Recently someone who asked if I'd like to be a guest on her podcast (I would!) responded to an email I sent her which said, in part, "I’m sort of in the spiritual-but-not-religious camp. However, I’m not sure if 'spiritual' has any meaning for an atheist."
She replied, saying, "The intersection I think we may intersect is this kind of secular spirituality pursuit. Would you say that's a phrase you kind of resonate with? That's the sense I get from your writings."
Sure. Typically secular means not-religious, not-spiritual, not-sacred. But I like the idea of mixing two seemingly contradictory ideas into the notion of secular spirituality.
That preserves the useful notion of spirituality as a quest to lay bare the deeper meaning of life, to dig deeper into what it means to be human. And it makes clear that this quest has nothing to do with supernatural B.S. or mystical mumbo-jumbo.
Which goes a long way toward explaining why I quickly decided to stop reading a book by Adyashanti, "Emptiness Dancing."
I ordered it from Amazon after listening to ten minutes of an interview Sam Harris did with Adyashanti on Harris' Waking Up iPhone app. It had been a while since I'd gotten a new book about Zen Buddhism, and I found Adyashanti making quite a bit of sense in the interview.
In retrospect, I should have paid more attention to the fact that the guy didn't have his original name of Stephen Gray.
By and large, I find that books written by people with assumed "spiritual" names don't appeal to me, because this shows that the author has bought into some sort of dogma where giving up your birth name is seen as desirable for some mysterious reason.
Still, I enjoy Zen Buddhism when it is stripped of religious crap. It didn't take more than a few pages of reading Emptiness Dancing before I realized that this book wasn't for me, since alarm bells began ringing in my mind when I came to these passages. The italicized part is my thought when I read them.
p.2 "Let go of all ideas and images in your mind, they come and go and aren't even generated by you." Oh, yeah? That's news to me. Where else would stuff in my mind come from if not from me -- both the unconscious and conscious mind of me?
p.3 "What arose was an image of what seemed like an infinite number of past incarnations, as if heads were lined up one behind another as far back as I could see." Ugh. A Zen Buddhist who believes in reincarnation, a thoroughly religious concept.
p. 7 "We realize our own pure awareness and see that what we are is pure spirit with no form. We recognize that formless spirit is the essence, the animating presence of everything." One pure in a sentence is bad enough, two is insufferable. Any resemblance to genuine Zen is purely coincidental in Adyashanti.
Adding to my irritation with Adyashanti's book was how he spun his supposed enlightenment experience. One moment he was his ordinary self. The next moment he'd achieved... something or other. He says that suddenly "Everything was a reflection of that One thing. Everything was divine."
OK, that's cool. But everybody has amazing experiences. Few people, though, set themselves up as teachers where they try to get other people to have the same experience they had. Tellingly, Adyashanti says he had the thought, "Oops. I just woke up out of Zen!"
No kidding. I've never read a Zen book that speaks of heaven, but Adyashanti does. Apparently he's calling his own personal philosophy "Zen" even though it bears little resemblance to Zen Buddhism.
After I put "Emptiness Dancing" aside with a feeling of relief, I picked up a book of Sam Harris's interviews with fascinating scientists, mostly. I read about the promise and pitfall of artificial intelligence, machines that soon will surpass human intelligence. It was refreshing to focus on something real rather than Adyashanti's forays into whatever his Oneness consists of.
Understand: I'll all for meditation. That's why I've meditated every day for over fifty years. I believe in mental exercises, just as I believe in physical exercises.
I also agree with Adyashanti and Sam Harris that it is possible, and beneficial, to come to a realization that our feeling of being an enduring"self" is an illusion. I just don't believe that an organized spiritual practice is needed to get in touch with what each of us already is -- a being without a lasting self.
I snapped this photo in early September of the view through the window of the room where I do my morning reading and meditating. I was struck by how my view of the curving metal dragon sculpture stuck in the ground next to a large fern was so nicely situated between two bonsai "trees" in a planter in front of the window.
Today I was struck by something different -- the absence of the sculpture.
At first I thought it had gotten hidden behind some fern fronds. But as I looked more closely, I saw that the dragon was still there. High winds yesterday had turned it sideways, so all that was visible was the thin edge of the dragon sculpture. You can see that edge in the "V" above the bottom of a bridge that's part of the bonsai planter.
This seemed like an apt metaphor. When we face the world head on, making a big deal of ourselves, considering that how we view things is the way everybody should, our sense of self is magnified.
But when we make a subtle change, turning sideways to the world, feeling how small we are compared to the vast cosmos, accepting that everyone has their own view of how things should be, our sense of self is diminished.
I bounce back and forth between these perspectives, as most of us do. And that's fine.
Some days I feel like facing the world head on. Other days I feel like turning aside and letting the world slide by me. I don't think it is possible to do anything else, though Adyashanti apparently believes he has become One With Everything.
Maybe. I doubt it, though.