of A New Culture"
1. As has been explained before* clear insight in the nature of our existential suffering is a decisive factor for the regeneration of our society. We define this as (who)man alienated from "Heaven, earth and the community". Western society has been cut off from its (threefold) roots. "Thrown upon itself" it is desperately looking for wholeness. In this regard our relationship toward the feminine - spiritually, psychologically and culturally - is playing a major role. The feminine represents the "holistic principle", whereas the masculine is called "reductionism".** Both should have a dynamic and complementary relationship - in the context of Consciousness - to each other in such a way that integration on various levels can be achieved. In practice, this proves to be a faraway dream though. Both awakening, personal integration as well as a change of paradigm in society appear to be difficult processes. Inevitably, the question obtrudes upon someone, what the position is of the forerunners of spiritual emancipation with regard to these fundamental issues. How do the latest philosophies and teachings relate to the existential problems of mankind? Which roles are they really playing?
* In almost all our files you will
find references to this issue.
2. In the last say 30 years many things has been written about spirituality. A forest has been growing consisting of innumerable opinions, teachings and practices. It was good that way. Because of our ignorance, we had to go shopping, finding out what was out there. It was the first stage of our quest. Maybe some committed themselves to some teaching, most of us have been going on shopping though. Spiritual orientation became a goal in itself, addicted as we became to superficiality, distraction and the search for exciting new experiences. Something must have gone wrong. The teachings offered and our consumers attitude somehow were too easily fitting to each other. It didn't bring us to a point, where we had no choice but committing ourselves. Which is the aim of every true teaching. Could it be, that most of these teachings even - purposely or not - have stimulated our self-centeredness rather than really liberating us? Why did all these teaching did not create a wave of renewal in the world? Why didn't compassion grow accordingly? These are vital questions, which have to be answered, in order to gain a clear picture about the role of spirituality in the world of today. An issue which has to be addressed, in order to know about the direction the conscious part of mankind is taking. To put it bluntly: are we fooling ourselves or not?
3. In order to investigate this I will look at existing teachings and practices with an examining eye. Very much the same like a doctor - which I accidentally happen to be - does. The central question is: is the spirituality of today healthy or sick? If the latter is true, what are the symptoms? Like a good doctor I will carefully write them down. The second part will be the (physical) examination. For this purpose I will make a list of the most important spiritual principles and concepts as they are taught today, both the outspoken and the underlying ones. While studying quite a few teachings it again and again struck me, that wisdom has its own ignorance. Every teaching tends to emphasize something - trying to make its point - almost always by neglecting or even suppressing the opposite. The main part of this book consists of mapping those inconsistencies. After having done that a diagnosis is made. It will reveal if indeed the world is suffering from "spiritual pathology' and where this pathology is "located". It will not be a painfree process. "Desperate diseases require desperate remedies". If I wouldn't be handy with this principle, writing this chapter would be useless. The diagnose is serving the aim of saving the patient after all. It may give you a shock. However, the good news is a proposal for a therapy.
SOME OF THE MOST VIRULENT DISEASES
4. You live in bondage, hence you want to be free. This sounds acceptable enough. The slogan can be heard everywhere. From the housewife who wants to free herself from the role model she has to play to rebels who want to overthrow the government. Freedom is a key value in Western society. It is so self-evident, that everybody already agrees beforehand. Unfortunately this is also the case if used as a spiritual concept. The key question here is "who wants to be free?" Logically there is only one answer: the ego. The ego feels imprisoned in its self-created cage, hence the desire of breaking out. Usually this cage consists of all kinds of relationships, both inner and outer. For instance you feel trapped in all kinds of (repetitive) conditionings. Or it may be a suppressive environment you want to escape from. Almost always the desire for freedom means you want to be free of something. This something - whether "within or without" - is always part of you. The part that you don't like. Hence one part of you wants to free itself at the expense of the other, usually the opposite. Freedom and self-denial prove to be two sides of the same coin. This kind of desire is infertile right from the start. It is based on the pain/pleasure principle of the unconscious. Even if it would give you an opening toward the spiritual, the driving force behind - self-denial - will still remain the same.You will then be trapped by the dualism between the Self and the ego. Awakening will subsequently serve as a justification. The way out: real freedom is the call from within. Rather than you desiring freedom, you are pulled into it. Moreover, it is not about freeing yourself from the self, but only from the identification with it.
