Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Seeking direct spiritual experience in our major religions

A very small number of devoted Taoists seek direct spiritual experience, same for Buddhists, same for Muslims (they are called Sufis), but Christians don’t. Why? Wasn’t it true that Jesus got his Enlightenment in the Wilderness before he preached Christianity?

In Christianity, Jesus’ Enlightenment is called Temptation of Christ as appeared in the Gospels of Mathew, Mark and Luke. According to these texts, after being baptized, Jesus fasted for forty days and nights in the Judean Desert. During this time, Satan appeared to Jesus and tempted him. Jesus having refused each temptation, Satan departed and angels came and brought nourishment to Jesus.

Direct spiritual experience comes from meditation and fasting. As the theory goes, when our body approached the condition of near death, our spirit will be free from the domination of our physical body. A feeling of Enlightenment or spirituality will appear. And with it, a condition of reinterpreting our life (or the lives of humanity) becomes possible. The birth of a new personality therefore becomes a possible reality. Needless to say this route to enlightenment is highly formidable, the details and difficulties of which however are not subject matter of this article.

An interesting question: what is the nature of this new personality?

In Sufism, this new personality is a total loss of human personality in complete service of Allah. In Taoism, this new personality is a total dissolution of dichotomy between Yin (- ) and Yang (+), or be at one with Tao. In Buddhism, it is to become a Buddha. In short, in all cases, there is no more human personality as such. But then how is it relevant to us as human beings? How is direct spiritual experience having any relevancy to religion and to our lives?

The relevancy lies in the fact that when the old is discarded, there arises the possibility to create a new one.  It is not a super human personality, but a new and better personality of our choice, assuming that we are going to choose a better rather than a worse one! The state of Enlightenment gives us a possibility and an opportunity. It does not guarantee a solution, and it does not guarantee progress! A person can choose to become a kinder person (and suffer more) or he can choose to become a more selfish person (and enjoy more).

A possible side-effect of direct spiritual experience is that fragments of spiritual/personality entity, when allowed to surface, might seek to identify itself with the meditator. His personality likewise might identify with such entity. The best outcome will be lower level of spiritual enlightenment (assuming such entities are benevolent, which further assuming that the practitioner is under a trusting master/student relationship with his master), while the worse scenario will be the onset of psychosis (which have a higher chance of onset for some personalities and for all personalities without the aforementioned assumptions).

Taoists meditation texts always warned against such identification. The reason is that Taoist deep meditation aims at the highest level of Enlightenment rather than identification with minor entities. The general advice is during deep meditation, a meditator will be advised that he will see many good and bad spiritual figures, but these figures are only fantasies, therefore the meditators should not identify with anyone of these, even if some are benevolent figures. In Tibetan Buddhism, a novice practitioner will choose a good Buddhist figure for his personality identification initially, for speedier progress. But after such identification is complete, the practitioner will need to discard such identification and enter the stage of total void or highest level of enlightenment.

In the lingo of Jungian psychology, the route to direct spiritual experience is the route to make conscious the darker side of our personality. Jung as psychologist was not so much interested in the final result of Enlightenment (which in psychological terms can simply mean acceptance of our inevitable destination of death). He was more interested in the route towards near death. Our hidden human nature stored within our subconscious, be that experience hidden in this life or important experience ingrained into our psyche from thousands of years of evolution will be surfaced. And Jung put himself on the line by going into deep meditation himself, focusing on the not-always-pleasant psychic reality thereby unfolded, reported them and studied them! His journey was documented in his Red Book which he and his heirs hesitated to publish for years, not until recently by his granddaughter.
In Muslim, Buddhism and Taoism, there are many ways of spirituality other then direct spiritual experience. Slower ways but safer. More appropriate for the majority of believers. In other words, direct spiritual experience is the exception rather than the norm. For the bravest and most devoted, like Jung who puts himself on the line.

The way of slow enlightenment is for a religious teacher to choose the right way for his students. He lays down precepts upon which his students will follow. And upon following such precepts, a new, and better, personality can gradually materialize. The final result is as good as the speedier method of deep meditation. Slower but without its possible negative side effects.

In Christianity, Jesus chose the way. He is God and human in one single persona. There is no need to seek for direct spiritual experience; the road is here: loud and clear. A believer only needs to follow Jesus’ road (which inevitably will be interpreted and reinterpreted by Christian leaders of all ages). The good thing is, since direct spiritual experience is a double-edged sword, Christianity is safer way for most people wishing to become a better person - to fight against our in-born selfishness (which is essential for animal survival) or to fight against our original sin. 


1 comment:

  1. Meditation and health
    Increases happiness. Scientists at the University of Wisconsin reported that people newly trained in meditation have shown an increase in electrical activity in the left frontal part of the brain, an area associated with positive emotion and happiness.
    Boosts the immune system. In the same study, meditators also showed a significant increase in immunity to the flu.
    Enhances memory and attention. A study at Massachusetts General Hospital found that parts of the brain’s cerebral cortex were thicker in people who had practiced meditation daily for just 40 minutes for several years. The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that deals with attention and processing sensory input and tends to thin with age.
    Reduces the physical pain, anxiety, and stress of fibromyalgia. A study published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics showed sustained benefits over a three year period in a group of women who had taken an eight-week course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
    Lowers blood pressure. A 2004 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology showed meditation can lower blood pressure and mortality rates in older people with hypertension.
    Helps alleviate mild to moderate anxiety and depression. Researchers at the University of Louisville found that mindfulness meditation alleviates depression in women with fibromyalgia.
    Increases alertness. University of Kentucky researchers found that sleepy people who meditated for 40 minutes did better on a test of mental quickness than people who had taken a 40-minute nap.
    Helps control binge eating. A study at Indiana State University found that obese women who practiced mindfulness meditation had an average of four fewer binge-eating episodes a week than before they took up the practice. Mindfulness can help bingers recognize when they want to overeat and lower the odds that they will.
    Helps lower blood sugar: Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles showed that patients were able to lower their blood pressure, blood sugar and insulin by practicing transcendental meditation.


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