some thoughts on organized religion – past and present – and the spiritual impulse in humans – part three

Now, let us turn to spirituality.

spiritual impulse, spiritual dimension of man

There is a hunger, a need in humans, that for many is not satisfied or fulfilled by this structure and practice of religion.  It is as though the Creator left a mark on our souls, or planted a seed in them.  There is a hunger in man for spiritual experience.  Many of us do not recognize this need as such.  But, there is a spiritual component of man.  Many people will deny this.  There is a spiritual yearning deep in our souls for the spiritual.  One sees expression of this in almost all cultures in various forms.  This is why worldly experiences and possessions are not ultimately fulfilling to us.  These cannot satisfy our spiritual needs.

spiritual component and the problem of the human condition

The human condition presents a problem to the spirit soul.  The soul is encased, imprisoned in the physical, material flesh.  The human condition is limiting to the soul that desires freedom from the physical limitations and constraints.

The body, that 2 edged sword, that is and can be a source of much sensual pleasure (as in passionate sex, hearing beautiful music, eating delicious meals, drinking fine wine, etc.) can also be and is a source of much pain (through injuries, sickness, disease, infirmity, etc.).  I read an account some years ago that a spiritually conscious man, one who did not identify with the physical body, who was suffering terrible physical health issues told the doctors that he was not suffering, it was the body that was suffering.  He did not identify with the body.  A person can transcend, move past, the identification with her/his physical body.

Some people turn to drugs and/or to excessive use of alcohol to dull their emotional or psychological pain.  This is self-destructive behavior.  This takes individuals in the wrong direction.

the physical body

Before we proceed, it is important to remark that the body is a vehicle of consciousness, not the source of consciousness.  One again, many will disagree with this.  (If bodily death were merely the cessation of consciousness, what then would there be to fear?  It is not like you would be there (be aware) to witness or experience the state of being dead!  Fear of death appears to me to be the fear of the unknown, the anxiety caused by being ignorant of what comes next.  Of course, for some the fear is of hell-fire.)

Do not reject or despise the flesh (as some ascetics do) – but do not make a false god out of sensual pleasure.  A healthy balance is necessary.  (Being a married householder is not an obstacle to achieving spirituality.  Working in the real world, as opposed to living in a monastery or a cloistered convent, does not prevent one from making progress and growing spiritually.)

You can enjoy the body without too closely identifying yourself with it.  The real you is your spirit soul, that will one day depart the physical body.  Striking a balance and avoiding the extremes (of asceticism and hedonism) are helpful.

spiritual experience and spiritual level of consciousness

A spiritual level of consciousness can be thought of as the broader perspective one gets from recognizing one’s true identity as a spirit soul.  (Stick with me, this is not obscurantist prose.)  One no longer identifies with the body.  This larger perspective can be cultivated purposely in one’s thinking.  One comes across the term transcendental in much spiritual literature.  And, this term is appropriate as one’s consciousness and thinking transcends the basic, physical world mentality we all have and seem to be born with.  Another term is self-realization.  This is when the individual fully realizes that he is a spirit soul and is not his body.

For those rather rare individuals that achieve authentic spiritual experiences, it is easy to have the spiritual level of consciousness.  In fact, authentic spiritual experiences are transformative in nature.  One really is transformed by these and there is no returning to the earlier, less developed state of thinking.  A genuine spiritual experience will give you a spiritual level of consciousness.

With the experience, one abruptly attains to a spiritual level of consciousness.  But, can this level of consciousness be achieved without having a spiritual experience?  I think for many it can be attained.  Consciously reminding oneself during each day that this gross, material world is not all there is, that we are not our bodies, but are spirit souls is helpful.  Frequent prayer, brief meditation 2 or 3 times each week, even reflecting on this while walking or gardening or doing every day mundane activities can all help us to remember that our bodies (and bodily experiences) are not the end all and be all of our existence.

Sri Aurobindo (1872 – 1950) wrote of consciousness descending into matter, into the material plane, and now needing to ascend back to the spiritual plane or level.

Be fully in the present moment (as in zen), yes, but you do not have to live for the present moment.  One can work, moment by moment, to develop a spiritual level of consciousness.

Are austerities necessary?  For some individuals, perhaps.  Does one have to be ascetic (celibate, etc.) to have a spiritual experience or to achieve a spiritual level of consciousness?  I think not, but we can avoid the extremes.  Spirituality can be experienced in the lives of married householders.  Balance and moderation are necessary. A certain degree of detachment in one’s outlook is helpful, perhaps necessary.  We, our souls, are encased in a physical body (a vehicle of consciousness).  That in itself is not an evil thing!  Passionate, sexual love within a loving marriage does not need to be an obstacle or impediment to growing spiritually.  (Those that have a negative view of sexual love within marriage are either celibate and have no experience of it, or are personally bitter from a failed marriage.  Terrible injury to our understanding in the Western world has been done by such individuals in the past.)  Ascetic renunciation and mortification of the flesh are not really necessary.  Spirituality is open to all.  But, let me stress again:  do not go to the other extreme and make a false god out of sense gratification.  Be able to retain a certain detachment from this world so you are not blinded by its attractions and distractions.  Do not over indulge in life’s joys, nor become overly attached to these, and lose sight of the larger picture.  And, do strive to live a moral life.

To achieve a spiritual level of consciousness, I think, requires a certain humility.  And, some conscious, ongoing effort.  But, such a level of consciousness helps a person to overcome that limiting selfishness and self-centeredness that humans have.

The intuition is important.  The reasoning, rational part of our mind has its limitations (even if we are reluctant to admit this to ourselves).  That is why knowledge can only take a person so far.  Love is important.

There is a benefit here, I think, even if we will have to live out many lifetimes and face and meet many challenges and hardships over those lifetimes.  The higher the consciousness and broader the perspective we attain can help us to live more constructive, loving lives. The only thing we can take with us when we leave this earth – and the reality is that we all have a life sentence in this world and there is only one exit from this world for every one of us – is the sum, the distillation of what we have done and what we have achieved in terms of growth and development.  It would be to our advantage to take with us a higher level of consciousness.

It is difficult to maintain a spiritual perspective in the daily grind of our hectic, pressured filled lives.  It is not easy.  That is why some conscious effort is needed.  As well, I am not going to say that it is so easy to develop your love for God.  It takes continuing effort.  Here is where a more spiritual outlook can help.  From such a perspective, one is not so overwhelmed by the pains and problems of this hellish world that are such a distraction.

But, beware of New Age nonsense – true spirituality is God-focused, or God-centered.  Our souls come from God, not from mother earth.  We humans are not gods.  Beware of counterfeit spirituality.

the mystic way

What of those individuals through the centuries and from diverse religious backgrounds who have had spiritual experiences?  It seems in every generation there are those individuals that are more sensitive, more open to the whisperings of the spirit.

Those who are on fire with spiritual bliss, spiritual experience, and see things from a spiritual level of consciousness naturally see the interconnectedness of us all.  Thus, they do not harm others.  The specifics of the moral code are unnecessary for these rare individuals because they are driven (motivated) by love, not by selfishness.  Those who have spiritual experiences are able to see beyond creeds and dogma – and tell us of God’s love.

In contrast to visions of hell-fire (noted in part one of this essay), many mystics (from various religious backgrounds) tell us of God’s all-encompassing, all-embracing love.  The kind of love we do not and cannot experience here in this flawed/fallen world.  A trick of their subconscious?  What is remarkable when one reads accounts of mystical, spiritual experiences is the consistency of these across cultures and through the many centuries. Should we be surprised by this?  We are taught to believe that God loves us and that we are all His children.

The experience (call it samadhi, call it what you will) as described by mystics is all encompassing.  A mystic may find that she/he feels connected with everything else in the universe.  A feeling of oneness, completeness, and love permeates these experiences.  In a sense, one might say that these deep, powerful spiritual experiences are a more intense, direct and immediate experience of God’s presence in a mystic’s life – a form of spiritual communion with God.

One recalls the passages from the Bhagavad-Gita (roughly translates as the Song of the Lord) when Krishna showed his true universal form to Arjuna.  This dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna took place on a battlefield (where men no doubt were dying in large numbers).  Arjuna was a warrior and possessed courage.  Yet, he experienced much fear and awe to look upon God.

We quote from Chapter Eleven, texts 12 and 13:

If hundreds of thousands of suns were to rise at once into the sky, their radiance might resemble the effulgence of the Supreme Person in that universal form.

