Settle for "New Age" Spirituality?
To those of us looking for something real, the spiritually
dysfunctional rituals and the social
religiosity of many conventional religions can be off-putting.
So, too, the endless talk
(and non-practice) of armchair "comparative religion"
professors. In contrast, the various practices
of the New Age movement may seem a step up from mere talk or mere
ritual. Meditation practices, sweat lodge experiences, encounter
groups, or flotation tanks —
the list is a long one
provide pleasant or interesting experiences that we often call
"spiritual". But such practices generally are quite
limited in what they can achieve on the full scale of Spiritual
contrast with “establishment” religions (from which New Age practitioners
generally set themselves apart very openly) with their fixed creeds
and moral codes, one of the commonalities among the many diverse
practitioners of the New Age is the “do-it-yourself ” character
of their practices. One’s “holistic lifestyle” might be comprised
of a hatha yoga class on Monday; meditation and astral projection
on Tuesday; psychotherapy on Wednesday; communal bread baking
and Ayurvedic medicine on Thursday; a day of intimacy with one’s
spiritual/sexual partner on Friday; a long walk out in nature
on Saturday; and a day of just “vegging out” on Sunday. It’s completely
At first this
may sound like a dream come true: we
get to define our own spirituality. This do-it-yourself
“dream” is a direct descendent of Martin Luther’s Protestantism,
eschewing, as it does, the need for any kind of “priest” or necessary
mediator between oneself and God (though “astral guides” and “angels”
is, helpers or advisors
okay, just as are parsons and ministers
okay within Protestantism). This at least has the advantage that
no one who is corrupt or sadistic (like many of those folks in
the medieval Church theocracy) will have power over us.
the up side of it. But here’s the rub: We
must define our own spirituality
we are in any position to be our own Spiritual Authorities. We
are the Spiritually blind! We are exactly the wrong
people to be telling ourselves the nature of the Greater Reality
and our relation to it, and what will best serve our own Spiritual
maturation. Worse (and more common), we often don't even go so
far as to think very often about the nature of the Greater Reality
and our relation to it; instead, many of us create our so-called
“spiritual life” on the basis of a motley set of whims, intuitions,
books, and workshops. And all the while, the Spiritual Reality
truly exists, with its own real and fixed laws which determine
whether or not beings will be able to discover it and participate
in it. Whether or not our "spiritual" whims and our
"spiritual" workshops have anything whatsoever to do
with the real laws of the Spiritual Reality is largely a matter
our so-called “spiritual life” in a piecemeal manner, based on
whims and judgements formed from a fundamentally materially-oriented
life, is something like walking into the local auto parts shop,
without any profound understanding of cars or driving, selecting
this part because it is “shiny”, and that part because its shape
is “pretty”, and then hoping that the collection of parts one
has purchased will turn out to be a working car, that will drive
us to “heaven”! There are at least two problems here:
and “pretty” are the wrong measures for assessing whether we’ve
got the essential parts of a car; understanding
how a car functions is the
- Auto parts
shops only sell accessories and the secondary components of
cars; they don’t even stock the primary
components (the engine, the body, the radiator, etc.)
And they certainly don’t provide gasoline, map, or driver!
We are human
beings whose relatively beginning level
of Spiritual maturity is clearly signalled by the fact
that we have incarnated in the material
world. Those who are Spiritually more mature aren't
here! The only exceptions to this rule are the great
Spiritual Masters who have incarnated here by conscious choice,
moved by compassion (even as someone might choose to dive to the
bottom of the ocean to rescue a friend who is drowning, but otherwise
spends most of his or her time on land). The rest of us simply
gravitated here unconsciously.
have little or no real Spiritual experience, our “measures” of
what is valuable are grounded in our expertise as materialists
living in a material world.
And so our own personal assessments of Spiritual
means will tend to be as inappropriate as “pretty” and “shiny”
are for gauging the functionality of car parts. We would do much
better by finding Someone who is actually living in the Spiritual
world, but fortunately is accessible here as well, and who can
tell us what we need “to drive from here to There”.
