The dream of buried treasure has always fascinated the human mind: the lost treasure of the Pharaohs, buried in Egyptian tombs; the jewel-filled treasure chests of pirates, buried on Caribbean Islands; the incalculable treasure of Solomon’s Temple, discovered by the Knights Templar and hidden once again by the Freemasons. In an age of science, commerce, and common sense, these stories have stirred our imaginations, inspired us with hope and yearning, and encouraged not a few individuals to embark on great adventures. Most of these adventures, of course, have come to naught. Some of these seekers have returned with a few items for the museum, some have returned with empty hands and a good story, and some have not returned at all.
The reason why these treasure hunts have by and large been unsuccessful is that most of these stories are symbolic and mythological. But this does not mean that a treasure does not exist. The stories themselves may not be literally true, but the meaning revealed by the stories is true. Among contemporary people, myths tend to be dismissed as childish fantasies or the unscientific gropings of primitive minds. But the mythological vision of the world has always been, and still remains, an important way of experiencing and understanding reality. Myths reflect our deepest psychological and spiritual truths.
A ‘hidden treasure’ does exist, just as all these stories claim. The fabulous jewels, the silver coins, the golden statues, all of this is real – far more real than anything found in a museum. It is true that this treasure is buried and hidden, just as the legends tell us. It is also true that a map exists, and it is a secretive map that requires special knowledge and preparation before it can be read and understood. There is even a guide who knows the way. However, the treasure is not buried under desert sand or a building in Manhattan. The map is not written on a scrap of faded parchment or the back of a national document. And the guide is not some enigmatic vagabond in a faraway land. The treasure, the map, and the guide, are all at hand.
The search for buried treasure is the sacred quest of the soul.
Any successful treasure hunt begins with research. Clues to the treasure’s whereabouts have to be discovered and interpreted. The Western Tradition is full of clues, particularly within the Greek Myths, the Torah, the Gospels, and the Qur’an. But all of these stories are written in a perplexing symbolic code that requires a key: otherwise, they can only be experienced as tales of bizarre fantasy, filled with violence and cruelty and overzealous demands for an unrealistic morality. Fortunately, a key still exists in our time. A key to the symbolism of the ancient Myths and Scriptures can still be found in many of the writings of Plato and several other ancient philosophers.
Once these clues have been unraveled, and the underlying symbolism of the stories begins to be understood, the stunning unity of all our traditions is revealed. All the wonderful myths, legends, and Mysteries of ancient Greece (which I discuss in this book), as well as the sacred Scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (which I will discuss in a subsequent book) have the common aim of teaching us how to lead the soul back to God, back to an inner state of spiritual enlightenment, back to the divine treasure. The soul follows the same ascending path, using the same internal map, regardless of the nation, religion, or time into which one is born. The different ways that these stories are told attests to the marvelous range of the human imagination, but the commonality of method and purpose that unites these stories is infinitely more striking than any of the differences.
Our search for clues begins in ancient Greece at the traditional beginning of western civilization, when a line was first drawn between two realms of life, the realm of matter and the realm of spirit, a critical severance that cut us off from the treasure. This rift between matter and spirit is the central dilemma of western civilization. The battle between them has been waging for thousands of years, and is the chief cause of the modern circumstances of life. All the rifts and conflicts between men and women, liberals and conservatives, east and west, mind and body, heaven and earth * all these dichotomies of life are in many ways a consequence of this fundamental conflict between what the ancients called the ‘way of action’ and the ‘way of contemplation’, and what we might call the ‘way of rational science’ and the ‘way of the religious spirit’.
The realm of religion, which in its broadest sense includes the invisible internal life of contemplation, emotion, faith and philosophy, requires a connection with the exacting knowledge and rationality of science, and its associated life of action in the physical world. Without this connection, the mind becomes puerile, the emotions become sentimental, the individual becomes ineffectual (or worse, lunatic and dangerous), and culture becomes stagnant (or worse, fanatical and depraved).
The realm of science, on the other hand, which broadly includes the entire visible external life of nature, and, by extension, the life of action, politics, economics and technology, requires a connection with the religious realm of the spirit, the heart, the philosophic mind. Otherwise, science becomes merely the accumulation of facts without meaning * a trivial and dangerous pursuit, which inescapably leads to apathy, cruelty, the destruction of the environment, an insipid consumerism, and all the inner emptiness that rots and impoverishes our lives and society.
In other words, the religious spirit needs material science, to become mature and useful. And the scientific endeavor needs religion, to become decent and intelligent. But all too often, we seem to believe that we have to make a choice between one or the other. This only leads to disaster.
For much of western history, the religious viewpoint of the Church completely dominated the human mind. There was certainly a great deal of beauty and magnificence during these centuries, from the art of Raphael and Leonardo, to the building of the Gothic Cathedrals, to the divine poetry of Dante. But we also know from history what a horrifying disaster this was: the stultifying of the human mind, the suppression of new ideas, the fanatical slaughters and witch-hunts and burnings at the stake. These were the terrible results of humanity choosing to focus on the realm of religion and spiritual belief while completely denying the importance of science, nature, and human reason.
Today, however, and during the past few centuries, the pendulum has swung completely, and we have been totally overwhelmed by the scientific point of view. This, too, has led to extraordinary and magnificent human achievement. Unfortunately, science per se can find no intrinsic meaning in the world. Why, for example, should light travel at a speed of 186,000 miles per second, and not some other speed? Why should objects attract each other with a force proportional to their mass? There is nothing inherently necessary or rational or meaningful about these natural laws. Even more importantly, a purely quantitative science contributes nothing to the great questions of human existence. Laboratory experiments can describe, but they cannot explain, all the complexity and miraculousness of life and consciousness. If the great human questions and issues still move us, we cannot turn to science for much help. And besides, answering these questions is not the job of science, any more than it is the job of religion to explain the intricate mechanics of a desktop computer.
But we do indeed live in a ‘Scientific Age’, in which everything, even our thoughts and feelings, are expected to be subject to scientific measurement and scientific analysis. This enormous encroachment of scientific methodology into all aspects of human life and experience, coupled with the spiritually barren assumption that all of creation can be explained by mechanics, confers a dead, hollow, universe, increasingly filled with violence and terror, in which a debased humanity finds no greater purpose than to go shopping.
These are the appalling consequences of humanity choosing to focus on science and technology while denying the importance of the spirit. Science must be informed by the spirit, in order to be intelligent and meaningful, rather than merely clever, utilitarian, and so frequently life-threatening.
So history has shown us clearly that we cannot have a decent, fulfilling, and purposeful existence, until we learn to balance and include both of these realms of life. A reconciliation is long overdue, and we will see that only the human soul, which is partly of the material world and partly of the spiritual world, has the power to heal this rift. If we wish to create a world of peace, compassion and meaning, the human soul will have to be rediscovered, reawakened, and sent forth on its journey to attain the treasure.