The worst thing about belief? In one way or another, it's always unbelievable.
The best thing about belief? When the unbelievable is stripped away, you're likely to be pointed toward truth.
So strippers – no, not that kind (sadly) – are all-important on a spiritual journey. Without them, religious or other sorts of dogma are accepted uncritically, leaving us wandering in a maze where every path leads anywhere you believe it will.
The Indian guru I began to follow in 1971, Charan Singh, was fond of saying: "Critics are our best friends." His disciples would nod, seemingly taking the words to mean that criticism can help make us humble.
True. But it's possible to embrace spiritual criticism more deeply, in a fashion that has the potential to change the entire direction in which we're moving (as opposed to merely proceeding in the same direction less egotistically).
This requires a lot more openness. And yes, humility. It means accepting the possibility that cherished beliefs you've held for many years, perhaps for most of your life, are just that: beliefs.
Not the truth.
Recently I've been alternating between reading two books before my morning meditation. One I've written about before in several posts, "Consciousness is All" by Peter Dziuban.
The title, not surprisingly, says it all about the book. Dziuban is an enthusiastic advocate of the notion that consciousness is the sole reality. So enthusiastic, often his advaitish, non-dual outlook seems uncomfortably dogmatic to me.
When that happens I put down his book and pick up "The Dream Weaver" by Jack Bowen. He's a philosopher.
Philosophers often are put down by spiritual types because they think and reason a lot. As if that's a bad thing. What's forgotten is that beliefs also are thoughts. Unexamined thoughts. Uncritically accepted thoughts.
What philosophical examination can do, and often does very well, is strip away the seemingly solid foundation of a belief structure. Bowen does this skillfully in his book.
So far I've read chapters about "Knowledge," "Self, Mind, Soul," "Science," and "God." With each subject I'm left with questions rather than answers. Ideas that seem to make sense are shown to be nonsensical from a different perspective.
For example, I came across a critique that pertains to the consciousness is all belief – which, for Dziuban, assumes that awareness is separate and distinct both from what one is aware of and also the brain/body.
Look at the clouds. It would be wrong to say that clouds have water in them, separate from them. Clouds are water – condensed water. There's no water separate from clouds, or clouds separate from water. We'd be wrong to say, "I have a mind and a brain" just like we'd be wrong to say "Look at the cloud and the water" or, "Look at the water and the H-two-O."
Your "mind is indivisible" argument assumes that the mind exists to begin with. If the mind doesn't exist, then it can't be indivisible. Just like little invisible Martians under your bed can't be red if they don't exist.
Just because someone perceives two things differently, doesn't mean they are uniquely different things: that has more to do with the perceiver than the thing being perceived. How I perceive something is hardly a quality of that thing.
Now, this is just one side of the argument. But when it's seen that there are two sides, dogmatic belief can no longer rest on blind faith.
You've got to choose one side or the other based on what makes the most sense to you. And with spirituality, often neither side is going to be persuasive.
In large part, this is because the spiritual search usually is for Oneness, the Ultimate – which can't have two sides to it. It's a leap into mystery, not a journey along a path demarcated by neat and clean boundaries.
So when someone points out the illogic of a cherished belief that you or I have been clinging to, we should be grateful. We've just been given a pointer: Not this way.
The frustrating thing is, every belief can be shown to be illogical, indefensible, improvable. Which is a good thing, because eventually we're totally surrounded by signs that say Not this way.
At that point, there's nothing to do but stand still, utterly perplexed.
And there we are.
When I was at high school in the first half of the 60's, we used to have a subject termed,'debating'. I don't know if it was part of US curricula, but I think it was valuable in that it taught us objectivity. Given that sometimes we debated for something we agreed with, and sometimes we had to support something we didn't necessarily agree with. The by-product of this exercise is that you disassociate the argument from the person you are debating with. The 'I' and 'You' has to be taken out of the debate and the subject matter itself focused upon.
So generally in life, whether we are involved in self-critique or involved in analysis of other people's ideas, the ability to be objective, and thereby removing the, 'I like it, so....' is helpful in arriving at some understanding of the topic.
I'm a great fan of philosophic process, as it forces one to think and evaluate systematically. What often passes as 'thinking' can often be merely a sort of mental static, as thoughts based on personal preference or prejudice gallop wildly around in the brain before being splurted out as a dogmatic decree of the absolute. Yes, we all do it occasionally, but that's where our critics can be helpful to us. (be gentle with me please).
Your conclusion is tinged with a touch of hopelessness:
"The frustrating thing is, every belief can be shown to be illogical, indefensible, improvable. Which is a good thing, because eventually we're totally surrounded by signs that say Not this way.
At that point, there's nothing to do but stand still, utterly perplexed."
