The last hundred years of scientific and philosophical thought have caused dramatic upheavals in how we view our universe, our spiritual beliefs, and ourselves. With the advent of Darwinism, relativity, nihilism, and existentialism, traditional religious dogmas have been challenged as never before. Increasingly, people are wondering if enduring spiritual and moral truths even exist.
Out of the Labyrinth brings fresh insight and understanding to this difficult problem. In clear and accessible language, Walters demonstrates the genuine compatibility of scientific and religious values, and how science and our most cherished moral values actually enrich and reinforce one another. The author lays out a new approach to spirituality that both solves the problem of meaninglessness and champions the possibility of human transcendence and divine truth
Topics covered include:
- Institutions and the Individual
- Nihilism and the Search for Values
- Values–Absolute or Relative?
- Truth in Relativity
- Meaning in Evolution?
- In Search of an Absolute
- The Law of Transcendence
This book is a must for anyone struggling to find answers to these questions and the meaning of human existence.
Preface to the 1988 (Revised) Edition
Preface to the Third (2001) Edition
1. The Crises
2. Institutions and the Individual
3. Nihilism and the Search for Values
4. Values—Absolute, or Relative?
5. Truth Is Not Reasonable!
6. Catching the Right Wave
7. Truth in Relativity, Part I: The Discipline of Experience
8. Truth in Relativity, Part II: Directional Relativity
9. Meaning in Evolution? Part I
10. Meaning in Evolution? Part II: What Is Life?
11. Meaning in Evolution? Part III: What Is Matter?
12. Meaning in Evolution? Part IV: Is Evolution Progressive?
13. In Search of an Abosolute
14. The Law of Transcendence
During the process of writing this book, I paid a visit to the eminent Jewish scholar, Dr. Leon Kolb, who had been recommended to me as an expert on the history of the Jewish people. I was hoping that he would be able to endorse a point I wanted to make in my section on evolution.
As it happened, although he helped me, it was more in the negative sense: He recounted certain facts of history which forced me to abandon my point.
As our conversation progressed, however, a response that was initially negative on his part ended up very positively indeed for the larger issues of the book.
I had mentioned to Dr. Kolb why I was writing this book, which I said combated with new ideas the modern question of meaninglessness. By way of illustrating why life is so widely considered meaningless, I mentioned the claim of modern biologists that evolution is purely accidental.
”But it is accidental!” he cried indignantly, interrupting my explanation. “Completely accidental!” He went on to inform me that he was not only a Jewish scholar, but an anthropologist, and had taught physiology at Stanford University for thirty years until his recent retirement. He was solidly in the camp of the evolutionists.
”Perhaps,” I suggested, “you” like to read my chapters titled, ‘Meaning in Evolution’?”
”It’s accidental, I tell you. Biologists are all quite agreed on the subject.”
”But I haven’t disagreed with them!” I replied.
He looked non-plussed. “Then how can you talk of meaning in evolution?”
”My approach,” I said, “is probably so different from any you’ve come across that I think you might really enjoy reading it. And I’d certainly appreciate any corrections you might care to make in it, if you can find any fault with what I’ve written.”
”Very well,” he agreed, somewhat reluctantly, “I’ll read what you’ve written. But it’s useless, I tell you. Evolution is completely accidental!”
I visited him again a week later to see how much of my work, if any, he’d read. His eyes as he greeted me at the door were fairly shining with excitement.
”But this is wonderful!” he exclaimed. “It’s completely in harmony with the findings of modern science, yet it provides them with deep meaning. It is wonderful—wonderful! I tell you, this message must be spread everywhere!”
I hope other readers will confirm his reaction. For the subject matter treated here is vitally important to the present state of our civilization. Too many people have had their confidence in life’s meaning and purpose shaken by the insistence of so many of today’s thinkers that life is meaningless.
My purpose in writing this book has not been to discuss at length the intricacies of Western philosophy, nor indeed to familiarize myself with all of them. Sartre enthusiasts, for example, might complain, “Oh, but elsewhere in his writings Sartre says such-and-so.” More power to him, I reply, but this is most certainly what he said in those writings with which I’ve dealt here. It wouldn’t alter my purpose if, since then, he had completely changed his mind (although in fact he did not). It is the ideas he expressed that I have challenged, not the man himself. It is those ideas which, in this Twentieth Century, have become so widespread. I have made Sartre my target only because he expressed them so lucidly.
Please, then, approach this book as a fresh statement—or, if you like, as an approach from a new angle. Don’t try to determine out of which school of Western thought it might have sprung, for it owes its solutions to none of them. And remember that it takes time to make a difficult point. Please, therefore, hear me out before rebutting me, should rebuttal come instinctively to you.
