My last post was about an over-zealous "security" volunteer at a meeting of a religious organization, Radha Soami Satsang Beas.
Coming across some quotes today from Alan Watts' marvelous book, "The Wisdom of Insecurity," in another excellent book -- "The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking" -- made me realize that the problem with the irritating security volunteer was his attachment to a religious teaching which promises security in the form of god-realization, salvation, eternal life in a heavenly realm.
Security. This really isn't the solution to our problems, but the problem itself.
Watts cogently points out that we want to find changelessness, failing to understand that life is change. So the more we seek false security, the more we feel estranged from life, which makes us even more eager to find a sense of security that doesn't exist.
To understand that there is no security is far more than to agree with the theory that all things change, more even than to observe the transitoriness of life. The notion of security is based on the feeling that there is something which endures through all the days and changes of life.
We are struggling to make sure of the permanence, continuity, and safety of this enduring core, this center and soul of our being, which we call 'I.' For this we think to be the real man -- the thinker of our thoughts, the feeler of our feelings, the knower of our knowledge. We do not actually understand that there is no security until we realize that this 'I' does not exist.
...The real reason why human life can be so utterly exasperating and frustrating is not because there are facts called death, pain, fear, or hunger. The madness of the thing is that when such facts are present, we circle, buzz, writhe, and whirl, trying to get the 'I' out of the experience.
...Sanity, wholeness and integration lie in the realization that we are not divided, that man and his present experience are one, and that no separate 'I' or mind can be found.
...[Life] is a dance, and when you are dancing, you are not intent on getting somewhere. The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance.
Religious devotees like the volunteer cling to obedience as a life preserver. Obeying commandments, a holy book, a guru, practices enjoined by a spiritual teacher -- this is believed to be the path to some sort of lasting security that isn't evident in everyday life.
Nor, of course, is it evident in religious life. But beliefs don't have to be founded on reality. Mental concepts do just fine.
A big reason for my being turned off by religiosity after spending several decades as a true believer was this: I got tired of believing that I was special. That's what religions offer: specialness.
Out of all the people in the world, you, lucky soul that you are, have been chosen by God, guru, or some other divine power to understand and experience Higher Truths that are unknown by the unchosen. I vividly remember how this was expressed on a Radha Soami Satsang Beas discussion group:
Disciples feel like they are technicolor people in a black and white world.
Exactly. This relates to the whole security thing. Religious people consider that they are humble servants of God who happen to be living life much more vividly than those who aren't so blessed.
In other words, their massive sense of egotistical specialness is thinly veiled under a hypocritical mask of "I'm nobody special." (Saying that, they feel really special.)
Look: I can understand why this happens, because I've been there and done that. When you're clutching onto a religious security blanket, it feels like the most natural thing in the world. You can't imagine living without it.
Until you do. Then the words of Oliver Burgeman, author of "The Antidote," ring true.
...[W]hat we are really doing when we attempt to achieve fixity in the midst of change, Watts argues, is trying to separate ourselves from all that change, trying to enforce a distinction between ourselves and the rest of the world. To seek security is to try to remove yourself from change, and thus from the thing that defines life.
'If I want to be secure, that is, protected from the flux of life,' Watts writes, 'I am wanting to be separate from life.'
Which brings us to the crux of the matter: it is because we want to feel secure that we build up the fortifications of ego, in order to defend ourselves, but it is those very fortifications that create the feeling of insecurity.
...We build castle walls to keep out the enemy, but it is the building of the walls that causes the enemy to spring into existence in the first place. It's only because there are castle walls that there is anything to attack.
'The desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing,' concludes Watts. 'To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath retention contest, in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.'
Other posts I've written about "The Wisdom of Insecurity" can be found here, here, here, and here. It's one of my all-time favorite books.
So true! And it's not just religion that is addicted to the illusion of control through security. Look at the police, the military, airline and airport security, surveillance cameras, CIA, healthy public policies and the list goes on and on. We are a society that needs to believe that we can control our destiny, our safety, and of course sometimes these policies work, like wearing seat belts. But how far can you go? How much money is too much money to spend on this illusion. There comes a point where we need to recognize as individuals and as a society we are not powerful enough to control everything. It's just not possible. It's all ego, individual and collective, stimulated by the fear of the alternative. Which makes me wonder if religious and spiritual people really believe in their doctrines, because if their faith were strong enough there wouldn't be so much fear and need to control, would there? There certainly wouldn't be so many examples of egos gone wild if people truly internalized the eastern philosophical teachings of their gurus. My experience of followers of RSSB and other paths for that matter is they have more problems with overblown egos than nonreligious people who believe you live then you die just like any other living thing.
Posted by: Skeptic | August 22, 2013 at 08:40 AM
I'm refecting on the article below about the illusion of control, the psycholigical phenomenon whereby humans tend to believe we have more control than we do, and the illusion of futility, where we don't realize how much control we actually have.
Thinking about these two phenomena with regards to RSSB and other religions I can see problems at both ends of the continuum. When followers should be taking responsibilty for their lives instead they hand it over to the guru, rituals, faith, fairytales. Other times they rely on teachings that tell them they have cracked the code and have managed to control their immortal destiny.
Rational people strive to understand what they can and can't control in life and keep focused are the little piece that is worth effort to try to control and let go if the rest. The universe, and social, environmental and political systems are too complex to expect much control over. Determining just how much should be the goal. Religion takes all the useful thinking away.
Posted by: Skeptic | August 22, 2013 at 09:58 AM
Here is an interesting article about why young Americans don't fight back. One reason named is Fundamentalism.
Posted by: Skeptic | August 22, 2013 at 10:02 AM
"...[Life] is a dance, and when you are dancing, you are not intent on getting somewhere. The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance." - from the above post by Brian.
IMO, what we have to think for ourselves and understand about life is simply that the meaning and purpose of life is probably not to find out the "real" answer to the "complicated" question:
- Where did I come from and where will I go (after death)?
.... simply because ........ "this 'I' does not exist" - again quoting from Brian's post above.
IMO, life will be much simpler if we (collection of many "I"s) can satisfy ourselves with the simple and more practical answer, which could be:
"I" - which is actually my physical body with a living brain - came into being because of my parents and it is most likely that after death, "I" (again my physical body) will either be buried or cremated - unless, of course, if I die in such an accident that the body cannot be found!!
..... and even in that unfortunate case, I don't think "I" have anything to worry about .....
.... simply because ........ "this 'I' does not exist"!!!
But, I also know that it is hard to believe in this simple truth and there are a lot of religions and religious organizations around the world which ensure that people keep looking for the "real" answer to the "complicated" question.
And, that's why I agree fully with Skeptic, when he says:
"Religion takes all the useful thinking away."
Posted by: Avi | August 22, 2013 at 08:12 PM