My perplexity avoidance mechanisms say, "Aah, but that is if we rely on intellectual reasoning alone." And hence I introduce notions that make the likes of Richard Dawkins groan. But his problem is that his life is so narrowly confined to science that he understands little else. He publicly demonstrates that his understanding of things philosophical, theological or spiritual, is quite woeful. If I wrote books and did TV shows about the genetic sciences, he would every right to say that I'm a charlatan without any knowledge or experience - and he would be right. He would do himself a big favour if he could see that this is what he does himself in an area of which he has no understanding.
Why am I discussing Dawkins? Only because he's a contemporary example of prejudiced thinking. He rants on under the auspices of protecting science from superstition. Science can look after itself thank you very much. I don't think it needs any protection.
Posted by: poohbear | May 04, 2008 at 08:45 PM
I'm interested in what you say here poohbear:
*He [Richard Dawkins] publicly demonstrates that his understanding of things philosophical, theological or spiritual, is quite woeful.*
Would you please give an example of this?
*He would do himself a big favour if he could see that this is what he does himself in an area of which he has no understanding.*
What qualifications does Dawkins need to comment on the topic? By the way, what IS the topic Dawkins has no expertise in?
Posted by: Helen | May 05, 2008 at 12:19 AM
I probably made a mistake even mentioning Dawkins, as there are probably people who read this blog who find his trashing of all things that don't fit into his scientific mental framework, to be fair game.
I just find him a real bore, as he has not taken the trouble to read any theological scholarship that ask and discuss the big questions of existence. There's plenty to chose from - and I mean real scholarship. I am not a religious person, but have taken the time to study some of the thinkers who have written over the centuries. I think anybody who does, can't help but come to the conclusion that if you are going to compare science and religion, you need to put spirituality on the table for comparison as well.
Dawkins on the other hand, takes fundamentalist religion for his comparison with science, and blathers on with endless opinion without the slightest sign of scholarship. We can all do this on any topic, but are likely to end up looking foolish. Fortunately, many current scholars, both theological and secular, have voiced protest over Dawkins peurile ravings - because they're really not much more than that.
I just find it interesting that a man who is absolutely brilliant in his own field of scholarship, should ignore the process of scholarship altogether, and trot out his prejudices as if we are all going to slap him on the back with a "Jolly well done old chap". As a fellow countryman, I find him an embarrassment.
I hope that answers your question Helen, and I only hope nobody else wants to discuss him, as I would rather discuss topics that may be useful to us all.
Posted by: poohbear | May 05, 2008 at 01:17 AM
poohbear, I'm compelled to go against your request not to discuss Richard Dawkins, because I don't understand your objection to his supposed closed-mindedness.
Having read his excellent book, "The God Delusion," I didn't find much, if anything, to object to. And like you, I find much to admire in the world's mystical and spiritual literature.
What Dawkins attacks, quite rightly, is religious anti-scientific dogmatism. Otherwise, he's very much open to understanding reality in whichever way it presents itself.
Here's how his book ends. Is this the ranting of a closed-minded person? The first quote refers to reality.
"How should we interpret Haldane's 'queerer than we can suppose'? Queerer than can, in principle, be supposed? Or just queerer than we can suppose, given the limitation of our brains' evolutionary apprenticeship in Middle World? [basically, world of the senses]
Could we, by training and practice, emancipate ourselves from Middle World, tear off our black burka, and achieve some sort of intuitive -- as well as just mathematical -- understanding of the very small, the very large, and the very fast?
I genuinely don't know the answer, but I am thrilled to be alive at a time when humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding. Even better, we may eventually discover that there are no limits."
Posted by: Brian | May 05, 2008 at 11:02 AM
Maybe standing still is meditation.
Posted by: Sita | May 05, 2008 at 01:17 PM
Why we are debating that long on this topic..........no one has forced us to believe or develop trust in something ??
It is entirely our own choice and our own faith that brings us here.........
What do u have to say in that case ??
Posted by: Malvika | May 05, 2008 at 02:54 PM
"It is entirely our own choice and our own faith that brings us here."
-- Where is "here"? And "our own faith" in what? Who is "our own"?
"What do u have to say in that case ??"
-- What is "in that case"? I have no idea what or who you are referring to, and I am sure the others here don't either. So you are going to have to express yourself somewhat more substantially, if you actuallyt wish to make any sense and participate in discussion. If you are going to make copmments that you want people to respond to, then do so with more substance and clarity.
Posted by: tAo | May 05, 2008 at 03:22 PM
Well here I go - back to discussing Richard Dawkins. I read a fair bit of the "God Delusion", but couldn't complete it, as although I agree with you that his attack on anti-scientific dogmatism was justified, he expressed himself with increasing histrionics as if all things that were not scientific, were in the fundamentalist religious basket. I didn't find his writing very balanced - how could it be, because he has not researched theology.