For just as Dr. Kolb thought I meant to say one thing only to find that my meaning was very different, so anyone who is familiar with the currents of modern thought will be tempted to jump in at the beginning with assumptions that have no bearing on my actual argument.
With that let me conclude: “Dear Reader, allow me to present my good friend, This Book. Now, with your permission I’ll just leave the two of you alone together to chat for awhile. I hope you’ll find that you have lots in common.”
Chapter One—The Crises
Twentieth-Century science has showered mankind with blessings. It has
brought him material ease, and expanded his mental horizons. But it has also
brought him great mental uneasiness, and a gradual loss of focus on familiar
ethical and spiritual guidelines—"truth, honor, and justice"—which have been
the bulwark of every great civilization of the past. Absolutes now seem to be an
unattainable dream. Our present is a new and unfamiliar world of relativities.
It is important that we find some meaningful substitute for our lost sense of
It is commonly accepted that we are living in an age of crisis. The signs can
be seen everywhere: in the grim global opposition of incompatible social
ideologies; in the spiritual confusion that has been stirred up by modern
science; in the challenge to old moral concepts of a cynical, and growing,
amorality; in a way of life whose frenzied pace is assaulting our very sanity.
We talk of peace, yet know in our hearts that peace is not a natural offspring
of nervousness, fear, and doubt. We talk of prosperity, yet spend ourselves into
worrisome debt. We cry “Liberty!”, yet equate this ideal with the freedom of
other men to be exactly like—but only like—ourselves. We praise equality,
yet the very word is often made a penalty for excellence, and “togetherness”
becomes a slogan with which initiative is subdued.
Science, bestower of so many blessings, has brought us also what may be the
greatest test mankind has ever faced. The problem is not whether scientific
progress will be the cause of man’s destruction. At stake, rather, is our
ability to match outward achievement with inner enlightenment.
Humanity in its present danger may be compared to an imperfectly balanced
flywheel, which serves well enough so long as its turning is slow, but may be
shaken to pieces as its speed increases. Scientific progress will very possibly
spin us to destruction, if the imbalances in human nature are not corrected as
conscientiously as mistakes are in mechanics, or in the physics laboratory.
The vital question is, can these imbalances be corrected?
Goals can at least be worked toward if we consider them attainable. But what
if we are convinced, instead, that they do not even exist? Even those most
objective of men, the dedicated scientists, labor as patiently as they do only
because of their faith in the possibility of achievement. It would be
ridiculous to struggle if one were certain that all struggle was futile.
It is here that we find the core of our contemporary difficulty. We speak of
the need to grow, morally and spiritually, but while talking earnestly of “new
values,” we find a growing suspicion, voiced more and more frequently, that in
fact there are no values. Our long-held view of a universe that is
governed by Right is being challenged by a contradictory concept of a universe
that is not governed at all—a universe that is essentially irrational and
What final meaning, indeed, are we to ascribe to a scheme of things in which
all the once-fixed “realities” are found to exist merely as relativities—in
which time itself has no absolute definition? (Einstein’s discovery that time is
relative signifies that a young man might, conceivably, travel in a space ship
to some distant star and return still in his youth, to find the contemporaries
he left behind him aging or dead. A voyage that required only a year according
to his reckoning might have consumed forty years here on earth.)
Euclidean geometry, the crystal logic of which was for centuries considered a
“necessity of thought” and a virtual proof of the perfection of God’s law, is no
longer seen as a logical necessity at all. A hundred years ago, Lobachevsky and
Bolyai, working separately, proved that quite different, and perfectly
self-consistent, systems can be built on other sets of axioms.
One of the new geometric systems that resulted from this discovery, that of
the German mathematician, Riemann, conceives the vastness of space as actually
finite. Scientific men are convinced that space really is governed by Riemann’s
geometry, and not by Euclid’s.
To the natural question, “If space is finite, what’s outside of it?” the
scientist’s answer is, “Nothing. You are applying human preconceptions to a
situation where they do not obtain.”*(1) What earthly sense can we make of such an inconceivable scheme of things?
The longstanding argument as to whether light is a particle or a wave has at
last been resolved in a hopeless (but proved) contradiction: It is both.
