If we follow a path of initiation and fulfilment, or we believe in God the Creator, then that path or God is an expression of the universal that grants human beings truths, values, ethics and rules for behaviour. Idealist or rationalist philosophies use the human faculties, sense-data, intuition and sometimes even the image-stock common to archetypes, symbols and signs to elaborate constructs whose universality is, to a greater or lesser extent, either abstract or concrete. As we have seen, these are not the only ways of elaborating the universal. We can do so also by relying upon human faculties, and spiritualities and religions insist on doing this because their goal is to reveal the correspondence between the macrocosm of the universe and the microcosm of our innermost being. The universal of meanings, of consciousness, of the heart and the ego, for example, is present in mysticisms and rituals that relate to our relationship with knowledge, the gnosis, truth and liberation. We can thus understand that the universal, which reveals the transcendent cause of All, also reveals common qualities and values that are immanent in everything, or identifies the similar essence of the human faculties of all human beings, and that, as we were saying, the universality of what we have in common, and which is expressed in the name of a faith or postulate, actually expresses the undisputed truth of the plurality, of the multiplicity and diversity of the ways that lead to it and its representation. There can be no universal without diversity: the quest for the ultimate commonality would be pointless if we did not recognize the initial differences that explain just why we have to go in search of the universal. We often tend to forget that when we set out on our quest because we are already convinced of the certainties or doubts we have come to accept.
Ancient traditions and contemporary spiritualities, like religions, have a similar relationship with the real on to which they project meanings, directions, destinations or teachings. The Spirit or universal spirits, and the paths to liberation or God give birth to truths that are meant to be shared by all and to be true for all men. They are universal in a primary sense. The essence of each of these traditions or religious is that they call upon our consciousness to find a way, to make choices and to act accordingly. The universal that calls upon us to choose a path should, for example, never, by definition, deny either the reality of the essential necessity – which is quasi-ontological – of other paths. I must experience other truths if my responsibility for having chosen my truth in all conscience is to be meaningful. Without the truth – or errors – of others, my truth is no longer my choice or my responsibility. If it were forced upon me in its uniqueness, it would lose its meaning, and there would be no justification for its existence. That is the profound intuition we find in the teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism, but it is also central to the most profound messages of the monotheisms. The mystical and Sufi traditions constantly remind us that there are many ways, just as there are many paths up the mountainsides that their initiates scale to reach the same summit, ideal or truth. That there are many ways does not detract from the nature of the essential truth, just as the fact that there are different paths up the mountain does not mean that the peak is not transcendent –quite the contrary. The absolute is not relative to the paths that lead to it. Not everything is relative.
When we set out to look for the universal or affirm its existence, it is, then, important to remember that we are on a quest, progressing along a path, and to recall that our hearts and our reasons aspire to something. We have to remember that we are on the side of a mountain and remain aware that the absolute of the peak is a goal, an ideal and a hope. That should be our original state of mind, no matter whether we are believers or unbelievers, rationalist, idealist, materialist or mystical philosophers. And even if we prefer the symbol of the desert of immanence to that of the mountain of elevation and transcendence, the perspective does not change: the infinity of the desert also reveals the many paths along which we can go in search of ourselves or lose ourselves. The desert appears to have no summit and no centre, but it too can unveil the essence of its absolute thanks to its infinity, which stretches as far as the eye can see. A hint of the universal is present everywhere, which means that we must not be too self-confident and must be suspicious of our tendency to think that our road – or lack of one – is the only road there is. That is why we must rise in spiritual and intellectual terms to a third level of doubt when we are talking about the universal: what does my summit or my desert, my truth or my Way, say about the truth of others? What does my path say about paths, and what does my singular universal say about diversity? What, for instance, does this Quranic assertion-revelation say to the Muslim consciousness and to believers in general: ‘Had God so willed, He would have made you a single community’ (The Table Spread 5: 48). This implicit recognition of diversity seems to echo the essence of the ancient teachings of Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Knowing that we are on a quest, recognizing the existence of many different ways, and doubting the essence of our way, as opposed to that of others: these are the three basic elements of humility. If we discover them on our path, they will transform and reshape our being; if they are lacking at both the beginning of the journey and its destination, it is because they have deserted a reason and a heart that are imprisoned in arrogance and blindness.