Believe nothing on the faith of traditions,
even though they have been held in honor
for many generations and in diverse places.
Do not believe a thing because many people speak of it.
Do not believe on the faith of the sages of the past.
Do not believe what you yourself have imagined,
persuading yourself that a God inspires you.
Believe nothing on the sole authority of your masters and priests.
After examination, believe what you yourself have tested
and found to be reasonable, and conform your conduct thereto.
If you see the Buddha, kill him.
And then of course, the awakening part is always spontaneous. There are no ABCs on how to wake up. But when looked back, I saw these two things: stillness and silence, and the ability to be ruthlessly honest with myself, to not fool myself, to not tell myself that I knew something I didn’t, to stay with my line of inquiry. After a while, these two approaches together became my spiritual path.
–Adyashanti, True Meditation
Maybe you’ve heard this story: after a drudging decades of hand-copying spiritual books, an old monk had a thought. He realized he and his fellow monks had been copying copies of copies, so he went into the dungeons to inspect the originals. Later, his brothers found him wailing and crying over an old tattered page, moaning, “It doesn’t say ‘celibate’; it says ‘CELEBRATE!’”
How do religions and spiritual traditions start? I don’t know of course, but here’s one plausible scenario. A human being is awakened. He tells others about it. Others copy what he says. There are copies of copies of copies. Religion and spiritual traditions develop. Love and openness turns into spiritual traditions and hierarchy and beliefs and concepts.
Then, there is Buddhism and Christianity and Advaita and Zen—and in more flavors then Ben and Jerry’s.
Jed Mckenna, who some believe is an alter-ego of Adyashanti, has a very direct, and somewhat uncomfortable article which says that Buddhism is a failure. If the purpose of Buddhism is to produce Buddhas, it has failed. It’s been pretty good at churning out Buddhists, not Buddhas.
You’ve heard the saying which goes something like: we are not physical beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience.
If that’s true, then true spirituality is a matter of subtracting. True spirituality is not a matter of memorizing new concepts and beliefs. It’s a matter of letting go of what we think we know and believe.
Spiritual traditions are of course very valuable. Many people get started on awakening with spirituality. Many others find resonance and wisdom and beauty and comfort and even a way of life in spiritual traditions.
But in the middle of all of this, there is a heart beating in the silence and stillness. What does it feel like when you can tune into your silence? When you can let go, what does the lightness feel like? In the middle of this, in every stage, through every millennium, through various versions of God and high monks and dogma and new-age concepts, through morality and commandments and precepts and noble truths—what is there?
What is there is what has always been. There is “before Abraham was I AM.” There is the fantastic and ungraspable silence and stillness which is beyond beliefs and concepts and spirituality. There is Stillness and Silence and self-honesty.
If you do tend towards spirituality, you may want to be open to some of the obstacles. The great Tibetan meditation teacher, Chogyam Trunpa, wrote that we are often “deceiving ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques.”
He called this kind of self-deception spiritual materialism.
John Welwood is both a Buddhist and a psychotherapist and he writes very effectively about spiritual bypassing. This is where we do a “spiritual bypass” of our issues. We can build up a spiritual identity which bypasses the painful recognition of childhood suffering or compulsive behavior or addictions.
“ When we practice wholeheartedly, allowing ourselves to open and to clarify our perceptions through increasing awareness, we move towards a comprehension of the true nature of reality. Through our practice, little by little we can clear away the veils of conditioning, the skewed perceptions, the attachment to a seemingly fixed, solid, self. Ultimately, if we approach it with courage, humility, and a willingness to open to whatever is there— “radical acceptance,” if you will—this will lead us to ever increasing clarity until we reach that point where our mind functions like a clear, bright mirror, simply but accurately reflecting what we see, hear, taste, touch, smell and perceive, allowing us the space to respond to life situations rather than reacting to them. Along the way, however, we can open to repressed experiences such as abuse or other trauma, and even if these do not lie buried within our particular psyches, we become more and more sensitive as we become more aware. If we’re not careful, old habit patterns of reaction can be an easy “out” of these situations. If instead, we open to the courage that comes with practice and choose a new path—one of greater clarity but not yet familiar to us, we can begin to work through and release those “sticky places” and the knee-jerk reactions they engender.”
There are many balanced writings on the “spiritualized ego” and “spiritual materialism.” Krishnamurti and Jed Mckenna are ruthlessly direct—probably very bitter medicine for those who’ve developed a strong spiritual identity. Tolle and Leonard Jacobson are gentler, but just as firm.
The Guru speaks to us primarily in shoulds: “You should meditate twice a day.” “You should be present.” “You should be nice.” “You shouldn’t drink so much.” “You should get to bed earlier.” “You should be doing your life purpose.” “You should be saving the world.” The word should is a sign of the ego. When the Self motivates us to meditate or be kinder or more present, or even to take better care of ourselves, it doesn’t inspire us through a thought, but through an inner impetus to do these things. That impetus is true guidance coming from the Self. Such subtle nudges and intuitive messages are continually being sent to us, but we may miss them if we are wrapped up in our thoughts.
-Gina Lake, Radical Happiness
When the ego has co-opted spirituality, it will of course be very resistant. It’s easy to see in others when they have invested heavily in a certain path; it’s a bit harder to admit it in ourselves. There can be a lot of what is “true spirituality” and “my monks can beat up your monks” kind of defensiveness.
In my experience, I’ve found it best not to deny and not to follow. As the prescient Zen patriarch T’seng said, “Do not seek Truth; only cease to cherish opinion.”
Many of us discover some form of spirituality at a time when our lives are not working so it’s easy to see how we can become addicted to spirituality.
A spiritual person can become addicted to spiritual highs and miss the experience of Truth. Spiritual addiction occurs when something great happens and it feels as if you have received a hit of a great drug. As soon as you have it, you want more.
Soon you find that your condition is not much better than that of a common drunk, except that drunks know they have a problem because it’s not culturally acceptable to be a drunk. The spiritual person is very certain that there is no problem, that his or her inebriation is unlike the other forms of inebriation, and the whole point is to be spiritually inebriated forever.
You’re not a junkie. You’re a spiritual seeker.
This problem will last as long as there is something in you that holds out some hope for the high experience. When that begins to break down, you start to see that pleasant, wonderful, and uplifting experiences are somewhat like very pleasant and uplifting alcohol binges. They feel great for a short time, and then there is an equal and opposite reaction. The spiritual high is followed by a spiritual low. I have seen this in many students.