There is a concept in Christianity (and elsewhere) that is called universal salvation, Christian universalism, universal reconciliation, or just universalism, which refers to the idea that all humans will, in the end, and without exception, be “saved” or reconciled to God.
This has a controversial history, and most Christians seem to reject the idea, claiming that only some will be saved, also called “special salvation” or “limited atonement.” But I’d like to describe the idea of universalism from a mystical perspective, and how I perceive that the idea has reality.
The Fall into Ego-Identity
As I’ve described throughout my writings, I perceive that the fundamental rift, the existential alienation, brokenness, separation from God, the Fall, our ignorance of reality, is a psychological phenomenon in the human mind, or a psychospiritual disconnect in our sense of fundamental identity.
This disconnect seems to be something that emerged generally in human evolution, when our minds became capable of self-awareness (awareness of the finite self). Many animals do not have this capability, or if they do, it is very limited compared to humans. They cannot self-reflect as deeply as we do. But somewhere along in the past we humans developed brains and perceptions that were able to reason sufficiently to be able to identify our “self” as an independent being in the world. Our minds gained the ability to reflect on themselves. This, I suggest, was our Fall.
I suggest it was our Fall because it separated us as something distinct and independent from the larger world. I don’t think this happened suddenly, but gradually, as self-awareness developed in our evolution, and the subject-object split deepened in our psyches. We were no longer members of the larger world, parts of the greater whole, but separate isolated beings apart from it. We began to see it all “out there,” while we were “in here.” Duality entered the picture in a deep way, causing this deep rift between “self” and “other.” Our finite “self” took on a strong identity which before it hadn’t had, and this disconnected the “self” from the greater reality, what in the religious traditions is called “God.” The emergence of this “self” was our “Fall” from that Presence and Identity with the Whole, the One.
And I think this Fall is recapitulated in our early childhood, not unlike how we used to think that embryo development recapitulated our evolutionary development (a theory which has been largely abandoned). When we are born we do not have an ego-identity or sense of “self,” at all. We are not separate from the world. This has been thoroughly studied and documented by such researchers as Jean Piaget. Babies simply do not have a sense of bounded identity or “self” when they are born. This is something that emerges in the first months and years of cognitive development. As Wikipedia notes:
It is to be kept in mind that as an infant comes into this world, they have no concept of what is around them, nor for the significance of others around them. It is throughout the first year that they gradually begin to acknowledge that their body is actually separate from that of their mother, and that they are an “active, causal agent in space.”
We come into this world thinking we are not separate from the world around us or others, particularly our mothers. Of course, we’ve just spent the last nine months in a close symbiotic and intimate relationship with our mothers, and we really were not two, but one organism. Once we are born, we essentially learn over time that we are something separate, and the ego identity gradually emerges in our mind.
By the end of the first year, they additionally realize that their movement, as well, is separate from movement of the mother. That is a huge advance, yet they are still quite limited and cannot yet know what they look like, “in the sense that the infant cannot recognize its own face.” By the time an average toddler reaches 18–24 months, they will discover themselves and recognize their own reflection in the mirror…
This continues as the infant grows more conscious of their bodily “self,” and are able to identify their “self” in a mirror. Their sense of self gradually emerges more in their mind.
Once an infant has gotten a lot of experience, and time, in front of a mirror, it is only then that they are able to recognize themselves in the reflection, and understand that it is them.
This self-identity then continues to grow throughout adolescence:
By 18 months, the infant can communicate their name to others, and upon being shown a picture they are in, they can identify themselves. By two years old, they also usually acquire gender category and age categories, saying things such as “I am a girl, not a boy” and “I am a baby or child, not a grownup”. Evidently, it is not at the level of an adult or an adolescent, but as an infant moves to middle childhood and onwards to adolescence, they develop a higher level of self-awareness and self-description.
Once the child enters school, their sense of self has grown significantly, and the development of memory particularly adds to our sense of identity over time. At about this time the child enters the “age of accountability” as it is called in Mormonism, the age at which there is a “self” that is “accountable” for the Fall:
Around school age a child’s awareness of personal memory transitions into a sense of one’s own self. At this stage, a child begins to develop interests along with likes and dislikes. This transition enables the awareness of an individual’s past, present, and future to grow as conscious experiences are remembered more often.
All of this, I suggest, is the process of the “Fall.” It is a dis-identification with the surrounding world, reality, nature, and cosmos, or at least a radical reduction of identity with that world and an attachment to a limited identity of “self” that is exclusively the particular body-mind in which we find the center of our senses. This body and mind alone constitute what we think of as our “self,” and inasmuch as we think we are separate from the world, the Fall is complete, the subject-object split in our psyche is final, we are cut off from the One. Or so we think.
Redemption from the Fall into Oneness
The spiritual journey into salvation, liberation, redemption from the Fall, at-One-ment, oneness, wholeness, nonduality, is largely the reverse process of this ego identification. It is a relinquishment of the finite exclusive bounded ego identity, the “self” that emerged in our childhood, this finite person that we think we are. It is a surrender of the individual will as the fundamental source of our actions. It is a submission and sacrifice of this small “self,” this false self, this ego. It is a letting go of the reduction of consciousness to the exclusive identification with a particular body-mind.
Such a reversal can take place in a variety of ways. Some people cultivate it, through spiritual practices like meditation or contemplative prayer, over long stretches of time. Some take more vigorous routes through sweat lodges or the use of entheogens. In some it may happen spontaneously that consciousness lets go of the ego-self identity for a time, and consciousness is conscious of itself, not as a limited bounded “self,” but as the whole, the nondual One, the Totality, the All.
When the mind lets go of its thoughts, perceptions, memories, sensations, feelings, ideas, images, etc., it returns to its source, its essence, pure consciousness. All the limitations of the ego-self fall away from consciousness, including its sense of separation from the rest of the world. Duality itself falls away from consciousness, and consciousness realizes, often in shock and awe, that it is absolutely One with All. This is called Christ Consciousness, or at-One-ment.
Through this process of self-transcendence, we return to a similar state as we were when we were children, this kind of child-like innocence, at-one with the Whole, with Reality, with all “others.” In fact, since the sense of duality is either weak or gone from the mind, they sense that the “other” is not truly other, but “Self.” The new sense of Self is not limited, reduced, constrained, bounded, but rather infinite, unlimited, boundless, unconditional, being itself, which includes all things everywhere and everywhen. This is also called Love.
Their particular self is not more important than any other being, but they sense they are of One Spirit, One Being. This is true selflessness or egolessness, which is found in every genuine spiritual adept, sage, or guide. The finite self is not entirely gone, but it is re-included as a particular manifestation or incarnation of the Whole through which the Whole lives and moves and acts in the world. This is also known as theosis, divinization, deification, enlightenment, awakening, salvation, liberation, etc. It is becoming Whole again, identified with the totality of reality.
The Universalism of this Salvation
So how does this salvation take place universally? Not everyone takes part in a contemplative spiritual practice like meditation. Not everyone takes part in more rigorous methods of transcendence. And it doesn’t happen spontaneously for many people (even though most people seem to have had some kind of mystical or transcendent experience at some point in their life when they feel lifted from their ordinary sense of self into a greater Reality). So how could this salvation be universal?
I suggest it is universal for the very reason that the Fall is a construction in the human mind. The Fall or separation from the Whole is thus a kind of illusion, as Einstein said. It has no real existence in reality, or the Ultimate Reality. We never actually fell away from the Whole, from the One, from God, from the Presence, except in our minds. It is a psychological mirage, that when looked at closer evaporates. It is a reduction of consciousness to a finite localized subject-object perception, which is necessary in the life of the particular individual, but that reduction is not the true nature of consciousness itself, which is our true Self, our true Source, our fundamental essence.
Since this Fall is a construction in the human mind, it will eventually fall away from consciousness, leaving consciousness in its pure unadulterated or undefiled state. If the ego falls away or “dies” during life, then this is described as “dying before you die.” It is the crucifixion of the finite incarnation Christianity that reveals the universal Christ (Gal. 2:20), or the anatta of “self” in Buddhism which reveals nirvana, and the Buddha-nature. Each tradition has its own symbolism for this ego-death. In that experience, we directly realize our true nature, our divine identity, our Transcendent Self that is identical to the Whole of Reality. This is also called self-transcendence or self-actualization, and also transpersonal or mystical experience. Without the veil of ego on the mind, consciousness is unveiled in its original pure unstained perfect state, and that is known intuitively as one’s real Self, one’s true Identity, one’s new Name.