The pursuit of happiness
5. Many years ago I saw a spiritual teacher on TV passionately defending his hypothesis, namely that "the goal of life was happiness". Superficially seen this sounds very familiar. Isn't it even written down in the American Constitution? Well, he said, think of your best moments. Moments of peace, tranquillity and contentment. Was there any unhappiness? No, there wasn't of course. These were moments of real life, he continued to explain. Conclusion: in real life, and that is where we all are looking for, is no unhappiness. Hence the core of his teaching was to at all times pursue happiness and to avoid unhappiness. It was really as easy as that. Poor followers. First of all, this hypothesis is based on ignorance. Spiritual realization - as meant by above mentioned examples - cannot be equaled by "happiness". Happiness is a far too shallow emotion compared to the transcendental dimension (the latter which is not an emotion at all). Moreover, if you do that, then happiness logically will be opposite to unhappiness, dividing existence in two poles: one is to be desired and one is to be avoided. The consequences may be clear. An inner split between greed and fear. Of course, if you repeat this slogan long enough, it will become a (re)conditioning ("affirmation"), a new belief. Once this belief is firmly settled, your emotions will be colored accordingly. Finally, you indeed will become "a happy person", just like the teacher wants you to see. Only very rarely, uncomfortable moments will remind you, that your happiness is built on the denial of its opposite, unhappiness: pain, anger, uncertainty, fear, insufficiency, self-deceit etc. The law of psychology will sooner or later prove its validity though. Everything you reject will be gaining power until a point, that it will (violently) break up your system. The way out is the recognition, that the spiritual dimension not only transcends every emotion, but also every duality. With other words realization contains both happiness and unhappiness. Both are gates to the real Self.
6. Believe it or not, but consciously or unconsciously a great deal of the spiritual quest is based on the fear of life. It started at the time the ego became separated from the Self. Since the ego was cut off from its context and "thrown upon itself" existential fear took possession of him. Not surprisingly thus, that especially men were suffering from this syndrome. In order to establish a masculine identity separation from the maternal context is a conditio sine qua non. Fear of "falling back into the darkness of the mother" - of ego-death - has become a male obsession ever since. Hence, his efforts to "escape from the cycle of birth and death". It is the foundation of patriarchal religion. In Hinduism and Buddhism "escaping" is the dominant principle, the self-declared highest aim of life. The "cycle of birth and death" is equaled to suffering, impermanence and eventually common life itself ("samsara"). The "world" has to be denounced, in order to reach the "other shore". Hence, all efforts being focussed on overcoming "the body" and to realize "permanence". In Christianity Christ has "overcome death" by his resurrection. Through this he has redeemed us from "sin" and eventually from mortality. At the end of times we all will raise from the dead and regain our bodies, which from that moment on will become "immortal". Finally, in Islam the horror of "returning to the maternal womb" is one of the most fundamental fears. Hence, the promise of Allah to every righteous person (man) to enter "paradise". Although many of us do not identify ourselves anymore with one of the official religions, the underlying mechanism of "escaping" has not automatically disappeared with them. On the contrary. It appears to be the driving force - old wine in new bottles - behind the quest for spiritual self-realization.
Striving for Enlightenment
7. Denouncing common life - birth, death, sex, women, nature, children, relationships, darkness, daily survival, work - and striving for immortality are thus two sides of the same coin. The inability to cope with the latter automatically creates the desire of "overcoming it". "There must be something more than just this life" people say. Thus the starting point of the quest is always dissatisfaction with the situation as-it-is. Deep down you are no good as you are. This self-denial is subsequently projected into an ideal in the future. You are here and want to be there. It becomes the driving force behind the quest. The irony is, that this very ambition of Enlightenment is preventing you from realizing it. It is a contradictio in terminis. By projecting this ideal in the future, you are missing the only possible gate to it, which is the here and now. This is the first symptom of the enlightenment syndrome.
8. Secondly, trying to become enlightened this way, is necessarily an ego enterprise. You are missing something and want to get the supposed panacea for it. You want to fill in the gap of inner emptiness and meaninglessness with something "from outside". In fact, there isn't any difference between the desire of buying a new car and spiritual realization. They are both based on having. Not surprisingly thus, that in order to attain the (unreachable) goal desire, greed and power have to be generated. The ugly thing about this is not so much greed itself, but the fact that it remains hidden. In the "spiritual scene" there is a taboo on everything related to the "ego" and its strivings. In many cases and situations this driving force thus goes underground. Hence, the felt split between the shining surface and something "indefinably wrong" in almost every spiritual group, giving rise to discomfort, worry, stress, suspicion and frustration Soon hypocrisy, lies, deceit, competition and exploitation will be overshadowing the "original innocence". This is not only inherent to the shortcomings of the ignorant seeker. On the contrary, it is a well-known pattern, that (always!) after the death of a great teacher - no one excluded - details about his shadow part are being revealed, (not surprisingly) usually coming from women...lovers, followers, wives and mothers. The only scandal with this is the "master", having not been open about all aspects of himself.
9. Enlightenment itself is a complex matter with many faces. First of all, ever since the Buddha declared, that he was the "Awakened One", misunderstandings about the true nature of Enlightenment have been abound ever since. Most schools e.g. teachers do not even distinguish between these two concepts. Since almost always concepts are the departure of spiritual quest, it seems useful to first bring some clarity here (before "dropping them"). Awakening happens in those moments, in which you "step back" and become the observer. It is the transition from being unconsciously caught in the mind to inner freedom. This freedom proves to be a new quality, yes, nothing less than the birth of a new identity, not a self-constructed entity like the ego, but a new dimension, characterized by stillness, stability, clarity, insight and joy. Hence, awakening is the most fundamental step in emancipation. This leap into one's true Self is VERY easy to make. That's why I am always joking at the beginning of my spiritual group sessions, that "nobody will leave this room, without becoming awakened". I always keep my promise. Sitting in a relaxed way and watching the inside of your eyelids, realizing "I am here and my eyelids are there"; listening with undivided attention to the bird singing, etc. many simply things are able to bring you there. Why isn't everybody already awakened yet? Because, this "first step" is still very tiny, not spectacular at all. Moreover, many of us are comparing this with their fantasies about Enlightenment. Compared to the latter the former seems pale and insignificant. Hence, we don't take it seriously, overlooking it.
10. A few more things. First of all, Enlightenment eventually proves to be of no "substance". That means, that while initially realization may be tangible in the sense of "light", "unity", "peace", "joy" or "ecstasy", the more "advanced stages" are characterized by increasing transparency. To such an extent, that finally Nothing is left. It is corresponding with sayings in many traditions. For instance, in Taoism an enlightened one is somebody who is leaving "no traces behind". In Zen it is said, that eventually you are "back in the marketplace", where the "trees are the trees again". The ultimate dimension is so subtle, transparent and intangible, that even if you are meeting a real "Buddha", you will not be able to notice it. In Sufism they say, that if a master is accumulating fame during his life, it is a prove of the fact, that he is a false one. And in myths from all over the world the "hero" separates himself from his social environment, in order to become initiated in the mystery of life, after which he/she is returning to the world, sharing his/her treasures with others. Hence, the purpose of life is not Enlightenment, but rebirth into the world. The former being the "womb" of personal renewal and selfless availability. Clinging to Enlightenment thus being the ultimate "sin" - not only because ultimately it is non-existent - but also because it goes against the course of evolution. The paradox is this: "being Nothing you are everything", the former to be a precondition for the latter. Compassion appears to be the ultimate outcome. It is corresponding with the biblical "a tree is known by its fruit". Not surprisingly thus, that there is another reason for the fact, that Enlightenment is not the Ultimate Reality. On the other hand, everybody who is claiming this - especially when building a career, a business on it - is cheating him/herself and others.
Ego, hindrances and illusions
11. Once the ambition to attain Enlightenment has got its grip on you, everything else is considered to be in your way. It is creating a situation, in which all other aspects of life are labeled as "hindrance". The terminology varies from "inner shit" and "obstructions" to "ego" and "illusions". Consequently, these hindrances have to be cleared away. Or as is the case with illusions: simply ignoring them. Now, to people familiar with the spiritual scene, this may sound plausible as part of a teaching of some tradition. However, in reality it may cover more than it reveals, e.g. a deep hatred towards life, or as one teacher has put it: (awakening)..."will destroy your whole self-created existence"*. In some cases teachers justify this extreme position by their own self-realization. They say "in Enlightenment everything had disappeared". Conclusion: nothing possesses a separate existence, hence the visible world nothing but being an illusion. Hence, every phenomenon other than the Ultimate (which is not a phenomenon), has to be treated accordingly. The teachers who say this, don't grasp how they are biased with the philosophy they cherished, before they had their realization. The prominent among them - Vedanta/Advaita and Buddhism - are advocating a dualistic world view, in which "nirvana" and "samsara" are separated (that they are the same thing, can only be known after and not before Enlightenment...it is said). Hence, Enlightenment and the world are two "separate entities".
