(2) Pearls of Wisdom
Spirituality and Religion
Many people are leaving the traditional religions because they cannot relate to the dogma and ritual that characterizes them. Spirituality is not concerned with theology, but with life.
To be valid, a spiritual truth must be true for everyone, everywhere and for all time. It must apply equally to people living in the Arabian Desert, the Arctic wilderness, the Himalayas and a modern Western industrial society; in the fifth century BC, tenth century and the twenty-first AD; men, women and children; those who have passed on and those yet to be born.
Individual religions seldom satisfy these criteria. Some are even restricted to a particular race or genealogy. Religion and spirituality are not the same. A religion is a formalized set of beliefs. It lays down what its followers accept as true and how they should behave, insisting on compliance and reproaching those who transgress. Any religion which controls, divides and excludes cannot, in my opinion, be truly spiritual.
All bona fide religions began with a search for truth, but the living message of spirituality that they purport to offer has often been lost. I believe the founders of our great religions, all of whom were inspired by the best of intentions, would be distraught if they knew what is now taught and practiced in their name. In a spiritually enlightened world there would be no need for separate religions, as John Lennon said in his song, ‘Imagine’.
Even so, all the major religions have much to teach us. When we study them in detail, we find that their common ground far outweighs their differences. Ninety per cent of their teachings are the same; wars have been fought over the other 10%, so let’s focus on the 90%! No one religion has exclusive rights to the truth. Look for points of agreement, put differences aside and seek truth wherever you can find it. Welcome the many different paths that are open to you.
Where Are You?
In his best-selling book “Further Along the Road Less Travelled”, M. Scott Peck pointed out that we are not all at the same place in terms of our spiritual growth. He spelt out four stages on the spiritual journey. If you had to choose the one which most accurately describes you, which would it be?
Stage One people have little or no interest in spirituality. They appear to have few moral principles, live chaotic lives and are frequently found in prisons or on the street. Some, however, rise to positions of power, including some politicians, business leaders, etc.
Stage One people occasionally become painfully aware of their situation. Some weather it and some self-destruct. Some convert to Stage Two. When this happens, it can be sudden, for example a dramatic religious conversion. Have you previously rejected the very idea of spirituality? If so, it’s possible that you are ready to move on from Stage One.
Stage Two people look to authority and are dependent on an organization for their governance. This could be the military, a business organization, public institution, or religious body. According to Peck, the majority of traditional religious believers fall into this category. They rely on its teachings and rituals for stability and to deliver them from uncertainty. Sooner or later some Stage Two people (often the young) question the need for an organization with rigid structures, rituals, and superstitions and begin to move
to Stage Three. Are you a person who respects authority and likes rules? Do you look outside yourself for leadership and control? If so, you’re probably at Stage Two.
These people dislike authority and feel no need to look to an organization for direction. Some are agnostics or atheists; some are drawn to other philosophies. They are truth seekers and (according to Peck) usually ahead of Stage Two in their spirituality without being religious in the usual sense of the word. They are often involved causes working for peace and justice. Stage Three people often regard Stage Two people as brainwashed and gullible, while Stage Two people feel threatened by them because of their lack of respect for conventional beliefs. A typical Stage Three statement was made by Kylie Minogue (the pop singer): ‘God is either a universal energy outside of us or a life force within us. Or both.’ (Note the ambiguity!) As they develop, they begin to glimpse a bigger picture and may even begin to take an interest in some of the mythology that engaged their Stage Two elders. At this point, they begin to move towards Stage Four. Have you turned your back on organized religion yet have a sense that there must be more to life than you’re currently experiencing if only you could find it? If so, you’re probably at Stage Three.
Stage Four individuals believe in the underlying connectedness between things. They are comfortable with the mystery of life and seek to explore it more deeply. They are inspired by the great religions, but not bound to them. At first sight, Stage Two and Stage Four people appear opposites, yet they have much in common. They know the same passages of scripture but interpret them differently. Stage Three people are baffled by Stage Four. On the one hand, they aspire to their awareness and spirituality while being puzzled about their interest in those old myths and legends.
Peck acknowledged that people do not always fall neatly into categories and that there is some overlap. For instance, Stage Three or Four people may turn to the church at times of celebration or stress, drawing strength and/or comfort from its rituals. They are also to be seen on religious premises when rites of passage take place – what clerics call ‘hatching, matching and dispatching’. If you have a deep sense of your own spirituality and the oneness of all things, you are probably at Stage Four.
Beware the Weird and Wacky
Many wacky ideas have hit the book stalls and television screens over the past few years. According to recent surveys, about half of us believe in tarot cards, mediums and palmistry, and sales of crystals, incense, replica angels, pendulums, and similar objects are at an all-time high. Books on Atlantis, giant lizards in human form, crystal skulls, crop circles, UFOs and unicorns circling the earth preparing to come to our rescue sell by the million and are taken seriously by a few - but they are not what spirituality is about. Some of these things may put you in touch with your spirituality, but they can also dangerously mislead. Psychic does not equate with spiritual. The psychic world may appear real, but is not necessarily so. Psychics cannot know anything of a spiritual nature that you cannot discover for yourself. Spirituality is all around and within us. To experience it, you don’t have to rely on anyone else. Just open your eyes raise your awareness and you’ll see it working in your life Practical Wisdom
Practical wisdom is, like Plato’s ‘Forms’, there for us. It will not come by paying lip service but must be sought after and lived. As it grows in us, we gain an understanding of our true nature. We look beyond the five senses to a deeper, richer life, and use our talents and energies to help make the world a better, more peaceful place for all. A famous passage from the Bible advises: Ask and it shall be given to you; seek, and you will find. For everyone that asks receives, they who seek find, and to they who knock, the door shall be opened. This refers to spiritual awareness and wisdom. The original meaning of ‘ask’ was ‘claim’. Claim awareness. Claim wisdom. Claim prosperity. Claim peace, happiness, and love. This is one of the most important steps to spirituality.