Thursday, November 29, 2007

Anuradha's question

"It is commonly assumed that the nature of spirituality is not only fundamentally different from ordinary experience, but that this difference is vastly superior. From this it is concluded that the tests of truth or meaning used for ordinary experience are not relevant for the so-called higher truths that guru and religions offer. This age-old separation of the spiritual from the worldly is deeply embedded in all of civilization. We view this split as tragic, and at the core of the fragmentation prevalent in the contemporary human psyche. The inner battle between the presumed higher and lower (or good and bad) parts of oneself often binds people with conflict by making them unable to accept themselves as whole human beings." (The Guru Papers; masks of authoritarian power by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad)

Jagat, do you agree ?

It is commonly assumed that the nature of spirituality is not only fundamentally different from ordinary experience, but that this difference is vastly superior.

Are all experiences the same? When a nuclear scientist observes molecular movements in a cyclotron, is his perception the same as that of a layman? Obviously not. Is his experience outside the realm of the ordinary? Not in the sense that it lies outside the scope of normal sense perception. The distinction lies in the culture. It is the same as the culture of the aesthete and a piece of music or a play. Did Mozart experience the world in the same way that you or I do?

What are the limits of democracy? Somehow, since spirituality is considered available to all, certain people wish to evaluate everyone's experience as being undifferentiated. This premise cannot be accepted.

Does that make it fundamentally different? Or superior? I think so. Inasmuch as human beings seek to excel and to realize some kind of perfection in life, they set various goals--perfection in occupational work or career, money and worldly honors, love, sense-gratification and family, and finally, some higher, spiritual calling. These goals are not equal. To say they are makes a mockery of everyone who has striven for something more than the trivial in life.

Now anyone who has striven for goals in life knows that a struggle is involved. You cannot become good at your life's work, making money, or even making love and raising a family, what to speak of attaining spiritual goals, however defined, without making an effort. Indeed, if something comes too easily, it is likely trivial. If you are rich, and money comes easily, then it seems trivial in comparison to some other goal that requires an effort--climbing mountains or sailing solo around the world.

Now if you want to characterize the elements of your character that impede your achieving goals as evil, then that is probably not the best psychological strategy. And certainly there may be social psychological aberrations around the achievement of goals in life, but you cannot blame spirituality or religion, for spirituality and religion are about assisting the individual in attaining a state of true sanity.

If there is insanity in the name of spirituality and religion, unfortunately, I will have to fall back on the old defense, it is not real spirituality or religion. If something does not achieve what it sets out to do, namely find a higher happiness and inner peace, then it is not true to its purpose. Psychoanalysis challenged religion, communism challenged religion, conspicuous consumption is currently challenging religion, and since dharma, artha and kama are all partial human goals, they bring a certain amount of satisfaction. This does not mean that they are anything more than partial.

The real goal of life is love of God, prema. Just think about that for a moment. Love is something that everyone can recognize as a goal. How do we achieve that? We may take the help of psychologists such as the ones quoted here, who have astutely observed that we must learn to accept the shadow elements in our psyches, but to deny the element of struggle is to fail to recognize something basic about human life. We are talking about strategies here, not the goal. The goal will still be to achieve the highest level of humanity that we can. That has always been the job of spirituality and religion, and to deny it is to misunderstand both.

Now with regard to the tests for truth and meaning involved, this is not in fact true. Certainly some spiritual leaders may play on the gullibility of their followers in the way described by the authors. But the test is always going to be experience of the individual. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Successful religious leaders have been successful because they have provided something to their followers--whatever that thing may be. Now it should be said that the thing they give may NOT in fact be true spirituality. That is not the fault of spirituality itself. You may pay 20$ for a book on making a million dollars. That does not mean you will make a million dollars, or that it was ever possible. And the people who suggest that psychoanalysis is a better method are not necessarily going to be able to fulfill their promises either.

What happens at the lower levels of spirituality is no doubt inadequate for higher levels of achievement. Mostly it is all at the level of yama and niyama. And what the authors are warning about is no doubt something to take into consideration. But they want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. They want to deny the role of spiritual guides, teachers and companions. Probably not counsellors, mentors or psychoanalysts, though. Sorry, I don't agree.

No comments: