The past couple of days have been ugly for investors in stock markets around the world, including here in the United States. But I've been pretty much unmoved and unworried by the downturn.
Why? Because quite a few years ago I decided to embrace index investing, where you don't try to be smarter than all the other guys/gals who invest, you just have a goal of doing as well as the general investment climate.
A few years ago I wrote about this on one of my other blogs in "Index investing lets me relax in a stock market crash." And I've come to take the same approach to spirituality.
Here's links to posts I've written on this subject, along with an excerpt from each. They're listed in the order I wrote them.
Spiritual diversification, a sound salvation strategy (May 2005).
Wise financial professionals advise that if you want to save money for retirement, it’s best to invest in index funds. Increasingly, people do. But when it comes to saving their souls for eternity, most of those same people will put all of their spiritual nest egg into one basket—a single religion that they expect will support them both here and hereafter.
We here at the Church of the Churchless say, “that’s foolish.” Spiritual diversification makes as much sense as financial diversification. No, even more sense. For sometimes savvy (or lucky) investors do beat the market by buying stock in a single company. And they can prove it by having their CPAs work up a statement of net worth.
But no such proof exists in the sphere of spirituality. No religious figure can show you how his or her investment in a particular spiritual practice has paid off in terms of salvation. The claims made in supposedly holy scriptures such as the Bible, Koran, Talmud, Dhammapada, Adi Granth, Vedas, and so on are just that, claims. Unsubstantiated, unproven, unbelievable.
...In short, I’ve become spiritually diversified. I try not to set rigid boundaries around what I believe and what I do. I try to look for inspiration in lots of different places, people, and writings. I try to become aware of all that is real about both physical existence and whatever metaphysical realities exist beyond the world I know now. I try to be content with what the cosmos brings me rather than considering that I’m entitled to unique dispensations.
Here’s the interesting thing: my faith is stronger now. As I’ve lost faith in particular religious approaches, my faith in a universal spirituality has become stronger. Again, this is akin to how my financial philosophy has changed: I’ve lost faith in the value of choosing individual stocks and bonds, but I’ve gained faith in the wisdom of investing in the entire universe of equity and debt investment possibilities.
Spiritual investing takes nothing (May 2005)
There’s a difference between worldly and other-worldly markets that I neglected to address sufficiently before. When you buy a monetary index fund such as the Total U.S. Stock Market, you end up owning a piece of every single company stock in the United States. Thus diversification is accomplished in a manner that is easy to understand: own a little bit of everything.
But to invest one’s soul in the Total Cosmic Spirit Market means taking an exactly opposite approach: owning nothing. You diversify widely into the One by not clinging to any part of the Many—anything that can be demarcated by name or form.
“God,” after all, isn’t part of this world. Whatever or whoever God is, the unknown ultimate reality that is given this utterly meaningless name (which is why I like to put it in quotation marks) obviously isn’t something that we can point to and say, “There it is! And this is what it is like!” If knowing God were that easy, there wouldn’t be any divine mystery to unravel.
...Most religious believers like to think that the mystery of God is elusive except for the special revelation to which they, and they alone, are privy. Not true. There are no exceptions to maya. If you can give it a name or a form, nama or rupa, it’s part of maya. A revelation, by definition, is something revealed. That means you can point to it, describe it, define it, delineate it.
Thus the Bible is maya, illusion. All of it, New and Old Testament alike. Ditto the Talmud, Koran, Dhammapada, Tao Te Ching, Upanishads, Adi Granth, Course of Miracles, Conversations with God, and, naturally, the Church of the Churchless. Everything I’ve written on this weblog is part and parcel of maya, including that last sentence.
There’s only one way out of maya: nothing. You get out of an enclosure by finding the empty space—a door. The door is useful because it is empty. It isn’t composed of the same substance as the walls, floor, and ceiling. If it were, then it too would be part of the enclosure.