* Compare this with what I have called the the core of suffering, namely people being alienated from "Heaven, earth and the community".
Three spiritual traps
12. The pathological mechanism is this: in order to realize one thing, you have to denounce the other. For appreciating the rose, you have to denounce the lily...The same phenomenon can be explained in a different way though. First of all, the visible world temporarily! dissolving in Unity doesn't mean, that the former is an illusion. It only means, that in this special Moment, in which the Divine is manifesting ITself, the visible world is returning to its Original Home. It means, that the world - your bodymind, the grass, the trees, the rocks and the clouds - is indeed the content of infinite Space. Hence, instead of being two seperate entities - the Ultimate versus the world - the Ultimate proves to be all-embracing. It is the meaning of "God is love". Existence appears to be moving between two poles: that of dissolving and of manifestation. In Enlightenment the world has disappeared, yes, however sooner or later it will be there again. Rather than declaring one aspect as non-existent, life consists of parallell levels of existence, each obeying to its own law (while ULTIMATELY being one with the Source). As long as we live in this world both have to be acknowledged e.g. accepted as part of a fundamental dynamic process though. As a consequence the enlightened attitude is going to be totally different, yes quite the opposite compared to our first example. Instead of being illusion, cultivating a dualistic attitude, the everyday world is like a "child in your (motherly) arms". Everything within and without becomes equally dear to you - your own body, the chair, the flowers and the table, the carpet, your wife, the noise, the cat, the computer, yes, the entire room and the trees outside, nothing excluded - including those parts of yourself, which were once denied, rejected, excluded and suppressed. Rather than being "negativity", they appear to be your inner stepchildren. This understanding makes you handle them in a totally different way. Instead of rejecting them once again, you start embracing them*. Oneness (love) appears to be "nirvana", through which you embrace "samsara" right from the start.
See: www.greatmother.faithweb.com chapter "emotional self-integration"
13. Not so with the teaching of non-acceptance. Symptom of this serious disease is the obsession with the ego. The ego is the supposed "bad" entity, the "most severe hindrance on the path". It is fully corresponding with the concept of "sin" in the Christian tradition. Once you start believing this, you are lost, caught up in the battle against yourself. One part of you fighting the other is a hopeless battle, indeed a war of attrition. The ideology behind is the idea, that you have "to change yourself". It is food for all those, who never feel good enough, those who are suffering from the self-improvement syndrome. The only one who is benefiting from it though, is the teacher. The way out is to clarify the concept of the ego. It is a substitute for the absence of awareness, and a function for survival in the world, indeed an "gift of compassion from the Creator". The need of "destroying the ego in order to become aware" is thus based on delusion, one of the most stupid ideas ever. Do you first need to remove all the furniture from the room, in order to become aware of its space? On the contrary: thus the most important principles in spirituality are: you are fantastic as you are, no need to change yourself, accept all your rejected parts, just become a little more aware. By "stepping back" in What You Are Already - with less than minimal effort - by becoming the observer, non-identification and inner distance appear to be two sides of the same coin, with the "ego" automatically becoming your periphery. Rather than being "an obstacle" it proves to be a bundle of functions, indeed a (useful) servant of the Self.
Awakening: realizing the Unchanging
14. Secondly, the Eternity of realization lasts only a certain limited time. Sooner or later its intensity subsides. If you honestly observe what has happened to you, you have to acknowledge the fact, that after the initial Unity your common awareness, together with the everyday world have returned, while the Unity has shifted to the background. Hence, there exists not only one, but several planes of Consciousness. Everyday the quality of actual awareness differs. Sometimes it is very spacious, sometimes less. Life proves to be swinging between dissolving into the Infinite on the one hand and manifesting itself as the simple observer (yes, even as the ego) on the other with everything in between. Realizing this, you will come to respect and appreciate every "level", rather than to denounce them by comparing them to a state, of which you have to acknowledge, that you are not able to realize it permanently. Replacing reality by ideals is thus an instrument in making others feel insufficient, subordinate, helpless and thus at the mercy of the power of the teacher. Real freedom on the other hand, is to every moment accepting one's state of being as-it-is - enjoying every moment - it is being free of freedom (Enlightenment). What is left is a big laughter, sensing that "God is a comedian", playing with everyone of us.
The syndrome described above can be
defined as dualism, emphasizing particular aspects of life (light, masculine,
* See: "emotional self-integration".
I love my ego, inviting others to do the same
Examples for this dialectic essay were
derived from the teachings
© 2003 Copyright Han Marie Stiekema