EXPLORATIONS IN CONTEMPORARY SPIRITUALITY
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There are many misconceptions about mysticism. Lighting candles, practicing hatha yoga, making use of crystals, and burning incense can be aids to your spiritual journey, but they will not get you to God. Nor will speculations about Bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle, or UFOs. Bending spoons is a neat parlor trick, but your bent spoon will only cost you money. Sťances and alchemy, palmistry and numerology, tarot and unexplained phenomena, astral travel and exploring past lives can have a place at certain stages in one's life, but they have absolutely nothing to do with experiencing God.
Merry Old Santa Claus
by Thomas Nast, 1881
The contemporary spiritual scene is littered with charlatans. The most odious are those who use religion to exploit others to further their own worldly objectives, such as acquiring wealth, fame, or power. Secondmost offensive are those who water down religion to make it worldly, stripping it of its mystical element in favor of using God to obtain material things. God then becomes a Santa Claus figure to whom people pray for health, money, jobs, spouses, or possessions. In other words, worldly advancement is really sought instead of spiritual advancement. It is this displacement of objectives that ridicules the true aim of religion, which is to lead the soul to God.
Psychological integration, or individuation, is not the same as spiritual progress. Ideally both should go hand in hand. Making efforts at overcoming neuroses and adapting homogeneously with one's peers are admirable milestones in the course of a person's life. But the achievement of personal epiphanies or the mastery of socialization skills have nothing to do with the pulsating mystical realization of which the mystics speak. Nor do physiological states of well being that are sometimes achieved through diet or nutritional supplementation. Body and mind are temporal realities, but the underlying Spirit is eternal. If you get caught in the body-mind labyrinth, you may lose sight of God.
Another category of pseudo-mysticism is psychic phenomena, astrology, and the occult. While a small percentage of psychics and astrologers have a legitimate calling to provide useful, even transformational, insights to others, a large number of them are con artists set up to bilk hapless individuals. Those in the latter category can prey vampirelike on emotionally vulnerable persons who are often desperate for information about the future or departed loved ones. Avoid these individuals like the plague. Preoccupation with the development of psychic powers, such as telepathy or clairvoyance, is one of the primary stumbling blocks to realizing God. Psychic phenomena and the occult as a rule have nothing in common with authentic spirituality.
Mysticism can never be relegated into a commercial enterprise. The in-your-face spiritual entrepreneurs, the mega-selling religious hustlers, the chicly dressed televangelists, and the seminar-circuit gurus all utilize marketing strategies designed solely to entice you to buy their products. But God is not a commodity. Aggressive promotional campaigns and advertising come-ons are functions of commercialism, not religion. Authentic spirituality can never be pawned off as if it were a commercial venture.
The Sixth Zen Patriarch
Tearing up the scriptures
In some religious traditions, such as Sufism, the brashest and the loudest are positively shunned in favor of the subtlest and the most anonymous. But we who live in first-world countries have been successfully conditioned by the forces of commercialism, which unconsciously mold and manipulate us round the clock. We are trained to gauge all things by the criterion of commercialism, so we tend to judge our spirituality by commercial standards. We succumb to marketing techniques when evaluating spiritual teachers and religious teachings. Our approach to religion has been tainted by the consumer mentality, which dictates that we buy our spirituality much in the same way that we purchase goods at the local galleria. All that concerns us is what will improve us. Actually, what we want does not always correspond to what we truly need, and what we need is a spiritual path that will deconstruct our ego and rid us of our emotional attachments and aversions.
In reality, the criteria used for judging spirituality should be based entirely on non-commercial factors. When a so-called spiritual teacher achieves commercial acclaim, his or her ego basks in the limelight of publicity while the money rolls in hand over fist. They have achieved "success" as gauged by the yardstick of commercialism. But the very means by which they achieve their success, which may include hoodwinking impressionable individuals by using slick marketing campaigns, may in fact earn them a place of honor in purgatory. So when appraising spiritual teachers and teachings, carefully analyze whether you are buying hype and succumbing to sales tactics, or if there exists an underlying element of authentic spirituality that will truly help you divest yourself of your ego in order to experience God.
Your ego can be your best friend or your worst enemy on your spiritual journey. By simply embarking on the path of spirituality, you are part of a small minority. If you follow an authentic mystical path, that percentage narrows even further. You ruminate on this fact, and you begin to think that you are superior to others. The very instant this thought enters your mind egoitis has set in, and you are headed for a downfall.
You begin having spiritual experiences. You weep tears of ecstasy. You commune inwardly with God. You feel shivers of scintillating bliss palpably caressing your soul. Now you really think you're progressing spiritually. Guess again. The minute you think you're advancing, you are actually regressing. Another case of egoitis.
St. Florian's Psalter
You pick up a book on genuine spirituality and carefully read it. You identify with the author's experiences. You feel that you have fully grasped the mystery of God, and you are well on the road to enlightenment. Not! You know by now the diagnosis. Reading books by authentic mystics can immensely inspire one's spiritual quest. But a person's journey comes to a grinding halt if they believe they can know God by virtue of intellectual understanding. Realizing God has nothing to do with the intellect. It is a transformative experience that wholly transcends the mind and senses. Put down that book, and do what the author did in order to access that sublime experience.
The ego will devise countless traps to ensnare you. Subtler than the subtlest, it lies in wait to trip you up. It works 24 hours a day. It will cater to your vanity, your sense of self-importance, and the idea that you are situated higher in the spiritual pecking order than others. If you fall prey to its pernicious attempts to assert itself, it will undermine your spiritual work. Rather than becoming a saint, you may end up a hypocritical snob. Much to your chagrin, many seemingly non-spiritual persons may in fact be more spiritually advanced than you.
The cure for egoitis is humility. Authentic spirituality is built on the foundation of egolessness. Take steps to attenuate the ego whenever it flares up. Dismantle your reputation. Imbibe the tincture of self-effacement. The less there is of you, the more room there will be for God. The Jewish mystics refer to God as ayin - nothingness. Become nothing and you will merge with the nothingness that is God.
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EXPLORATIONS IN CONTEMPORARY SPIRITUALITY
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Last Update: March 23, 2017