions with God, rather than the personal aspects of God, resulting in the actualization of distinctive aspects of God. Explore the soul, or the Atman, and imagine infinite worlds and an ultimate level uncovered through Jerry's conversations with God.

Join host Scott Langdon for this profound conversation between Dr. Jerry L. Martin and Dr. Richard Oxenberg of philosophy and religion, daring to consider God's perspective in the series Two Philosophers Wrestle With God, Dialogue 9- Eastern Religions. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin is a philosopher and author of the true story, God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher, and is the founding chairman of the Theology Without Walls group at the American Academy of Religion. Dr. Richard Oxenberg is a professor at Endicott College and has published numerous articles on ethics and theology, including his book: On the Meaning of Human Being: Heidegger and the Bible in Dialogue.

Read- God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher

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Related Episodes- [Series: Two Philosophers Wrestle With God] World Religions: Part 1, 2 The Nature of Human Beings: Part 1, 2

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Scott Langdon [00:00:17] This is God: An Autobiography, The Podcast. A dramatic adaptation and continuing discussion of the book God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher by Jerry L. Martin. He was a lifelong agnostic, but one day he had an occasion to pray. To his vast surprise, God answered- in words. Being a philosopher, he had a lot of questions, and God had a lot to tell him. Episode 91. 

Scott Langdon [00:01:06] Hello and welcome to Episode 91 of God: An Autobiography, The Podcast. I'm your host, Scott Langdon. Here, in Episode 91, we return to our series Where Two Philosophers Wrestle With God for part one of the ninth dialogue between doctors Jerry Martin and Richard Oxenberg. In dialogue number eight, the discussion centered around the topic of world religions and specifically addressed how God was working and is working through the Western religions. In this conversation, the topic shifts in a broad way to the Eastern traditions and what God was up to there and how God was developing, learning and communicating through them. Here now is part one of dialogue number nine. I hope you enjoy the episode. We begin with Jerry speaking first. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:02:00] Well, Richard, what is our topic for today? 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:02:04] So, last time– 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg We sort of took a look at the Western religions. You know, certainly one of the more interesting aspects of the book is the idea that all the religions are expressions of the spiritual reality of this one God. Right?

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:02:25] Yes. Yes.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:02:25] And what that implies is that there can be compatibility between the different religions. Right? And, you know, I keep thinking of the old line, what Rudyard Kipling writes, "East is East and West is West, and never the twain--"

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:02:41] "And never the twain shall meet." But they did meet. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:02:46] But they seem to meet here in this book. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:02:49] Yes, they certainly meet in this book. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:02:51] So, I thought what we would do today is maybe focus a little bit on the Eastern religious side of the world. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:02:59] Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:02:59] Right? And talk about how that comes across in the book. And then maybe in a next session, we could actually talk about the way in which we put it all together. I suppose one of the principal differences between the Western and the Eastern approach to religion is the notion of God as a personal entity. Right? There are various problems with thinking of God as a personal entity. Just to name a couple. You know, one of them is that persons, as we know them, are exterior to one another.

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:03:44] Ahh. Yes. Good point, good point. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:03:47] And God is supposed to be on both sides of the I/Tho divide. Right? And, so, I think one of the reasons that Eastern religion sort of has appealed to a lot of people. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg And, so, I think one of the reasons that Eastern religion sort of has appealed to a lot of people. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg Is because of that sense of the distance of God that comes from seeing God as a distinct person. Right? You know, allows one to see God not only as a distinct person, but also as a threatening person. You know, I mean, if God is-- if we are part of God, then God's not going to want to smash us.

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:04:31] Right. Right. Can't quite smash us. We're part of God. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:04:35] God is a distinct person.

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:04:37] Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:04:38] Then, you know, I mean, God could theoretically be as hostile to us as all the other people are. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:04:46] Yes. Yes, that's right. Especially if God also sets rules and norms and is a kind of judge. Which is, you might say, as I sometimes say, one of God's jobs is just establish norms, which is done in each culture. But that's kind of threatening, you're going to get wrapped on the knuckles if you do something wrong. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:05:08] Right, and you may get rapped-- a lot more than a wrap on the knuckles. Right? I mean, of course, in Christianity, you have the idea of an eternal hell. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:05:20] Right? Now, that's rejected in your book. The God of your book says, no, that's not-- there is no eternal hell, right? 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Right. Right.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg That's a pretty big deal, I think. I think that you know, I think Paul Tillich talks about how the idea of an eternal hell creates a divide in the creation that is irreparable. Right? That the idea is that there's going to be a part of the creation that's going to be eternally alienated from God. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg Right? And, in a way, Tillich talks about how that sort of defeats. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:05:52] The whole goal.  

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:05:53] God's purpose. Right?

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:05:55] God wants to save all of us. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:05:57] Right. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:05:58] Right. And there are theologies, according with certain sects, where even after you go to hell, you can work, you can get back out again. You can, I don't know if you work your way, or just have grace reach down and save you. But anyway, that's the problem with hell.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:06:20] For now, what I thought is one of the ways I think your book sort of gets beyond the problems with the personhood of God. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:06:30] Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:06:30] Is to suggest that God is a really unusual person. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg Right. Right. I mean, because God isn't simply what we think of as a person. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Right. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg Right? God can be experienced or related to as a person, but we should not think of that as the ultimate metaphysical reality of God. Right? I think I'm just thinking of a quote here where God is talking about the– in some sense, talking about the relationship between the Eastern and Western religions

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:07:08] Hmm. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:07:08] And this is on page 243. God says to you, "you relate to me personally and see other revelations as glosses on that experience. But they could just as well see your relation to a personal God as a gloss on Brahman or Buddha or the Tao.”

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:07:28] Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:07:28] Right? So, what that suggests to me, I guess I often think of it as something like the quantum physics paradox of the wave and the particle. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:07:43] Right, right. Right. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:07:43] Right? Sometimes photons appear as a wave. Sometimes they appear as particles. And what that sort of suggests, is that they're neither a wave nor a particle, as we ordinarily understand them. There's some prior thing that they are that can manifest itself in both of these different ways. And I guess something similar is being said here- that God is not a person, as we ordinarily think of a person. And God is not a mere impersonal force, as we think of an impersonal force. But God is something beyond both of these and can manifest in both a personal and a transpersonal (to use that term) manner. Does that make sense? 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:08:33] Well, the way I have taken it-- that would be one interpretation. And just as that's one interpretation, but not the only one of quantum phenomena. But I take it that God is the divine reality, is one reality that actually has these characteristics. In other words, it's not some who-knows-what that then manifests, becomes one thing, then becomes another. The divine reality is very complex, has multiple aspects, some of which are personal, and some are various aspects of non-personal, or Transpersonal. And in the Eastern we see, they've become aware of the transpersonal or less personal, you know, each one is a separate story, even though one generalizes about the Eastern religions. But anyway, they're picking up other aspects of the divine and thereby helping to actualize those aspects of the divine, because they also, even though they're not interacting with God as a person, with the divine and the personal mode, they're interacting, they're responding to the divine presence. And that is having an impact on the divine reality. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:10:01] Right. And in some sense, in both the East and the West, we have much more of a question of emphasis, than it is a question of it being one as opposed to the other. Right? And in the Western tradition, you have I think our Meister Eckhart. Right? Makes the distinction between God and the Godhead. The Godhead is kind of beyond personhood, but God is kind of the personal expression of the Godhead. Right? And I think in the eastern religion, in Hinduism, you have Brahman, which is transpersonal beyond the personal. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Right. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg You have the Ishvara. Right? Who is, in a sense, the personal expression of Brahman. Right. So, both of those, I guess the way that I tend to think of it, you know, which is my phenomenological bent on all of this, you know, is that we may not be able to know what the metaphysics of God is like in God's self, but we can experience God in these different modes, and they are all legitimate ways of experiencing God. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:11:15] Mm hmm. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:11:15] God says to you on page 301, "I manifest myself to you in a limited way, each particular manifestation is limited. You should never assume that this simple conversational person is all there is to me. I also light the stars and move the heavens. I generate matter and motion. I draw life forward toward its end. And many more things."

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:11:43] Many more things. Yes, yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:11:47] Yeah. So, the conversational God with whom you are having this conversation is certainly not the whole of what God is... 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:11:57] Not remotely the whole. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:12:01] Not remotely the whole, and this gets back to an earlier discussion we had, you know, the extent to which you yourself, your particular personality, your particular understanding of things is a filter through which this God manifests. So that God is, you know, it's a particular Jerry Martin God, that you know– that’s filtered through.

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:12:24] That's why I added--. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:12:26] Right. And–

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:12:28] You know, God giving me the title of the book God: An Autobiography, because of what you're saying now, Richard. I added the subtitle, As Told To A Philosopher. Because we don't have God on tape, the subtitle, we have God as reported by me, you know, I'm the philosopher. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:12:50] Uh-huh. Oh, that was your subtitle? 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:12:52] Yeah, that's the subtitle I put onto the book. God gave me the title God: An Autobiography, seemed to me rather over the top, but if that's how God wants it called, okay. But I did want to make it clear, this is not... we don't have God on tape.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg Right. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin We have God, as Jerry Martin heard it, and it was very clear to me from the beginning that the questions I asked were Jerry Martin questions. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg Right. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin There's not a single question, I have good Catholic friends, there's nowhere in the book a question about the Catholic Church or the Pope, for example. If I were Catholic, there certainly would have been those questions. Obviously, if I'd been born in India or China, I would have had quite a different range of questions, you know. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:13:40] Right, but also, you know, what's interesting, and we're getting a little bit off target here, but it's an interesting question, is the fact, well, and maybe you can answer this, is God, what God had to say to you limited by the kinds of questions that you can ask? I mean, in other words--

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:14:03] That's what I meant to suggest, that had I asked different questions, I would have gotten different answers. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:14:10] Right. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:14:11] God was normally answering, sometimes God says, "Bad question, ask this other thing," or just corrects the question. My concepts are not valid. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg Right. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin And I worry at one point where do you go to get new concepts? But God is clearly working with my equipment, and I wear all along that if I had different equipment we would have a different transcript, here. It might be the transcript would be completely compatible with what God has told me. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg Right. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin But it would look rather different. The words would be different, the topics would develop differently, and would include a somewhat different assortment of topics. So, I take it, just from my experience, all I can do is generalize from my experience, that this is roughly speaking, what happened to Jeremiah, roughly speaking, what happened to Ramakrishna or the writers of the Upanishads, and Lao Tzu, and so forth. They're all receiving through their receptors, and this is the only way for communication to work is for... And God, you know as He explains in this very, these very chapters we're now discussing, God uses the resources of a particular culture both to communicate and also to actualize part of the divine reality, the divine self. And so, it could very well be that in the revelations to Jerry Martin, God is actualizing an aspect of the divine self, not previously, you know, actualized in part because we're at a unique point in history, and that's different from past points in history, and human consciousness is now different, and the cultural resources and technological resources are now different. And, so anyway, that's all in the questions of the nature of revelation, and they very much relate to these chapters on what God's doing with the people of India, people of China in their diverse modes, the Confucianists, the Daoists, and so on, that those factors about revelation, about enlightenment, whatever larger term you would want to put on divine communications, affects all of these sacred texts and these cultural traditions. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:16:45] That's a really fascinating whole question in itself- what the nature of revelation is, and how, in what way the divine is being filtered through the person to whom the revelation is coming, and how much that affects the message that we're getting. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yeah. Sure. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg Right. You know, just how much the medium is the message, right? 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:17:10] Yeah, sure. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:17:11] Or if it affects the message. Right? an interesting quote I found on page 251. Right? In which, once again, we're talking about how, I mean, I guess another of the distinctions that we often find between the East and the West, at least at a conceptual level. I live in the West, and so I'm not sure I can always do justice to what, you know... But there's a sense in which the Western religions seem to emphasize social engagement. Right? 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:17:35] Often. A-huh. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg More than the Eastern religions, which seem often to emphasize a kind of detachment from engagement. Right? And there's an interesting quote on page 251 where you're talking about the Atman. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg And maybe we'll say a little bit more about this in a moment. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:18:51] Let's pause a little. The Atman is the self behind the self. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:18:57] The self behind the self. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:18:59] The Western translation would be soul. You know, the soul is distinct from your personality in this world. You know, what would my soul be making of my life? You know, something like that. So, the Atman is that self behind the self that, well, then the story goes on from there. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:19:18] Right. And the Atman is not, I mean, part of, sort of the Hindu religious tradition or project is for the person to come to realize themselves as the Atman which transcends the individual personal life. Right. And that may be a way in which the East tends to be focusing on a kind of disengagement. Right? With the struggle of life. And here, I just... In this quote, this is you speaking, you're saying to God, kind of trying to paraphrase what God had just said, "Connecting with the Atman seemed to take one out of oneself. Yeah. Withdrawal. Whereas Jesus is love brings something in. We have to flow into God and let God flow into us. And then you say east and west combined. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:20:21] That's how it was striking me, yes.  

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:20:23] So, these two movements are not to be thought of as opposed to one another, but as, in a sense, complementing one another. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Exactly, exactly.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg Right. Through getting in touch with that which transcends our lives, we are better able to then engage in our lives in the right way. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:20:44] Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg Right?

