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.'