At the same time his book was released there was a TV series where he looked at astrology and other such things that he considered part of the general new age supermarket. Did he approach anyone with scholarship in any of the fields he visited? No, he interviewed hippy looking middle aged women who had read a book on astrology and had pentagrams hanging on the wall. He took the lowest possible common denominator to compare to science and made anything that is not within evidence based, reductionist science, to appear Woo Woo. I just found it all to be a cheap shot at making his point. If he came and debated the whole subject with me, I'd like to think I could give him a run for his money. (His debating skills are likely to be much better than mine, and I'd probably have to Woo Woo myself out the door).
Anyway Brian - You loved his book and I disliked it. Which I find interesting, because when your book on Plotinus was first released and I read it, I thought I was reading something I had written myself. Especially the Introduction - I kept saying to myself - 'This sounds a lot like me'. I on the other hand have very little scholarship on Plotinus. I have read one other commentary as well as bits of the Enneads (which as you well know are pretty hard going). You did a good job with the book.
And now I hope I've done my dash with Richard D.
Posted by: poohbear | May 05, 2008 at 06:38 PM
Hello Poohbear. You write:
*I didn't find his writing very balanced - how could it be, because he has not researched theology....Did he approach anyone with scholarship in any of the fields he visited?*
As far as I am aware, Dawkins does not consider theology or astrology to be real academic subjects because the foundation for the first subject is belief in a sky fairy and for astrology the foundation is a belief that the movement of gigantic balls of gas, ice or rock affect human behaviour. (I'm laughing as I type).
If you take away the foundational belief you take away the theology and the subject thusly dissapears. Real academic work requires research, data, analysis and proof. "Belief" is NOT an academic approach of study, simply because it is a belief: theology starts with an unprovable premise and builds a castle in the air from thereon upwards and calls it "fact".
However, religion can still be studied. For example, I hold a BA honours degree in the Study of Religious systems: the systems we studied were social, political and philosphical, based largely on Ninian Smart's "Dimensions of the Sacred". And to my mind, this is the real academic approach that Dawkins uses in his books and lecures on religion.
*He took the lowest possible common denominator to compare to science and made anything that is not within evidence based, reductionist science, to appear Woo Woo.*
There are 2 comments I can make to this:
1) he didn't have to try very hard to make it look *Woo Woo*
2) Prehaps the reason it looks Woo Woo is because it is.
Posted by: Helen | May 06, 2008 at 08:41 AM
It seems that you are better educated than me in the area that is under discussion. I could well be wrong from an academic standpoint. The sum total of the person I am however has been built on education and experience. And my experience has demonstrated that science and spirituality are two different paradigms. Science observes and measures the phenomenal world, and spirituality deals with the exploration of human consciousness.
To explore consciousness, I have not found the tools of science to be particularly effective. Conversely, to explore science, the tools of spirituality are similarly inadequate. When I need to dig a hole, I take a spade out of the shed - a pair of socks just doesn't seem to do the job.
So this is the way I'm wired - and although I agree that theology, spirituality and philosophy don't fit into the methods of reductionist science, they are part of human history and culture, and worthy of exploration on their own terms.
Posted by: poohbear | May 06, 2008 at 06:22 PM
hello poohbear. You write:
*To explore consciousness, I have not found the tools of science to be particularly effective. Conversely, to explore science, the tools of spirituality are similarly inadequate.*
I was wondering if you would expand on this comment poohbear. I'm interested in what you mean by "tools". By which I mean, are you talking about which methods you use to experience conciousness or methods for discussing concioussness?
Posted by: Helen | May 07, 2008 at 03:30 AM
In science there is typically an observer and the observed, or the behaviour of the observed. A subject and an object. Tools - as in methodology and equipment appropriate to observing and measuring and evaluating are put to use.
With consciousness the observer and the observed may be separate or they may be the same, dependent upon the objective of the explorer. As the mental makeup of people making such an exploration will differ, then this renders any observations unverifiable with another.
Just as quantam physics has discovered that the presence of an observer has an effect on the thing observed, there may be a similar occurrence with an individual observing their own consciousness.
Typically in the exploration of consciousness, the observer diminishes, and the observed becomes the only energy present. In the realm of metaphysics, the laws of physics don't seem to necessarily apply. I guess there could be a paper written on both the similarities and the differences. It won't be me writing it.
So to return to your original query - I wasn't considering tools to discuss science or consciousness. I was using the term 'tools' for method and experience.
I don't usually get an opportunity to discuss the applied method in exploring consciousness, so this explanation may be a bit wooly. You have however prompted me to attempt to articulate it a little better to myself.
Posted by: poohbear | May 07, 2008 at 08:29 PM