Agreeing or disagreeing with teachings is ego boosting. To be unable to understand or categorise something written or said is likely to be more productive as it creates the opportunity for productive thinking and inquiry. To come upon something that you cannot easily fit into a category in your head, is disturbing.
How do you deal with it when you come across a statement or idea in spiritual literature that you cannot fit into your usual categories? Do you turn it into a belief, start trying to imagine what the teacher must mean, and repeating it to yourself in order to “get it”? Do you think that repetition will help you understand or assimilate what is being said?
Or do you simply turn your head away from it and say, “I don’t get this” and forget about it?
How do you deal with new ideas? Are you open to hearing new ideas or have you already shut off the possibility of letting anything new in? Many people have already settled into belief systems, often unconsciously, and hear everything through the filter of agreeing or disagreeing with the filter.
Let’s say you have a belief that having lived a good life, that you will be rewarded by going to heaven when you die: this belief prevents you from hearing about the possibility of “dying before you die” or that death of the body does not mean death of you.
Jesus said; “he that has ears let him hear”. This is what he is talking about. Are you open to hearing something new, something that challenges your beliefs and assumptions and understanding of how things are?
William James said something like; we should not foreclose on our account with God too soon. In other words, we should not decide on what God or life is about without having done a good investigation, and certainly not on the basis of what someone else told us.
I have met people who hold the view that nobody knows any more about the nature of reality than anyone else. Nobody could know about death before death of the body, is the attitude. Such a person has dismissed all spiritual teachings, The Perennial Wisdom, in one fell swoop, based on their own ignorance of the teachings. Such a person is certainly not open to hearing what a spiritual teacher has to offer.
But the majority of those reading this article have an interest in the perennial teachings and are trying to come to some understanding of how to use them, and apply them to their own lives.
In most walks of life we look around us in the world for help in finding an answer to our problem or guidance for how to reach our goal. And, you’ll find instructions or methods that can be compared and contrasted with each other. It’s the same with spiritual goals -that’s assuming you have come to the point of realising that spiritual teachings in some way apply to you. We and have to find a way of defining or understanding what our goal is, how this is relevant to our own life. How we define or understand our goal of spiritual attainment dictates how we go about attaining it. This is a question of language, what mythology (tradition/teacher) we use because at the end of the day everyone is seeking the same thing, we just talk about it in different ways, using different metaphors. Spiritual attainment: Enlightenment, Self-realisation, Christ consciousness, Moksha, are words for the same thing, the universal phenomenon of human “maturation” into conscious recognition of our spiritual dimension, experientially.
The language I sometimes use is to speak in terms of our problem being one of false identification with a body/ mind instead of with our true nature which is awareness.
Other times I lean on the Christian mythology by speaking of recognising that what we are as a child of God, in relation to God. What is our relationship with God, really?
Sometimes I lean on Buddhist mythology by speaking of the goal as seeking “the end of suffering” and the methodology for attaining this is overcoming or going beyond ego.
To recognise that our discontent (the human condition) is really a symptom of existential angst and this is what spiritual teachings are addressing, is a major milestone on the human path of return to peace. Often times we think our discontent is caused by the world not suiting us and this does play a role but it is the secondary role.
In this internet era, with teachings from all traditions readily available, it is up to the student to find a way, their own way, of dealing with this plethora of teachings. First off, it is useful to recognise that all of them are talking about the same thing. That’s a major step, at least it was for me. To realise that all the major religions and teachings were speaking about the same thing, that there is a possibility inbuilt in the human condition of a way out of “the human condition” and all its suffering.
Hearing this, the ears have begun to open!
Just because a statement you come across is indecipherable at first is not a good reason to dismiss it. You can take it as a koan, something to be mulled over, something to try to find another way of understanding or simply to be kept in the back of your mind until you come across something else that might shed some light on it. If you come across something that offends you, chances are that it is pointing at something you are defending and that in itself makes it worthy of investigation.
I remember coming across the statement “The View is not the Viewer” by Richard Rose. It made no sense to me. It even looked silly or just too plain obvious to be worthy of attention but, because it had been said by Richard Rose, I trusted that he was trying to point out something that I must be oblivious to. So it turned out, over many months of mulling and trying out little personal experiments with perception to see what it might be about. I came to see that he was pointing to a discrimination between the seen and the seer, consciousness and objects in consciousness, the created and the uncreated. This is the fundamental confusion is human interpretation. This is where the mis-identification occurs. We identify with “the created”, whereas what we are is “the uncreated”.
So, what I’m saying is, don’t dismiss statements you come across in these teachings at the first difficulty.
The main difficulty, I think, for seekers is in finding their own way to get beyond agreement and disagreement. Because, this path to self-realisation is a one- by -one thing, each one has to find their own way.
Or, we’d like to be given the answer and save us all the effort of finding it for ourselves. This does work in other walks of life, but not in the spiritual field. This is the one area where each of us has to do our own work.
We’d like to be given a methodology that can be applied to everyone but the methodology of spiritual seeking is to find your own way into your own inner being.
Of course, there are guidelines, practises that have been tried and tested and proved useful over the millennia but still, each one has to make their own of them.
In these days of abundance of the various teachings it is difficult to know which to follow and how to pick and choose which bits to use but that is todays challenge for the serious seeker.
At the end of the day, it is the same problem that has been faced by all spiritual seekers, throughout the ages, how to use the guidance, teachings, practises in a way that works for you.
This of necessity means that you cannot agree or disagree your way along the path. Each one has to “plough their own furrow”, using what tools we come across in their own way.