When we want
to learn nuclear physics, we go to a university where trained
professors in the area of nuclear physics teach us first the basics,
then the esoteric details. It is usually a rigorous process, with
both college and graduate level training. If we are interested
not only in the theoretical details, but in becoming a nuclear
engineer, then we need to know not only the theory, but the practical
details of the engineering discipline, ideally from someone who
practices this discipline "out in the field" himself
or herself. We would never
presume we could pick up either sufficient theory or sufficient
practical details of the engineering discipline on
our own! Can you imagine someone "playing around"
on their own with radioactive materials, in order to learn nuclear
physics?! But taking up a spiritual practice such as "kundalini
yoga" without having an experienced Master and much training
is just as dangerous on the personal level.
Isn't it very
strange then that we could presume we can "do it ourselves",
relative to the extraordinarily difficult art, science, and discipline
of spirituality! The report "from the field", that is,
from the longstanding tradition of genuine spiritual practitioners
be they saints, yogis, shamans, or Spiritual Masters —
is that genuine Spiritual Realization requires a very difficult
course, and extensive training from a true Master. Indeed, the
traditional approach has always involved a "mentor / apprentice"
relationship (between the Master and the disciple), much like
the relationship involved in training for any practical discipline.
did our "do it yourself" presumption (and anti-authoritarian
stance) come from? In part, it is because the field of spirituality
is a realm of the
invisible to us who have been raised in a materialistic
culture. Many of us talk about it, but have little direct experience
of it ourselves (except to the degree that we bastardize the word
and start calling anything from an orgasm, to a good movie, to
a walk on the beach, a "spiritual experience", or even
"God"). Our reactions to those who claim to be masters
of a realm which we ourselves do not witness range anywhere from
childish credulity (believing
anything any "spiritual authority" says about invisible
matters) to adolescent incredulity
(disbelieving anything any
"spiritual authority" says about invisible matters).
are limited reactions. Clearly what is needed is a freedom
from merely childish belief and merely adolescent disbelief that
is only earned by adult maturity.
What is needed is great intelligence and discrimination, both
in assessing what is being said, and in assessing the "school"
from which it comes, relative to the full spectrum of schools.
For instance, relative to conventional education, an Ivy League
school tends to give a better education than a community college
(even though the latter may have very well-intended teachers).
The same principle holds in the circles of genuine spiritual training.
We have already
mentioned the Protestant Reformation as a primary source of our
cultural bias against "spiritual authority". We can
now see how such an unconscious bias easily throws out the baby
with the bath water. Fine, learn to recognize and steer clear
of corrupt church bureaucrats, pedophilic priests, exploitive
cult leaders, and the like. But, noting the bad apple here and
there, do not also fail to notice the true
Spiritual Authorities! Every one of our "establishment"
religions was originally founded by just such a Spiritual Authority
(from Jesus of Nazareth to Gautama the Buddha) being spiritually
active in their own time. Even if many of these religions
have devolved over the centuries to the point of spiritual bankruptcy,
remember their origin in a spiritually alive Master —
and look for
such a spiritually alive Master now.
For we need not only a Spiritual Teacher, but a Spiritual Master,
because the Spiritual Master is the engine,
the map, and the driver
in the "vehicle" that is the genuine process of Spiritual
Awakening. Given the alternative to Spiritually Awaken from
all suffering, unhappiness, and limit, why would
anyone settle instead for a mere "spiritual self-image"
made of a few beads and crystals, nice-smelling incense, and a
little quiet "meditation time"?
When the Protestant
reaction to spiritual authority (triggered initially by some corrupt
Church clerics) is taken to the extreme
as is often the case among New Age adherents —
one holds no spiritual authority but oneself, and one’s “spiritual
practice” will consequently tend to be piecemeal, mostly in touch
with one’s own subjectivity and relatively little in touch with
the actual Greater Reality. There is an inherent limit in how
far we can pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We simply
are not in a Spiritual position that allows us to see clearly
and directly where we are, and —
more to the point —
where we are stuck in the
Greater Reality, and how to go beyond that “stuckness”. (All those
who are currently communing with God for real on a regular basis,
like the saints of old, may excuse themselves from this criticism.)
In the area
of genuine spirituality —
in which the fundamental principle of growth is self-transcendence
why settle for the worst teacher of all: one's self?
As Avatar Adi Da Samraj puts it, "The ego is a Guru with
a fool for a disciple. . ."