Something empty and hidden connects everything that can be sensed or conceived of. That something we don’t know is what we really want, not all the things and ideas we do know. It alone will satisfy, because only it is permanent, real, substantial. It goes by lots of names: Spirit, Tao, Buddha Nature, countless others.
Profitable spiritual investing (October 2008)
Last night I was with a group of people who discussed the ins and outs (not to mention the ups and downs) of investing in tough times like these.
I didn't have a whole lot to say.
Briefly I held forth on the Buddha-like nature of index fund investing, where you don't try to beat the market through some clever scheme but rather rest content with rising and falling in concert with the overall financial tide.
I told my friends, "If the world and national economy go to hell, so will our investments. If things improve, so will our portfolio. It's a humble way to invest, since you're happy to be average."
This is pretty much the same way I feel about my spiritual investing strategy now.
For many years I thought I could beat the system. That is, find a way to salvation, God-realization, enlightenment, or whatever, that would lead to a better result than others would enjoy who weren't privy to the inside knowledge I possessed.
...Mystics and theologians often speak of God as unspeakable. They urge us to think of God as being beyond thought. Rather than seek a divine light, embracing darkness is recommended – the via negativa.
I'm no longer so big on embracing Nothing. I still love the notion of emptiness, of becoming a receptive vessel that can be filled with truth, happiness, knowledge, and other good stuff (including money).
However, the notion that there's a Nothing on the other side of Everything – Christians would call this "God," Taoists "Wu Chi" – maybe this is just a meaningless concept lacking any foundation in reality. People who want to make money don't ask, "What is the ineffable source of wealth?"
They just invest. Not in nothing, but in something. Hoping to get more of it: something.
...The ultimate questions of life basically are answered (or ignored) by "Things are what they are; the universe is what it is." That's real spiritual index investing.
Why atheists are more "spiritual" than religious believers (November 2014)
Maybe this statement seems paradoxical to you: I feel more genuinely spiritual now that I've stopped believing in God. But it makes good sense to me. Here's the main reason why.
I no longer feel special.
Virtually every religion and spiritual path considers that its adherents have a special relationship with God or whatever other supernatural entity they believe in.
There are so many chosen people on Earth, they vastly outnumber the unchosen, the non-special group I'm pleased to be a part of.
I understand that feeling special has its own delights.
In my case, I was a member of an India-based spiritual organization which taught that those approved for initiation by the guru had been "marked" to return to God/heaven after a karma-cleansing meditation process.
For about 35 years I embraced the enjoyable belief that, out of all the billions of people on this planet, I was one of a relative few who were the special beloveds of the supreme being.
Of course, devout Christians, Jews, and Muslims feel the same way, along with countless believers in other theological belief systems.
Eventually I started to realize that all the talk I was hearing about being "humble servants of the Lord and the guru" was, to put it bluntly, a crock of shit. Genuine humility wasn't much to be seen among devotees of my spiritual organization.
Since members of this group were told over and over that they've been singled out by a higher power to learn cosmic truths and experience realms of reality not available to other human beings, naturally a pervading sense of "tribal" pride was evident throughout the organization.
We were the cool kids in the spiritual lunch room. Other faiths were inferior, since they didn't have the direct connection to God we did.
I'm happy that this form of egotism has been discarded.
Sure, I've still got lots of other self-centered tendencies rattling around in my psyche, as we all do. But to get rid of The Big One, a belief that God had chosen me to be his best buddy for eternity, whereas my infidel wife wasn't going to get the same afterlife prize -- this increased my humility quotient by a lot.
Now I don't expect that I'm going to have any different sort of afterlife anyone else does. Namely, I strongly suspect, none at all.
I also don't expect that there is any power guiding my life which isn't also directing the lives of every other entity on Earth.
Thus I've embraced a sort of "index fund" approach to spirituality.
Meaning, I don't try to beat the market. I don't assume that I have any special knowledge, any special talent, any special relationship with reality. Whatever laws of nature apply to everybody else, I'm content with.