Posts Tagged ‘spiritual growth’

Never content to not understand anything related to theosophy – I looked up this phenomonoly (hope I spelled that correctly) Govert and Chris talk so much about, without ever explaining it. đŸ™‚

Anyhow – I still don’t really understand Govert’s posts on the subject, but I did read some interesting bits on self transcendence last night. They go a bit beyond ‘Expanding our centre of consciousness‘ into a terrain I’m not personally familiar with – the centre disappears totally. This is something Krishnamurti did talk about, but to me – there always is a centre. (more…)

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I’m wondering whether the search for happiness is at all a reasonable search. Don’t get me wrong, I want happiness as much as anyone. But sorrow is part of life, and facing sorrow and working through it (having a healthy cry for instance) works better than putting on a happy face.


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Psychologists, especially amateur psychologists, emphasize self confidence as a major predictor of success and happiness. On the other hand, spiritual traditions like Theosophy, Buddhism and Sufism stress the fact that our personalities are a major source of trouble and we should let them go.

Can those two views be connected? Sure they can. They target very different life-experiences.

First lets look at why self confidence works in so many ways. A friend of mine in high school, lets call her Esther, was a troubled teen. Obviously teens, most teens, lack self confidence – but they do express that in very different ways. Some limit their lives to partying. Some work harder because it never seems good enough. Esther wasn’t the best student, but she was a fabulous dancer. She really had energy and style. She also had a weight problem and her bone structure would never have passed most performance dancing standards. She had a choice, after high school, to pursue dancing and perhaps become a teacher of dancing or to do what her family wanted her to do: work with kids. Being an insecure teen, she went along with what her parents wanted. I am very curious where she ended up. Had she had more self confidence, perhaps she would have lost the weight and become the best dancer she could be and taught it to others.

Now Esther’s parents did have good reason to discourage this. After all: working with kids is a more stable career move. Perhaps she did have to let go of the dream and serve humanity through working with kids. This is the sort of thing that is very hard to judge. Balancing out realism and just going for it is one of the main challenges in all of our lives. It is part of the struggle of modernity.

Spirituality is about letting go of self. Letting go of hurt feelings, when someone does something to make you feel slighted for instance. But to let that go, one needs a certain amount of emotional maturity, self confidence if you will: you need to know that in many cases such things aren’t about you. People are busier thinking about themselves and their own preoccupations than about your needs. Letting that go is wisdom, but it’s also hard if you don’t have self confidence. So actually, it seems self confidence and wisdom go hand in hand.

On the other hand, like all virtues, too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing. Too much self confidence does become arrogance. Too much self confidence also makes for less of a willingness to learn. Self confidence is needed for learning as well. Self confidence can help with perseverance, certainly a trait necessary in learning. Arrogance stops a person from being open to the world and learning from it. N. Sri Ram put that aspect differently by saying:

To be conscious of one’s ignorance is the beginning of wisdom, and an ignorance of parts will not trouble the man who has achieved a happy sense of relationship with the whole. All truth will come to him who has a living relation to things, since to live is to grow and progress. (Thoughts for Aspirants, the chapter on Wisdom)

Paradoxically perhaps – only when you are really secure in yourself is it possible to really be open to the whole. Psychologists might put that differently. They might say that arrogance actually isn’t self confidence. Arrogance is an artificial shell people who are really not so confident hide behind. I’m not sure I agree with that though. Some people have just had so much success that it doesn’t seem necessary to listen to others, be open to them, learn from them. That is self confidence, but it is surely harmful in the long run. Some types of criminals suffer from too much self confidence as well. So self confidence is not the panacea to all the ills people have.

I do feel that in this crazy world one needs self confidence to find ones way – which may be part of the reason ‘the secret’ is so popular.

By the way, I have a very good Robert Frager quote on various levels of transforming the self within the Sufi tradition on my website.

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I’m reading one of the classics in theosophical literature, from the former leader of the Pasadena TS (which is what I’ll call it for convenience, it’s headquarters have moved about a lot in the past century): ‘Messages to Conventions: and other writings on the politics, work and purposes of the T.S.‘, G. de Purucker (See here for meanings of theosophical abbreviations).

In one of the lectures G. de Purucker says the following – which I’ve heard echoed through theosophical debates a lot as well:

(p. 19) the most ‘practical’ thing … is for us theosophists to concentrate on disseminating Theosophy as it was brought to us by H.P.B. from the Masters.

Well, that rubs me the wrong way on several levels. First of all – theosophy isn’t just the teachings of H.P. Blavatsky (HPB). Theosophy includes the study of the world religions as well. Second – is study really the only way to be practical about theosophy? This ties in with something else de Purucker says on the same page:

in concentrating our thoughts and our minds on the heart of our Theosophical teachings: in living them, in teaching them, in giving them to the world, so that we may change men’s minds and hearts. (italics in original)

I’m not sure I agree that the hearts and minds of people can be changed merely through teachings. I’m not saying the Blavatsky teachings aren’t important. In fact I do feel that one of the implicit duties of the TS is to keep a knowledge of her work alive and to keep her teachings accessible. It does that quite well by publishing books and having study classes. Other theosophical organizations have taken on the work of publishing her work online.

Sure – but do the hearts and minds of people really get affected by book-learning? Don’t practical initiatives not work better in that area? Certainly in most countries, where the divide between rich and poor is larger than in my own (The Netherlands), the poor are hardly going to be impressed by teachings about inner unity if it’s a struggle each day to find a decent place to sleep.