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:20:45] So, I just thought that was interesting. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:20:48] No, that's right. And there is and there is that difference. And hence the enormous love, the emphasis on love in the Western, as well as obeying God, of course, in the Western traditions. But the West also has an element of detachment where-- Let Thy will be done. Not my will, but Thy will be done. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:21:14] Right. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:21:15] So there is another way of you might say, actualizing some of these phenomena that are actually compatible, even though they are described, not just described, but as rather experienced and in almost opposite ways. God coming into us, us trying to step out into God, out of our lives, out of our bodies, into God. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:21:43] Yeah. It's like both traditions have both, right? It becomes a question of emphasis, right? It's like which, are you leading with your left foot or are you leading with your right foot? Both feet are involved in both traditions. So, I thought we'd just maybe spend a moment talking a little bit about the general metaphysical picture, because I think the general metaphysical picture that gets presented, in terms of the nature of the self, seemed very much to be largely coming from the Eastern tradition. Right? Or maybe not, maybe there are ways of changing the language, the words and it suddenly becomes Western. But I'm thinking specifically in terms of reincarnation. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:22:31] Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:22:31] Right? Which is, you know, comes to us more from the Eastern tradition. I'm thinking of the notion of Atman which comes from the Eastern tradition. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Right. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg And the notion that everyone is in some sense, or everything is substantively, ontologically part of the divine. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg All three of those, we tend to associate more with Eastern thought than with Western thought and they're very much prominent in the book. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:23:04] Yes. Yes. Those are explored as a deal with each of those traditions. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:23:10] So, let's just see if we can, you know, just maybe sketch out the basic picture here. So, there is, first of all, there's the Atman. Right. It's a little unclear to me at what point, because I don't think it's ever discussed in the book, actually, at what point, if there is a point, the individual Atman is created? Right? You know, there's a discussion about the creation of the human beings, the sort of evolutionary emergence of human beings, but the Atman, which is not tied to an individual lifetime. Right? Or an individual human being, I guess that's just a gap-- 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:23:54] Well, it's tied to-- I think there is an implied answer, because it's slightly different, even though all of these discussions occur in the section on Hinduism, you might say the people of India. I did not realize that what comes through in God: An Autobiography is a slightly different conception of Atman, where you have your Atman, I have mine, that then in turn, is related to the divine reality. But it's that Atman, or soul, (use that as a translation) that goes from one life to the next. In the next life you'll be quite a different person. You'll have a different name, different personality, different life situation, but it'll be the same soul behind doing another enactment of itself, you might say. And that goes on, you know, later, where you get into multiple worlds, that goes on across time and across worlds. And that doesn't quite answer when it comes about, but it suggests very, very early, you might say, and could be there forever. That would be one conceptual possibility, or it could be when it becomes time, that time isn't quite the same thing. So, these questions that don't step outside of the Earth's linear time frame, you don't even quite know how to talk about before and after. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:25:28] Right. And that actually becomes a significant point, because-- what were you about to say when you said, when it became time, and then you interrupted yourself? 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:25:39] Oh, yeah. I was about to say when it becomes time to enter a world. And then I was going to say, to enter your very first world ever. You know, once you enter a world, then, of course, you've got a soul that goes on to the next world, and the world after that, but I was assuming, well, there must be a first world. And you wouldn't need a soul, there's nothing for the soul to do. It's almost a very odd theoretical question whether the soul was already around, but there is no first world in our ordinary sense, because time, the linear time of this world is not the encompassing time, or even the only point of view on time, the only perspective. 

Dr. Richard Oxenberg You know, is an interesting, for me, I'm always trying to put the sort of big picture together because-- 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin Yes. Yes.

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:26:29] And I guess if I were to try to do that in this case, what I'd say is that, from a temporal perspective the Atman, at one point, the individual Atman, at one point, emerges from the being of God. That would be temporal, right? But from this sort of a-temporal point of view, I don't know, maybe I can't even think of it, this just continues, the Atman, even though it has a beginning, it also doesn't have a beginning, or something like that. 

Dr. Jerry L. Martin [00:27:20] Yeah, and there are infinite worlds. And so, you know, how can there be an end? I think we're told there's not an end. You know? So anyway, no, that ultimate level is very hard to conceptualize, and I haven't felt the need, but your stab at it is as good as anything that I can think of. Yeah--

Dr. Richard Oxenberg [00:27:42] Yeah. 

Scott Langdon [00:27:46] Thank you for listening. To God: An Autobiography, The Podcast. Subscribe for free today wherever you listen to your podcasts and hear a new episode every week. You can hear the complete dramatic adaptation of God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher by Jerry L. Martin, by beginning with episode one of our podcast and listening through its conclusion with Episode 44. You can read the original true story in the book from which this podcast is adapted. God: An Autobiography, As Told To A Philosopher, available now at Amazon.com, and always at godanautobiography.com. Pick up your own copy today. If you have any questions about this or any other episode, please email us at questions@godanautobiography.com and experience the world from God's perspective as it was told to a philosopher. This is Scott Langdon. I'll see you next time.

Introduction
Religious Compatibility
The Distinct Personhood Of God
Eastern Spirituality And Divine Development
God's Way Of Communicating
Revelation: Medium And Message
The Soul: The Atman
The Takeaway: Divine Reality
Outro And Contact Information