Where, indeed, is the plain, “down-to-earth” logic of a universe in which the
earth doesn’t seem to exist at all? Or, if it exists, what is it? Not only a
near vacuum—its atomic particles as distant from one another, relatively
speaking, as the stars in the heavens—but the particles themselves are
evanescent: energy, not solid substance. The eminent scientist, Sir Arthur
Stanley Eddington, called them mind-stuff, not even energy.*(2)
Science today tells us that the categories of reason, far from being
absolutes, are a sort of elaborate mythology in which words and concepts have
meaning primarily as we give them meaning. They are true within the
framework we ourselves have arranged, but are not true in any fixed or eternal
sense. Euclidean geometry is true in its own way, and can be applied to the
construction of a building. Yet, as far as science knows, there is no such thing
as a straight line, the existence of which is the very basis of Euclid’s
The astounding discoveries of modern times have thrown all our accustomed
thinking out of gear. Is there, one asks oneself, any absolute meaning in
anything? Into what niche is one now to fit men’s previous conceptions of right
and wrong? Can we logically conceive of moral absolutes, when creation itself
seems to be ruled “absolutely” only by relativities?
If we feel the need for some solid foundation for our morality, the physical
sciences certainly seem to provide us with none.
Many thinking men today have shifted their concentration away from this
seemingly chaotic cosmos to the more comforting, because limited, phenomenon of
man. Their decision seems practical. After all, life for us goes on as ever.
Whatever the earth’s final nature, it is as solid as ever in the context of
material laws and of man’s own experience. Nor has Einstein’s discovery of the
relativity of time thrown our clocks out of kilter. If different systems of
geometry can be at least self-consistent, we may well ask why we should
not conceive of human life as some sort of self-contained “extra-geometric”
system, ruled by laws that are, at least for mankind, absolute.
From a human standpoint, anyway, there might be some hope here of discovering
lasting values, and thereby of defeating the depressing suggestion from science
that no values exist. From our point of view, after all, there are such
things as cooperation, honor, and honesty. There are also the opposite qualities
– treachery, weakness of character, dishonesty—traits of which (we assume) all
men disapprove. Perhaps it would be best for us simply to look at our own human
problems in this rosy light, and with Omar Khayyam “the riddle of the universe
We might indeed thus manage to leave science alone. But will science leave us
alone? It hasn’t done so, not by a long shot. Even on our familiar human plane,
science has roused the sleeping dragons of confusion.
Since the invention of electronic computers, close parallels have been found
between their function and that of the human brain. In certain respects, in
fact, the only noticeable difference is that our electronic counterparts work so
much faster and more efficiently than we can. (If they didn’t, we wouldn’t need
Electronic brains are “programmed” to think in particular channels. They
function only in those channels. Human brains, likewise—so we are told—think
only as they are conditioned, or “programmed,” to think. The pattern is more
complex, of course, but scientists claim that the parallel is exact, and that
even our sudden “inspirations” are due to prior conditioning. Thinking, in other
words, is considered to be simply a sort of electronic “manipulation of memory
traces in the brain.”
Differences in outlook, perhaps as a result of such conditioning, can reach
astonishing proportions. Most of us today look upon kindness as a universal
virtue. But certain primitive peoples, notably in certain parts of Africa, look
upon kindness as merely a sign of cowardice.
Again, we assume that we have fairly clear notions of what it means to be
brave. There are tribes in Borneo, however, that contradict all these notions.
They consider it a sign of manly courage to kill the unsuspecting child of some
enemy tribe with a poisoned dart from behind a tree.
There are people who believe it a virtue to steal, and still others by whom
an inability to lie cleverly is viewed with scorn—not only as indicative of
incompetence, which would at least be understandable, but actually (in the case
of certain gypsy tribes in Tuscany) as a mark that one is without truth!
Obviously, from a standpoint of comparative beliefs, right and wrong are not
such fixed values as we have been brought up to suppose. And this lack of fixity
seems all the greater when scientists tell us that a man’s beliefs can be
manipulated—to what extent no one yet knows—by expert conditioning on the
part of others.
Personality itself, that subtlest phenomenon of human nature, can be changed
with a surgeon’s knife. Prefrontal lobotomy, the brain operation that won for
its discoverer, Dr. Egaz Moniz, the Nobel prize in 1949, has been performed on
countless thousands of mentally disturbed people, freeing them of anxiety,
delusions, epileptic fits, and other abnormal nervous conditions. But the
operation has also been found to produce definite changes in the personalities
of the patients. It has made them shallower, less sensitive. Drs. Walter Freeman
and James W. Watts, two leading specialists in this field, reported: “It is
becoming more and more plain that patients who undergo lobotomy must sacrifice
some virtues, some of the driving force, some of the uplift, altruism, creative
spirit, soul or whatever else one would like to call it.”*(3)
And of course, there is that old skeptics’ delight, the doctrine of
evolution. Biologists today make as good a case as one can imagine for
meaninglessness. They are more or less unanimous on the point that life has
evolved by sheer accident, and not by any meaningful design. The findings they
submit in support of their claim are innumerable.
These and other similar discoveries of our times, bolstered by those of the
grander cosmic relativities, are reducing to shambles the hopes of many thinking
persons of finding fixed values anywhere.
Who knows? Perhaps they are right. But if they are, what must the conclusion
We have seen times when, without any encouragement from objective science,
large numbers of men have turned cynical about any ultimate or basic verities.
The Greeks passed through such a period. So also did the Romans. So likewise, in
fact, has almost every other dead civilization, and the period has always
coincided with its decadence and dissolution.
Let us face it: It takes moral vigor to build a strong and peaceful society.
It takes moral vigor to resist the demands of immediate ease over those of
lasting fulfillment. Where is the man who, believing in nothing sincerely, will
stand by anything or anyone through life’s storms and trials? He will be a
drifter, rather, moving with the currents of personal convenience.
No doubt the world will always have its share of cynics. Even when spiritual
beliefs have been widespread, there have been men who seized power by murder, or
who sold their conscience for a fat purse. But if the notion were to gain
popularity that such behavior is as good, “relatively” speaking, as any other,
the natural urge for pleasure and self-aggrandizement might well become as
contagious as any disease. The examples of history suggest forcefully that such
a notion, unchecked, might easily spread to epidemic proportions.
For men are their philosophies. They are swayed not so much by
events as by ideas. What, then, of an age when leading thinkers, bolstered by
factual evidence from the respected sciences, assure us that life is
fundamentally meaningless, and that there is no real purpose in anything?
Science may indeed bring us some final enlightenment, but let us hope it is not
the light engendered by the Final Bomb!
For hope we must. It goes against every natural instinct to view with aplomb
the prospect of final disaster. To have faith in nothing would be to
renounce our very humanity, and to ally ourselves with the incurious machines,
clicking and buzzing our way through life absorbed only in matters of the
In every respect, our crisis today may be summed up as a crisis of purpose,
as a desperate search for something tangible in which we can truly
believe. Without beliefs of some sort, and without at least some sense
of life’s meaningfulness, life itself is in danger of becoming a tortured
nightmare, an anguished scream of insanity.
Yet our beliefs must be honest; they must be based on intelligent inquiry. We
cannot seek refuge from unpleasant facts in mere wishful piety. Some writers
have tried to do so, but theirs are not forceful voices in our age. Let us face
it, belief that is no more than wishful thinking already is insanity.
True meanings we need now, if civilization is to be merely
preserved, let alone to soar to new heights. If we can regain faith in such
meaning honestly, a faith in something more tangible than the fact that we don’t
want to be blown to bits, or enslaved by some alien power, then and then only
may we acquire the moral weapon we need to overcome the many crises now
surrounding us as a people—and more than that, threatening our existence as a
*(1) See J.W.N.
Sullivan, The Limitations of Science, (New York, Mentor Books, 1959),
pp. 19, 20.
*(2) Sir Arthur
Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World.
*(3) Walter Freeman and James W. Watts, Progress in Neurology and Psychiatry (New
York, Grune and Stratton, Inc., 1948), pp. 409-20.
This book deserves for two reasons to be listed first. To begin with, this was the first book I worked on after I’d been forced to be on my own, after my separation from SRF. The second reason is that this book was the first I felt inspired to write specifically in fulfillment of my Guru’s command to me that I share his teachings through the written word. It was the first book I wrote with a real sense of mission, in the specific hope that it would change people’s ways of thinking.
Many years had to pass before I could complete this book. What first inspired me to write it was an article that I read in June 1962 in "Span," the magazine put out by the United States Information Service in India. The article was by the head of the philosophy department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It gave an over-view of fundamental trends in modern thinking which, the author claimed, were necessarily consequences upon the discoveries of materialistic science. The writer claimed that thoughtful people everywhere believed life to be meaningless, since science has shown us a universe wholly irrational. People nowadays, reported the author as if delivering the morning news, nowadays accept that the universe is an entirely material phenomenon. Consciousness itself, therefore, is nothing but the movement of electrons through nerve circuits in the brain. Evolution, as a consequence, is a pure accident; mankind, in producing a brain, has accomplished nothing more meaningful than has the elephant in evolving a trunk. Evolution, in other words, should not be defined as progressive. It demonstrates nothing but endless change.
This was a fairly depressing over-view of modern thought! The only reason, as far as I could see, why people held to it and even promoted it was the pride they took in their own "scientifically objectivity." Otherwise, what would be the point in even living? Indeed, might not the sharp increase in teen-age suicides be due to the hopelessness "inspired" in the young by the so-called authorities?
