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Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

A Good Day to Die.

The underlying theme of Easter is death and resurrection. And today, “Good Friday” Christians commemorate the crucifixion and death of Jesus at Calvary . That name, “Good Friday” is a very interesting and philosophical one, quite far in spirit from the current message of Christianity about Jesus’ death. Why is it called “Good Friday” and not “Sad Friday”, or “Sinners Friday”, or “It’s-your-fault Friday”?
Much before Jesus’ time, death and resurrection was the main theme of the Ancient Mysteries, so we can look at their philosophy for a deeper insight. From a symbolic point of view, the cross was always a symbol of matter. The deity who was put to death was a symbol of our spiritual nature. In Christianity, the Christ is this same symbol. When we are born, our spiritual nature is “crucified” in our body and dies, but only to be “resurrected” full of glory—when we work properly.
There is also a very interesting interpretation of this universal archetypal image on the psychological level. In order to be resurrected (in a new glorified being) we have to die first. Nothing new can appear if the old doesn’t die, psychologically speaking. And most of us don’t want to die. We cling to our attachments, to our memories, to our hopes—that is to our (artificial) self-identity. We are not a culture that encourages detachment from the things that identify us. For the most part life is a matter of acquiring more stuff. Not only material but also psychological stuff. This is the case even for those who try to tread the “spiritual path”. Many times we see this as a process of acquisition—acquisition of more knowledge, more experience, more virtues, more understanding, etc… Very little emphasis is usually placed on the idea of dying to the known, externally and internally. But as Jesus said, if you are wealthy and full of possessions you cannot get to the Kingdom of Heaven. We have to become like children, divested of all possessions, even at the psychological level. And that is not enough, according to Jesus we must die and be born again, to be able to reach that Kingdom.
Of course, he is not referring to a physical death and re-birth, but “to be born of water [of life] and of the Spirit.” The act of Jesus dying physically on the cross means for us to “crucify” our material self and be “resurrected” as spiritual beings. The road to Calvary is then our daily life.
So, how are we going to celebrate this Easter weekend?
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I’m getting into the sociology of modernity, for my bachelors paper. Anthony Giddens is one of the primary sociologists in that field. He wrote:

The problem for us – those who wish to see a cosmopolitan world prosper – is to reconcile commitment and skepticism.

(From Conversations with Anthony Giddens: Making Sense of Modernity, p. 132)

This is relevant to our discussion of religion versus spirituality, because spirituality often doesn’t have commitment at all. Spirituality is deeply skeptical towards any and all authority. Spirituality only implies a commitment to ones own spiritual growth, and perhaps to the development of quality relationships with other people, perhaps the world.

Religion on the other hand implies commitment to a specific tradition, perhaps a church. Religion in a Christian sense implies community building. Communities can be stifling in their judgement of certain behaviors, but they give a home as well.

Theosophy is somewhere between the two. Our lodges are meant as places for community building, but as Chris mentioned, sometimes they aren’t so open to outsiders. In fact, community usually implies a firm marking of ‘insiders’ versus ‘outsiders’. It does take work to become one of the insiders. Sects invest a lot in getting people to feel welcome and only show their ugly side when people are trying to leave. The TS does not make that mistake, but I do think it’s one of the duties of lodges to make newcomers feel welcome – which does mean that they should make a commitment to at least initiate a conversation.

How does skepticism fit into all this? It’s part of our modern lives that we mistrust all kinds of things we are in fact dependent on. The government is consistently mistrusted in the US, yet it obviously has responsibilities people depend on. The same goes for banks. They give people loan’s, and people trust in their own ability to pay them. They trust in the banks to be reasonable. That system got a big blow recently and the international stock markets are in turmoil because the trust is gone. When the trust is gone, there is less reason to invest – to commit.

Commitment builds trust. A relationship where both partners commit fully is one in which there is also likely to be trust. But it’s a gamble. The relationship doesn’t start out with trust on both sides. It starts out with a bit of trust – a bit of commitment – the dating system. At some point the jump to full commitment has to be made, in order for the relationship to succeed. But that is still a gamble: what if I commit and the other person is actually cheating on me?

Spirituality in its radical sense distrusts organizations to such an extent that there is no way people will make a long term commitment to a religious or spiritual organization at all. Many organizations therefor offer courses and retreats that only require a temporary commitment. Yet, like in any relationship, a spiritual organisation will give more back, if you do commit.

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Religion has a bad name in alternative circles. It’s associated with the Christian church and all it’s crimes (real and perceived). Religion is associated with dogma, stifling rules that don’t fit our day to day lives and worse of all: authority. A preacher to tell me what to do in my personal life? Never!

In my religion classes at Leiden University very different definitions of religion are taught. I’ll use a famous one by Clifford Geertz to sum up the point:

“Religion is (1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.”

[Geertz wrote in 1966, just before political correct formulations would have replaced ‘men’ by ‘people’.]

The basic point here is that religion is that which gives direction to our lives, helps us establish priorities (consciously or unconsciously) and helps us understand our lives – in such a way that our worldview and priorities seem uniquely realistic.

That definition actually includes spirituality. We have symbols: Ying & Yang, the Buddha and the Tibetan flag (1). We have ideas about the universe we live in which often include: holism, karma, alternative health, aura’s etc. (3). These ideas about life and the universe seem real to us (4) and therefore the lifestyle that comes with them does too (2, 5).

The obsession with the difference between religion and spirituality comes, I think, from the bad reputation the Christian churches has with many of us. Religion has often been defined as ‘organised religion’.

Spirituality – taking place in yoga classrooms, alternative bookstores and retreats – is not organized in the same clear way. One can be spiritual within any religious system. The main thing is that one hasn’t settled for dogma’s, thinks for oneself and keeps ones own spiritual and ethical growth as a top priority (2).

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Prayer (by Karl Gerzan)

This question has been on my mind lately.

That we even talk about certain experiences being spiritual reveals a mark of otherness. For most of us, only rare moments earn the denomination. Yet one of the most consistent claims proceeding from examinations of such experiences is the fundamentally spiritual nature of total reality, the oneness of all that is.

I’d like to better understand what leads me, you, he or she, to designate an experience spiritual. What are the qualities of that experience that separate it from non-spiritual experiences?

Further, within the class of spiritual experiences, are there differences? Are some experiences more spiritual than others? Are there different types of spiritual experience?

When first confronted with this line of inquiry, many understandably balk. They anticipate a dystopia of ranked ineffables and the inevitable hierarchies that would proceed. “I’ve had fourteen documented level 6 spiritual experiences, you’ve barely had three level fives, so I think we’ll go with my idea.” Imagine a militaristic organization with the Dalai Lamas as a five star general overseeing an army of average materialists who occasionally experience bliss during a close football game.

Such anxieties, and the lack of faith they reveal, shouldn’t dissuade us. If spiritual experiences are real, they will resist colonization by such thinking. Indeed, they may offer us the very qualities and criteria needed to relegate this type of thinking to its proper place (a reverse colonization, like Greek gods in Rome).

A proper examination of what constitutes spiritual experiences, if the consistencies of the reports are any indication, may reveal a reality that palimpsests the typical flatland of contemporary western ontology.

But that’s jumping ahead.

First, the question remains: what constitutes a spiritual experience?

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