The Seeker of Peace

Seeing Spirituality
May 28, 2009, 11:51 am
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Rather than the do the traditional Memorial Day barbecue, I spent Monday in Los Angeles attending my father’s ordination as a rabbi. There were roughly sixteen people being ordained that day, split between rabbis and cantors (clergy members who specialize in religious music).

I’ve written before about the difference between spirituality and religion. The ordination service was a perfect example to me of the dichotomy. As part of the service, each ordainee spent a few minutes talking. I heard many deeply spiritual things, as people discussed finding god in all things, building a life of love, and similar themes.

The proceedings included a full Jewish afternoon service, with the traditional liturgy. The liturgy is far from spiritual. It beseeches the Jewish god to “vanquish our enemies” and otherwise provide blessings to his “chosen people.” (Please note that I’m not criticizing the Jewish liturgy compared to any others – most traditional liturgies have content such as this.) The only mitigating characteristic of the Jewish liturgy is that it’s in Hebrew, meaning that many people don’t understand what it says.

How does an ordainee reconcile a spiritual journey with traditions that are rigidly religious? From hearing them speak, I think the answer is to see the traditions as merely that: a cultural heritage. Many of these newly minted clergy didn’t sound religious at all, instead expressing heartfelt personal experiences.

This reinforced what I wrote in my earlier post: that for spiritual people, their religion turns to cultural tradition as they gain spiritual experience. The ordination service also taught me something new: that there are schools training a whole generation of spiritual clergy. Perhaps this provides some hope for religion after all.


Believing in God
November 15, 2008, 3:30 pm
Filed under: God, spirituality | Tags: , , , , , ,

I wrote on Thursday about how I’ve been trying to control my relationship with God. I realized yesterday that the problem goes deeper than that.

As a long-time atheist, I’ve found it hard to give up my belief that God doesn’t exist. I have thus been working hard to believe in God, specifically one that could give me support and guidance. I just realized what a trap that is.

Coincidentally, yesterday was exactly one month after I wrote my post on religion vs. spirituality. I’ve been trying to instill a new belief system. I’ve been trying to do this despite my realization that all beliefs are counterproductive.

Creating a belief in God isn’t the answer. Succeeding at that would simply create a new basis for me to judge what is happening. I’ve known plenty of theists who were deeply unhappy – judging from within a theist framework isn’t any different from judging from within an atheistic one.

Yes, I need to let go of my atheistic beliefs. However, I need to move from there to knowing truth rather than creating new beliefs. If there’s a God along the lines described in A Course In Miracles, He should make himself visible to an open mind. The Course says that you don’t need to believe anything to benefit from the workbook exercises. I’d go further and say that believing anything is an impediment.

This is actually a big relief. It’s a lot of work to create a belief in God, set expectations based on that belief, and then judge God! It just goes to show what the ego can do, given a chance.

Controlling God
November 13, 2008, 10:18 am
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I have been frustrated for some time by my inability to speak to God, get “signs,” or otherwise get clear divine guidance. I’ve read so many stories of people who can ask God for advice and get a response. I’ve been diligently asking, so why not me?

Yesterday, I received what may have been an answer. Hale Dwoskin runs monthly support calls for graduates of the Sedona Method. I rarely listen to these, but yesterday I had the unusual urge to download the latest recording and listen to it while preparing lunch.

One of the callers was asking for relationship advice. Hale pointed out that the caller was trying to control the relationship. He made the comment that when you try to speed up a relationship, you wind up slowing it down. That comment struck me very hard.

I’ve been trying to control my relationship with God, dictating what I want and making clear my expectations (clear advice, etc.). There’s something inherently paradoxical in saying, “Dear God, I want to surrender to your will. So, give me clear guidance, and I want it now!”

Part of the problem is that I’ve been trying to make myself believe in God. I’ve been trying to create a degree of faith to support this belief. I’ve fallen into the trap of being religious instead of spiritual. What an ego trap! I’ve deliberately put energy into creating a new belief that allows me to judge my relationship with God.

I don’t know if I’ll get the clear guidance that I’m looking for. (And, maybe, my sudden inclination to listen to Hale’s call was clear guidance.) What I do know is that, if there is a God, trying to judge and control our relationship won’t help me.

Are Any Beliefs Benign?
October 18, 2008, 6:48 am
Filed under: God, World | Tags: , , , ,

A few days ago I wrote about the role of faith in religion, and the lack of a place for it in spirituality. Faith is just one form of belief, and recently I saw something that made me think about belief much more.