I myself saw nothing depressing in the facts modern science has discovered. It was only people’s interpretation of those facts that had led to the conclusion that everything is meaningless. I could see clearly that my Guru’s explanation of the yoga and vedanta teachings provides the strongest reason for seeing meaning everywhere. Armed with this vision, and realizing the depth of people’s misunderstanding on the subject, I decided it was my duty to show the way out of these woods where so many wandered, lost.
I therefore decided not to dismiss these concepts as "nonsense"; sneers would have been of use to no one. What I had to do was address the issues fair-mindedly. That meant I must show respect for the people with whom I disagreed, and demonstrate within that context that the same facts which had led them to negative conclusions could just as well be shown to demonstrate a universe full of meaning!
Out of the Labyrinth (as it is now called) has not so far been the best-seller I would have liked, considering the large number of people it could help, but it has reached an important audience, and has been applauded by thinking persons who want to believe in moral and spiritual values, but who don’t see how they can do so honestly.
A Pause for Reflection:
During the period when I was researching Out of the Labyrinth, I lived in San Francisco and taught at Dr. Haridas Chaudhury’s Cultural Integration Fellowship. Ousted from my Guru’s organization, I was feeling lost and bewildered, not knowing what I should do with my life. Had the time perhaps come for me to follow my Guru’s instructions and write books? Ought I to lecture? My faith in myself had been shaken. Could it be that my Guru was displeased with me? I couldn’t believe it. The work I’d been able to accomplish in India seemed to me—and seems so even now—a miracle. My fellow SRF directors, most of them senior to me, had not spoken a single word that corroborated with the instructions he himself had given me. Was their opposition to the work I’d done in India only an affirmation of the doubt that I myself had expressed to him, on the occasion when he’d told me to write? What I’d asked was, "What more is needed, beyond what you yourself have already written?" It should not have surprised me, therefore, that they too imagined that what he’d done was definitive, and that to go beyond that would be presumptuous. If this was their reasoning, the anger they expressed was at least understandable—and perhaps also, in a sense, excusable. Nevertheless, what he’d said to me in answer to my query had answered my own doubt. As I’ve said already, his words were, "Much more is needed!"
Dr. Chaudhuri did his best to persuade me that my Guru wanted me to keep on teaching and lecturing. He insisted also that he sincerely felt that my Guru wanted me to do these things. Indeed, had I remained with SRF I would never even have been allowed to write books. Nor would SRF ever have published them.
Thus I began—tentatively and with extreme apprehension—to teach in San Francisco and its environs.
I had always hoped also someday to found a spiritual community in my Guru’s name. For he had spoken fervently many times of "world brotherhood communities." My fellow disciples were "running the show," and now declared that, since his attempt to start a community in Encinitas had not been successful, he had "changed his mind." To me, that lack of success meant only that people weren’t yet ready for the idea. To claim beyond that, however, that he’d "changed his mind" was absurd. It would imply that he never really meant it when expressing so feelingly—as he’d done all his life—the need for communities. Once, when actually declaiming on the subject, he actually cried out with great fervor, "I am sowing my words in the ether, in the Spirit of God, and they shall move the West!"
"Important reading . . . be prepared to take on a new view of reality and your own nature. Labyrinth is thought-provoking, intelligent, and filled with remarkable wisdom. This belongs in any thinking/feeling person’s library."
—Fred Alan Wolf, PhD, physicist and author of Taking the Quantum Leap and The Spiritual Universe
"This book is wonderful. Out of the Labyrinth is completely in harmony with the findings of modern science, yet it provides them with deep meaning. This message must spread everywhere."
—Leon Kolb, Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, Stanford University
"I found Out of the Labyrinth a lucid complementary statement to the ‘either-or’ assumptions of Western thought, as well as a much-needed affirmation of the limitations of trying to apprehend reality only through the mechanism of reason."
—Rene Dubos, microbiologist, Pulitzer Prize for So Human an Animal
"An engaging and compelling argument for the continuing relevance of spirituality to modern life. From the Greek philosophers to quantum theory, Kriyananda makes solid observations that lead us to question the dogmas of modern ‘truth.’ This is both a very good read and interesting journey into one of the finer minds of our time."
—Reverend Chip Wright, Unitarian Universalist Church, Yakima, WA
"I particularly treasure [this] book. It will contribute to our ongoing work on the issue of scientific causality. Science is one of the noblest visions of humankind, but its commitment to the physically measurable as the only reality has not served us well for a long time."
—Willis Harman, president of Institute of Noetic Sciences, co-author of New Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science