Sunday, July 21, 2013

Spirituality East and West

Spirituality East and West, or rather spirituality traditional East and modern West. Being educated and brought up within both East and West culture, I always find this subject fascinating, therefore when the publisher of the new title Travels in Elysium invited me to do a review for their new book, I agreed immediately. This book revealed a certain inner journey of New Age spiritual seekers in the West.

What kind of spirituality are we talking about here? Why some people in the West still have foundamental spiritual problems? Aren't they satisfied with organized religions like Christianity manifested in highly organized structures and systems? Aren't prayers based on faith good enough for one's spiritual encounter?

The gist of the matter is some people seek for direct spiritual experience. And direct spiritual experience always went against authorities of absolute power in the past (as they were always being absolute in the past), be it dominant organized religions or country-wide secular governments. Persecutions happened in the West, also in the East. Many of these practices therefore had become extinct.

For example in Dynasty China Zen Buddhism has lost its inner spiritual practice after its six Patriarch. The White Lotus Buddhist healers had always been target of persecution, and some of them ended up in uprisings with tragic endings to the rebels. In milder cases of persecution (without uprisings but being "uncovered" by the authority), the leaders were beheaded, the followers spared, and the groups disbanded. No wonder Taoists in the past preferred practicing at secluded places among the mountains (Some New Age Taoists nowadays even believe that such mountains got mythical power and rebuild similar enclaves in their place of practice seeking for divine connection and mythical power. Myth has no end!). And I do not need to elaborate persecutions in the West, the information of which is readily available over the internet.

In the West, everything has been lost in person, if not in writing too. Recently I encountered, in the internet, a revival of an old Western religious practice. The guru admitted in his website that nobody in their organization is lineage student of the traditional practice of the same name. I further checked up his credential, it showed that he claimed himself being a registered instructor of tai-chi. Not to say that the practice of tai chi is having any impact on his spiritual practice, but it is close enough to forge a connection!

Seekers of spiritual connectedness do seek practical tools from Eastern practices of Taoist, Tibetan or Hindu origin. The problem however remains that most of these practices cannot be separated from their, oftentimes very strong, religious beliefs. Taoists practice is perhaps the only exception, because many of the Taoist techniques are not guru-based, and do not require the establishment of a spiritual figure for spiritual modeling or identification (the details of which will be beyond the scope this post).

New age spiritual seekers of a personal encounter orientation also seek help from modern psychology, in particular of psycho-analytic tradition. Although classical psycho-analysis of Freud failed to elicit spiritual followers, neo-Freudians like Carl Jung had elicited much insight, and bred many followers (like some neo-Jungians wholeheartedly embracing past life (or lives) experience as healing tools). Recently a popular tool that New age spiritual seekers is hypnosis. The use of drugs has always been an option nowadays and in the past, needless to say always with more negative effects than positive ones. Last but not, reinterpretation of Western classics or arcane, and oftentimes almost incomprehensible, publications of magic or occult experience (the internal authenticity of most can never be substantiated), which I believe is the longest shot.

The book Travels in Elysium touched on some of the above, and is a rare publication on this subject matter. Therefore I found it very disappointing to see the author failed to deliver an easily readable book and ended up with one more like a failed Indiana Jones than a book on a serious subject. Unless you are very interested in the subject matter, you won't find the book an easy nor enjoyable read. If you are still interested to see what it is like, please read my review HERE. I gave the book a three-star out of five, for its interesting subject matter only.

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