On a message board I follow, a poster made this comment: “I respect everyone’s beliefs, and appreciate that others who disagree with me, allow me the same privilege of believing my own beliefs.” That sounds reasonable enough, well in line with my American values of tolerance. But does it make any sense?

It may be that this poster, who happens to be a Christian minister, believes his comment is true. However, it’s probably not. The 9/11 terrorists believed that they were fighting “the Great Satan” in God’s name. Before the Civil War, ministers in the South gave sermons explaining the biblical basis for slavery, believing they were maintaining God’s order. Hitler said he believed he was doing God’s will by perpetrating the Holocaust. Does the poster really respect those beliefs? I know I don’t.

Obviously, I’ve chosen particularly provocative examples of destructive beliefs. That raises the question: are any beliefs good, or even harmless?

The problem with beliefs of any sort is that we accept them without proof. If they were provable, then they’d be knowledge, not beliefs. Somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s acceptable, or even desirable, to filter our perception of the world through these completely unsubstantiated notions. Sometimes we manage, through the filtering, to find some evidence that seems to support our beliefs.

For example, Hitler had a huge library of books, in which he would underline passages that supported his beliefs. I’m sure he felt his beliefs well justified based on all the “evidence” he found. However, he still had no proof. That may be why he spent so much of his time working to support his beliefs. Maybe that’s also why he felt the need to burn all the books that contradicted his beliefs.

I recently deconstructed a belief that I’ve held for a long time: “Most people are basically good.” It seems harmless enough. But on further analysis, it’s quite destructive. It suggests that some minority of people are not basically good. It supports a framework for categorizing people. The “basically good majority” is better than the “basically evil minority.” And, gee, I’d better be on the lookout for those bad apples so I can judge them.

I have no proof for this belief, and it’s probably wrong. Most non-dualistic traditions teach that we have a core (the divine part) that’s perfect, and an ego that’s intrinsically imperfect. If that’s true, then everyone is perfect at some level, and has an ego that will make errors, varying only in magnitude. And, as I progress down my spiritual path, I’m accumulating experiences that may ultimately prove my original belief false.

My belief shares an important characteristic with the overtly destructive ones I mentioned earlier: they all serve to divide people, to provide some basis for judgment and separation. Beliefs about reincarnation, Heaven and Hell, God, abortion, gay marriage, or anything else – all of them make it harder for me not to judge others.

My personal goal in this life is to find inner peace. All my experiences so far show me that to do that, I need to learn to love everyone, just as God does. Are there any beliefs that don’t run counter to that goal? I haven’t thought of any yet.

Religion vs. Spirituality
October 15, 2008, 7:18 am
Filed under: God | Tags: , , , , , ,

I recently saw someone’s passing comment that spirituality and religion are not the same thing. That got me to thinking: what exactly is the difference?

For most of my life I had a religion, in the sense that I was an atheist. Unlike most atheists, I freely acknowledged that it required faith. I absolutely believed there was no god, but I knew that there was no way to be absolutely sure.

As I’ve become more spiritual, my “religious” faith has crumbled. I know that most people’s faith has them believing in God rather than atheism, but could that be true in general? Is spirituality incompatible with religious faith?

I think of the famous prophets and enlightened men, such as Moses, Mohammed, Zoroaster, and Siddhārtha. Did any of them of them have faith? Well, why would they need it? When you have personal experience of God or enlightenment, there’s no role for faith. Faith is belief, something that fills in the gaps when you don’t know the truth.

Certainly, there are many who successfully used a religious framework for their spiritual journey. But I suspect that, as they progressed spiritually, they saw their faith replaced with knowledge. At that point, their religion would be solely a matter of cultural tradition, as they’d have direct knowledge of God.

Lester Levenson, creator of the Sedona Method, was fond of saying, “Don’t believe anything I say. Check it out for yourself.” That sounds to me like a man who no only had no faith, but also didn’t want to instill faith in anyone else. Any belief system is a way for the ego to block us from perceiving the truth, and Lester didn’t want to create a new one.

On the other extreme, all indications are that the 9/11 terrorists were extremely religious. I’m sure it takes incredible faith to do what they did. I would guess that they weren’t spiritual at all, at least in the sense that I think of the word.

So, in short, I think faith makes the difference between religion and spirituality. Religion is about believing in God, while spirituality is about personally experiencing God.

Thinking about this also deepened my feelings about the Book of Job, which I discussed yesterday. Job went from having faith in God to knowing God. He went from being religious to being spiritual, while God denounces his friends for still being very much religious. The story has God saying that it’s most important to have a personal relationship with him, rather than making pious speeches or ritual demonstrations of faith.

I never realized before that the Bible contains a cautionary tale about letting ourselves be blinded by religious faith!