I could go on – I will stick quite simply to saying that there is a TOS for a reason. The Theosophical Order of Service does work all over the world for poor people – for instance to get them food on holidays, help in case of disasters like the Tsunami or Katrina and also organize schooling for unwed mothers and their children. All that without asking people for their opinion on religion and without forcing a theosophical point of view on them.
Each individual has to decide for themselves where the weight of their theosophical work needs to be. It takes all kinds. We need theosophical scholars, but the world also needs people who are willing to get dirty. For myself I have not yet decided where the center of my activity needs to be. I do know that Blavatsky herself gave Annie Besant of her limited monetary supplies in support of Besant’s social work in London. So G. de Purucker doesn’t seem all that Blavatsky based to me in his emphasis on ‘teachings’.

In general: I feel a healthy lifestyle includes volunteer work. Certainly for people who’s profession or personal life generally doesn’t have a reach out aspect. I’m going to protest at the Chinese Ambassy in The Hague later today (sunday the 16th of March) – in the rain. Protesting against things is generally not my thing, but what goes on in Tibet does have my heart. Also, with the Olympics coming up, this is a good time to remind the Chinese government of the importance of respecting human rights.

I guess it comes back to balance. Or in Buddhist terms: the middle path.

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Chogyam Trungpa wrote:

We have the idea that an enlightened person is supposed to be more or less an old-wise-man type: not quite like an old professor, but perhaps an old father who can supply sound advice on how to handle all of life’s problems or an old grandmother who knows all the recipes and all the cures. That seems to be the current fantasy that exists in our culture concerning enlightened beings. They are old and wise, grown-up and solid. Tantra has a different notion of enlightenment, which is connected with youth and innocence. We can see this pattern in Padmasambhava’s life, the life of the great teacher who brought the tantric teachings of Buddhism to Tibet. Here the awakened state of mind is portrayed not as old and adult but as young and free. Youth and freedom in this case are connected with the birth of the awakened state of mind. The awakened state of mind has the quality of morning, of dawn — fresh and sparkling, completely awake.

From “Primordial Innocence,” in CRAZY WISDOM, pages 26 to 27.

Not only does tantra have this notion, so did Jiddu Krishnamurti:

To live fully and completely, there must be freedom, not an acceptance of authority; and there can be freedom only when there is virtue. Virtue is not imitation; virtue is creative living. That is, creativeness comes through the freedom which virtue brings; and virtue is not to be cultivated, it does not come through practice or at the end of your life. Either you are virtuous and free now, or you are not.

In Tibetan Buddhism in general, Chogyam Trungpa’s path, some young people are sought out and trained to be spiritual teachers. The Dalai Lama was raised that way, and that’s given the world a remarkable public figure. That’s what happened to Jiddu Krishnamurti as well.

Obviously not all young people are wise, or on the path to wisdom – but I do wonder: why does the Theosophical Society (which I love BTW) put an age minimum on membership of it’s Esoteric Section (E.S.)?

Disclosure: I was myself too young when I applied and therefor not  allowed into the E.S.

I’ve spoken to many people about this – and most seem to agree: it’s because wisdom comes with age. I agree. People in their teens, even their late teens, are awful. I was very ignorant and foolish at 19. I made some of my worst mistakes back then. But I have to wonder: would I have made those same mistakes if some wise people had taken me on? I will never know, because they didn’t. Instead, a few years later, I got taken on by a scholarly theosophist, Henk Spierenburg, who gave me the Blavatsky Collected Writings among other things, but no practical life advice. Maybe I wasn’t meant to get that. Anyhow, I’m getting off track here.

The main issue with people getting spiritual teachings ought to be their motivation. Young people are often at their most idealistic in their teenage years. Moral issues are seen in black and white at that age. I’ve known quite a few people who were vegetarians in high school but turned back to eating meat in college. In college social realities catch up with them and the issue of animal welfare is suddenly no longer that big a deal. Does that mean they should not be allowed to be vegetarians in high school? Of course not. It just means that life isn’t through testing them yet. But is life ever through testing any of us?

[And no, this isn’t an application to get into the E.S. now. I probably could get in if I wanted to, but that ship has sailed, as far as I’m concerned.]

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I’ve been struggling with understanding The Secret for a while now  – in fact before the hype started. Part of my struggle is that I hear people say to (to me) opposite things. On the one hand there’s the idea that we are responsible for our own life. If we truly clean up our act, we will be happy, because we’ve let go of guilt and only let positive energy into our lives. If we want something, we should visualize it and create it from within. I’ll leave the contrast between actual action and visualizing change for the moment.
We are told to ‘let go’, to ‘not be ambitious’, to surrender to the universe. People are saying that we should let coincidences into our lives. We should be open to what presents itself – because the universe knows best.

Am I missing something here? Isn’t it part of life to make choices, take responsibility for where we are and where we want to go? How does waiting for fate going to change my life?

The type of thinking I’m trying to understand here seems to have two aspects:

  • You are in this life to learn life’s lessons, the lessons you chose to learn. You are responsible for both the lessons and the way you respond to them.
  • Your most interesting life is going to be lived not by controlling everything, but by letting the universe tell you where you need to be. Let coincidence and fate decide things for you.

While I have my reservations about the first idea – I’m not responsible for the mistakes people make while learning their lessons (to name one – I have more reservations about the second: If I let coincidences rule my life, I am not making choices – I’m just being a passive feather on the sea of life. I know some people who live like that – and I feel they are doing even worse than not making choices: they’re not taking responsibility for their lives.

The most important lessons I’ve learned in my life were while taking actual responsibility. I chose something, threw myself into that, and ended up failing miserably. No coincidences there. No universe telling me something: just me trying to find my way in a very complicated world.

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