Sunday I gave a talk to my spiritual group that inspired me. So before I lose touch with my self-induced inspiration, I figured that I should capture it in a weblog posting. That way hopefully I can re-inspire myself as needed.
However, I have to admit that this whole way of thinking is at odds with what I was talking about. Namely, the absurd split between “I” and “me.” More defensible are the splits between “belief” and “faith” or “religion” and “science.” Nonetheless, we humans love to divide up reality with concepts divorced from experience, then get anxious about feeling divorced from nature, other people, God, and ourselves.
Alan Watts says that the only way to cure anxiety is to honestly recognize what’s real about the human condition. Suffering, pain, death, disease, unhappiness—yes, shit happens. This is a cold, cruel world. And also, a warm, comforting world. It’s up to us how it seems. Any alteration in the seeming, though, has to begin and end honestly.
I cited the adage that paranoids have enemies too. In his wonderful book, “The Wisdom of Insecurity” that I’m reading now,Watts says it is wrong to make the presence or absence of neurosis the touchstone of truth, and to argue that if a man’s philosophy makes him neurotic, it must be wrong. (This book was published in 1951, when people still talked about neuroses.)
So he says that it’s absurd to reason that because most atheists and agnostics are neurotic, and most simple Catholics are happy and at peace with themselves, the views of the former are false and those of the latter are true.
I liked this passage:
It is as if to say, “You say there is a fire in the basement. You are upset about it. Because you are upset, there is obviously no fire.” The agnostic, the skeptic, is neurotic, but this does not imply a false philosophy; it implies the discovery of facts to which he does not know how to adapt himself.
Like, I’m going to die. That’s a fact. I don’t know what to do about it. I think about death frequently. I don’t like the idea of it at all, especially as it applies to me, myself, and I. As Woody Allen said (more or less), “I don’t want my works of art to live on after me. I want me to live on after me.” Amen, brother.
Everyone feels insecure about something or other. Usually, lots of things and lots of others. Watts says that religious belief is one of the main ways people try to deal with anxiety. The reality of uncertainty is replaced with a belief that such-and-such is going to happen for sure in the future.
Jesus saves. The second coming is coming. Allah welcomes the faithful into paradise. The guru takes on his disciples’ karma. All beings will one day realize Buddha nature.
Whatever the belief is, it concerns a future happening or distant state of affairs, not an immediate direct experience. Yet since the present is all there is, memories of the past and anticipations of the future being part of the here and now, religious belief can’t be genuinely fulfilling.
For the future is, obviously, always around the corner. The promise of God-realization remains the carrot out of reach that we keep expecting to get with the next plodding step. So we step, and step, and step, to the end of our days. Always wanting. Never getting. Yet, says, Watts, there really is a reality that, if we could just see it, would make us say, “This is what I’ve been yearning for!” He says:
The discovery of this reality is hindered rather than helped by belief, whether one believes in God or believes in atheism. We must make here a clear distinction between belief and faith, because, in general practice, belief has come to mean a state of mind which is almost the opposite of faith. Belief, as I use the word here, is the insistence that the truth is what one would “lief” or wish it to be.
The believer will open his mind to the truth on the condition that it fits in with his preconceived ideas and wishes. Faith, on the other hand, is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. Faith has no preconceptions; it is a plunge into the unknown. Belief clings, but faith lets go. In this sense of the word, faith is the essential virtue of science, and likewise of any religion that is not self-deception.
Recently someone emailed me a essay by a Professor Krishna of the Krishnamurti Foundation in India. I liked it a lot and quoted Krishna in my talk. It’s called “Science and Spirituality: Two Aspects of a Single Reality.” Here’s an excerpt on the subject of belief:
The other factor that has very seriously bogged down the religious quest is belief. What does belief mean to a person who is in quest of truth ? We have to regard it the same way as a scientist regards a theory. The theory is not the truth, the model is not reality. We have to do experiments to find out what is true. But when we have belief, we are merely accepting something without evidence, which has little value.
Experimentation. For me, that’s the core of spirituality. Otherwise we’re just stuck in a bog of competing religious beliefs, all of them possibly true, none of them definitively so. I don’t want to risk the fate of my eternal soul, assuming I have one, on flinging a dart blindly at the world’s board of alternative religions and pledging allegiance to whichever belief system I land on.
Currently I still align myself outwardly with the mystical tradition of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB). I’m the treasurer for our local group. I give a talk about once a month to my RSSB brothers and sisters. But last Sunday I told my audience that I’ve come to the point where I can no longer speak about belief. I can’t spout off the dogma about guru, God, karma, soul, initiation, spirit, heavenly regions, reincarnation, all that stuff.
Instead, I’m an enthusiastic cheerleader for conducting the experiment of meditation. Prof. Krishna says, “The scientific quest is to discover the order in the external world of space, time, energy and matter. The spiritual quest is to discover order in our consciousness.” That’s what meditation is for me: an attempt to find out what simple order, if any, is at the root of my chaotic, confused, complex, cacophonous consciousness.
I don’t know what that order is. I want to. That’s faith. I don’t need belief. Just faith. Borrowing a metaphor from Alan Watts, I said that faith is akin to opening up the roof of a house and putting a skylight in so you can see what’s above, while belief is akin to painting the skylight’s glass blue. It’s a little bit like reality, but not much.
After I finished my talk a friend came up and said, “You’re crazy.” I replied, “But don’t you agree with what I was saying?” “Yes,” he said, “But I’m crazy too.” Well, two’s company. What he meant, I think, is that my attitude toward spirituality and the teachings of Radha Soami Satsang Beas sounds heretical to many believers. Crazy, even.
Strangely, I’ve never felt more sane. Is this madness? Maybe. But it strikes me as a fine madness.
My friend said that the present guru of RSSB, Gurinder Singh Dhillon, is the most heretical of all. I tend to agree with him, though it has been a while since I’ve heard Gurinder Singh speak.
In my talk I quoted an anecdote that Ron Morey told me about his trip to India earlier this year. He said that Gurinder Singh said something along the lines of, “If you come to me and say that you have 100% faith, I won’t believe you. But if you say that you have doubts, now we can have a conversation.”
The faith being spoken of here really is belief. Having doubts is what I call true faith. You’re open to truth, not closed-up inside walls of illusory understanding.
Less belief, more faith. That’s my recipe for spiritual growth.