At that time Arjuna could see in the universal form of the Lord the unlimited expansions of the universe situated in one place although divided into many, many thousands.

Similarly, in the domes of old Byzantine Christian churches one often sees Christ depicted (in mosaic or fresco) as the Pantocrator, or all-powerful, ruler of all (or Lord of the universe).

It appears that not everyone can have these experiences.  Potentially, all could – but many are not open to the experience, are much too busy with worldly concerns, and too distracted to be interested.  The spark to encourage the quest is not there for those individuals.  This is also the case with achieving a more spiritual level of consciousness. Many people have no interest nor desire in working for it.

organized religion

In a way, organized religions, being as these are “greater vehicles” open to everyone, are not able to easily offer a spiritual path, but instead are ethical paths, some even excessively so.  The Vedic philosophy talks of 3 principal levels (“gunas” I think is the term) of consciousness in people.  At the highest level, people are motivated by goodness.  The next level (below goodness) is that of passion.  Such people are passionate and energetic.  Most people are at the lowest level of the 3.  These are described as being “asleep” or (spiritually) ignorant – the spark of interest in the spiritual is dormant in them.  It is difficult to motivate these people or to reach them as they are primarily concerned only with satisfying the bodily appetites (often to excess) and pursuing sense gratification.  The structure and practice of organized religion is definitely needed by these people.

Does organized religion, with its communal, social consensus worship, and its fellowship, its sacraments, its rituals, its ethical codes, etc. facilitate or hinder the raising of an individual to a spiritual level of consciousness?

We are not suggesting to readers that they abandon the practice of their religion.  Just be aware that religion does not provide all the answers, and it does not satisfy all our needs. And, be aware that there have been abuses with organized religion.

For me, some organized religions have a distorted view or flawed understanding of God. God is not a tribal god – He is the God of all of us.  We need an understanding of God, a concept of God, that unites us and not one that divides us and gives rise to hatred, violence and bloodshed.

Yes, we need creeds of belief and ethical codes of conduct, but many of us need more in our lives.

We need to grow and develop spiritually – to evolve spiritually to a stage or state beyond hate, beyond envy, and beyond sorrow.

My suggestion is for individuals to strive to live a loving life.  Our lives will likely be evaluated on how much we loved God and one another.  (Recall Jesus’ 2 commandments.) It is not easy, but make the ongoing effort.  Do not expect to be loved in return.  We are in an unloving world.

concluding thoughts

In the  modern Western world, we seem to be obsessed with knowledge.  Yet, we as humans have more than just a rational part of our consciousness.

Knowledge (jnana) alone does not purify the consciousness.  Devotion (bhakti, love) is needed.

We all have a life sentence in this world.  There is only one exit from this world for each of us.  Let us make the effort to become more loving, more spiritually aware individuals.  Let us see the immortal soul (a particle of God) in the others around us, even if they are not spiritually aware, even if they are, at present, incapable of seeing what we see.  (Let us even see the immortal soul housed in the horribly mangled, deformed body of a child with severe birth defects.)  Let us be an example of love and compassion to them.

If I fall short of the goal, perhaps at least some of you will reach it (I certainly hope so).  Let us at least try.

This essay is meant to stimulate thinking.  A person can make the effort to move towards a more spiritual perspective.  Such a perspective can also help one to cope better with the never ending challenges and problems of every day living in these times.

As the soul, the atman, is immortal it is forever young.  Who can say with certainty what the future will be for us spirit souls?  Forever is a very long time.  It is possible that there will be future assignments, future tests and opportunities for growth.  A spiritual perspective – developed in this lifetime – may be of help to us in the future.  (God may raise the bar, so to speak, in the future.  It seems the bar is raised at times even in the current life.)

For the interested reader, we include a link to our Sat Chit Ananda essay.  This is written from a Vedic perspective and can serve as food for thought.  (One can learn from other religions without having to convert to these.)

Here are the links to the 2 previous parts of this essay.

Thanks for reading.  If this has been helpful to you, then share this essay with a friend.

Flowers in full blossom.  The soul – when it grows and matures and blossoms in love –  is beautiful as well.


flowers at parents house 4


Copyright 2014 –

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