If this falling away of the ego construction in the mind doesn’t happen during life, then it most assuredly happens at the time of biological death. The mind cannot maintain the sense of a separate independent “self” as death approaches. As many people have noted, as death nears, the veil wears thin, and the one dying often senses the greater reality of which they are a part. The ego falls away from consciousness, and they see the “Light” of their true Being, the true nature of pure consciousness.
The ego cannot hold on indefinitely. Eventually it will fall away, as death approaches, and one will realize Oneness, Wholeness, at-One-ment with the Ultimate Reality. As the Judeo-Christian God told the ego, “you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). I don’t think this is optional. It is universal, even if it happens only moments before death. As we now know, death is not necessarily an instant, but a continuum that happens usually over time, minutes to hours. It is during this time that the dying person transcends their ego identity, and realizes their true Self, the Christ Self, their Buddha-nature.
But again, this is just the piercing of the veil, the tearing of the veil, the falling of the veil, which is the ego-mind itself. It is the annihilation of the illusion of separation, of the mirage of being apart from the Whole, from the One, from God. It is not actually an attainment of something that we didn’t already had, but now we are conscious of it. As the Sufi mystic Rumi once said,
The ego is a veil between humans and God.-Rumi
Or as Fr. Thomas Keating, a Christian monk and mystic, once said:
The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from God.-Thomas Keating
Or as the living Christian friar, priest, teacher, and mystic, Fr. Richard Rohr has said:
We cannot attain the presence of God because we are already totally in the presence of God. What is absent is awareness.-Richard Rohr
The absence of awareness is because the ego blocks our awareness, it veils consciousness, its a reduction of nondual consciousness to a dualistic finite “self,” it is a filter on consciousness. When consciousness is known as it is in its self, then “God” is also known, because they are One. And no one escapes this oneness, even if they don’t know it. We are all One even now, but many are unconscious of this, and this unconsciousness of ego is what causes us to do things which harm ourselves or others. As Jesus said,
Forgive them, for they know not what they do.-Luke 23:34
What about where Jesus said that some would go away to eternal punishment, as in Matthew 25:46? What did he mean by that? It seems they weren’t “saved.” I think that what Jesus, and others, are talking about when they say some aren’t saved, but go to hell, etc., is the ego itself. They are referring to the finite mortal identity, that will surely die. It is death itself, the son of perdition, it is the lost one, the forgetful one, the dualistic one which causes all death and destruction. All egos go into that death, that outer darkness, that eternal “punishment” or suffering, even while the true Self is Life itself, Light itself, Energy itself, the Whole, the One, the redeemed Self, the Christ Self.
We have this dual nature within each one of us. All egos will come to naught, are damned, while the true Self is always saved, in my view. Both are always, eternally, the case. No ego will ever be saved, that sense of separateness, because it is a contradiction of terms. Rather, salvation is being liberated from the ego-self, it is putting off that enemy to God, the “natural man,” which reveals the Saint within, the true Self, the Savior (Mosiah 3:19), and we realize we are that Savior, we are the Christ, the Holy (Wholly) One, the Anointed One, the Awakened One.
A Mormon Caveat
My Mormon friends might object to this interpretation of salvation because in their scriptures there is one that says that it was Satan or Lucifer that said that all souls would be saved:
Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.-Moses 4:1
The idea of all souls being redeemed therefore is associated with Satan, not with Christ or God. It is thought that universal salvation is an idea of Satan, and not of God.
But I say that this is an incorrect interpretation of scripture. I suggest that the idea of all humanity being redeemed and reconciled to God was not the problem here. The problem is that Satan was an ego that thought he would do it, he would be the source of salvation, and he wanted to receive the honor for doing it. It was this egoic usurpation of Grace’s redemption and salvation that was in egregious error. The Christ, on the other hand, always disclaims responsibility or credit for such saving action, that it is not the source of its saving action, and thus remains egoless:
Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.-Moses 4:2
So this is how I see universal salvation. All egos eventually die, either during life or at biological death, and all souls or true Self that is the essence of every individual is “saved” from the death of that ego in the Oneness that is already its ultimate true nature, at-One with the Ultimate Reality of the All. All souls are ultimately reconciled in the One, because those souls are ultimately One Soul. Duality falls away from consciousness, revealing or unveiling the nonduality of pure consciousness. The Soul is “saved” from the death and separation of each and every ego, as it comes to realize itself in God, absolutely One with God, an expression of God’s very Self.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with this interpretation of universalism? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts.