“Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of their being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.”Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop an individual's inner life; such practices are alleged to lead to an experience of connectedness with a larger reality, yielding a more comprehensive self; with other individuals or the human community; with nature or the cosmos; or with the divine realm. For some, spirituality is experienced as a source of inspiration or orientation in life. It can encompass belief in immaterial realities or experiences of the immanent or transcendent nature of the world.”
This is the definition of spirituality according to Wikipedia. I think it does the subject justice and reflects my own early thoughts about the meaning of the word.
I decided to do this Hub because someone asked me to explain why I thought we need ego when it is the antithesis of spirituality and the root of all evil. I hope this answers that question.
When I was a young man I considered myself very spiritual. I was looking for god and my place in the scheme of things. I studied many religions both western and eastern. I came to believe in a cosmic consciousness which I was sure I was part of.
All philosophies and teachings about spirituality tell us we have to purify ourselves and improve ourselves. One of the main things I came to think I needed to focus on was breaking down my ego. The literature tells you this and you feel it in the sense that you come to realize that ego gives you false pride and biases. Insults can make you angry and even violent. Teenagers know this better than anyone.
So being a typical teen I was full of confusion and anger for often no apparent reason. I was also often unhappy and didn’t feel good in my own skin. I devised ways to break my ego. I would gather friends around me who knew me well and talked them into telling me my faults as well as insult me. The idea was that they hit as many nerves as possible. This was not an easy task at first. They were my friends after all, so they didn’t want to say things just to hurt me. But after a while they understood what I wanted to do. I wanted to see myself as others saw me. I wanted to break down my ego so nothing could touch me. I wanted to be like a calm lake even in the midst of a storm.
It worked to the degree that no matter what anyone said to me, no matter how they insulted me I could allow it all to run off my back. But I discovered I was just using a technique to dull my emotions. They were still there. My ego was still there but fewer and fewer things could shake the calm I was developing. I didn’t want to be emotionless but I did want to remove all negative emotion. I learned that the way we look at things is often the issue. If I had an inner conflict it was because I did not understand the situation. So understanding seemed to be the key.
I learned techniques in meditation that are designed to bring you to a state of understanding. Some involve cooling your body temperature to the point where you lose all feeling that you have a body. It is known as sensory deprivation. When you reach the state thought is shut out and awareness becomes pure and non-judgmental. The key is to stop all conscious thought. It’s difficult to do to say the least. You have to quiet your inner dialogue to the point where it stops completely. You are completely quiet within. I have come to call it a state of non-thought. At first it was impossible, but gradually I discovered that the state was tied to will. The more you consciously want it the less likely you are to get there, Rather you have to channel your will. You feel it in the pit of your stomach. Once you can focus your will without thought or desire, the state just happens.
In the state you feel as if you just know. You are just aware, seeing without judging. You understand without thinking about what it is you understand. You feel a unity and a bliss. The feeling is like coming home and understanding that this is your original state. From here you can have out of body experiences. But the danger is always conscious thought. As soon as an inner dialogue begins the state collapses and you find yourself back in your body. It’s not a nice feeling as the techniques are hard on the body. I generally had to recover for a day or so before trying again. I found that doing psychotropic drugs in rather large quantities sped up the process and enhanced it, but they ended up taking a much higher toll of my body when it was all over, so I stopped that practice.
When you are out of the state you can of course remember it vividly and begin to dissect the experience. The one thing I discovered after achieving this state several times was that in my conscious state I knew no more than I did before the experiences. I was not getting real knowledge or understanding. I was just getting the feeling of total understanding without being able to later explain, even to myself, what I understood. But it was, as I said, a blissful state. That’s what I was after. Death might well have been the result of success but I was willing to take the risk if I could reach complete enlightenment and merge with god.
I wondered if there was a way for me to stay in that state, and realized it was almost impossible to do so and function as a human being. But I was determined to try. I believed my soul was what I was trying to liberate from my conditioning. Not only did ego, inner dialogue and desire need to be broken down, my very conditioning, both environmental and genetic had to go.
I knew about levitation and thought that I could achieve it through a state of non-thought and a focusing of will in my solar plexus, exactly as I had achieved the other states. I began to dream about it and soon I was able to do it at will in my dreams using that method, and still can and do at times. But I could not achieve it in reality no matter what state I reached mentally. One might think levitation is just a parlour trick and not important. But my failure to achieve it was troubling for me because it started to point to something I was a bit afraid of.
The one thing I knew was that there is a unity to all things. I wanted to be part of it and in doing so be part of god, or go back to god or the cosmic consciousness as so many religions put it. But I needed to know it was all real. So I continued. I isolated myself in the forest a few months thinking I could accomplish more in complete isolation..
Eventually I found myself being more and more in a state of non-thought without trying and without realizing it. I was giving myself up to the “cosmic consciousness” and losing self. At one point I looked into the mirror and did not recognize or relate to what I saw there. That wasn’t me. I no longer really existed. When friends came to where I was staying I found I began to be unable to communicate with them or string more than two sentences together. But I was getting no closer to god or the liberation of my soul. Instead of bliss, emptiness began to engulf me. It was time to come back.
The more I tried coming back the worse my state of mind became and the worse the emptiness inside me became. I had never had nightmares before but now I was beginning to dread going to sleep. Not from visions in my dreams, the dreams were not frightening. It was the emotions that dreams brought out, the emptiness and the dread I felt for no apparent reason. I had to re-teach myself to read and write and talk to people. I had gone way too far.
Over the next year or two I progressed slowly, but eventually I began to be at peace again. It wasn’t until much later that I read a quote by an unwilling Indian guru and understood someone else had had my experience, or at least that they explained it perfectly.
U. G Krishnamurti:"If you have the courage to touch life for the first time, you will never know what hit you. Everything man has thought, felt and experienced is gone, and nothing is put in its place."
Indeed, it is one thing to imagine a state of bliss and to achieve it. But go beyond it where only the foolish tread, and there is nothing. Ego is gone. Desire is gone. Thought is gone. Even that feeling of just knowing and just being is gone. More importantly, self is gone and there is nothing put in its place.
The reason my inability to levitate had bothered me so much was that it pointed to the possibility that all my experiences were only in my head. Though my experiences had been magical and spiritual in the extreme at first, in the end I might as well have been dead. I couldn’t do anything in that state to help myself let alone mankind or the totality. But that wasn’t the only thing that convinced me. Dr Persinger of Laurentian U in Ontario Canada did experiments with EM and sensory deprivation in the 1970s. His experiments showed that just by manipulating the brain with EM he could extract profound religious experiences in his subjects. He could also make them have intense sexual experiences all in their mind, or talk to demons, gods, angels and aliens as if those entities were standing in front of them. He also found that people would experience talking to someone they had met while waiting in his hall. Obviously they were not talking to that person. It was all in their head.
Having experienced drugs and the effect they can have on the brain it is not surprising that Persinger found what he did. It is my contention, having experienced the most profound religious experiences that anyone could, having experienced out of body and altered states of consciousness, that when the brain is dead, so is the self. There is no waking up dead. NDE is the last attempt the brain makes to beat death. The brain’s prime function is to keep the system alive at all costs. But it has developed to the point where it believes it is the part of us that must survive, and so it has created for us the idea of gods that can be petitioned and a soul that can beat death.
I’m not saying the spiritual quest is a complete dead end. I’m saying you can go too far. I could have lived happy thinking I was experiencing reality in my state of semi perpetual bliss. I could have rented myself out as a guru or spiritual teacher. But like U.G I realized I had nothing to teach and what I did have to teach no one wants. No one on a spiritual quest wants to find out they are on the wrong track. I was wrong about everything.
I realized it is all brain. The brain can do amazing things, including creating a reality for us of our choosing. But that reality does not always correspond to actual reality. You need self to survive and function. You need to discern and judge. Humans have a function. That being to dissect, process, store and pass on information. You need some positive ego. You need some desire. What you do not need is vanity and false pride. What we do not need is greed or a desire to cause harm. What we need is empathy/love and believe it or not, that can only come through ego.
It is possible to achieve many interesting and enlightening states. But they are for personal growth, not to live in on their own. They show a unity in all things in a personal way, rather than just as something we know is a fact through science. And those are valuable things to learn. You can also learn to control emotions and ego within yourself instead of falling to them. You can learn to learn about yourself by standing outside yourself and observing situations. By doing so you can also guide yourself from a third party vantage point. Use everything in your quest without falling to anything.
I also learned that we cannot completely rid ourselves of conditioning. We merely re-condition ourselves. We can, however, improve ourselves and the main reason to do so is to feel good about ourselves. I discovered that there is no such thing as a selfless act. One cannot act without self, and that idea has meaning on several levels. But I also learned that suffering teaches only one thing: the way out of suffering. If you do something that makes you feel bad about yourself, righting it is the way to feel good again. We suffer because there is something not right with ourselves. It may be our actions or our thinking. But once understood existential suffering can be stopped permanently.
But one of the most important things I learned was to believe nothing. At first I thought it was just a way to avoid the hurt of being wrong. But then I discovered more to it. It liberates you. Believing nothing at all allows you to know and at the same time to admit what you don’t know. To believe in a speculative idea is not wise. To believe in a fact is redundant. To believe is irrelevant. To know is the killer of faith. To admit you don’t know is the first step in finding out. Faith is not required and can be dangerous. Isn’t that just a little different from what we are taught?
When I discovered science I became a materialist and an atheist. But spirituality in the sense, not of a separate soul, but of a connection with all things persisted. I realized that we never go back to the totality or re-merge with god, we never left it. This is it. The real magic is not in making things happen with the mind alone, it is in being able to reach out our hand and manipulate the world through cause and effect. Understanding cause and effect gives personal power.
I realized that I am part of the process of existence and as such have the most intimate and personal connection with the “god-state.” A relationship more fulfilling then any religion can imagine. We are not gods but we are the process of existence. We live it. We live god. How much more personal can you get? To me it is much more personal than a conscious separate god could ever be. Yet people do not see materialism that way. Why? Because they don’t understand what it can be.
In the late 1990s I helped Paul Harrison create Scientific Pantheism, and in a sense my spiritual quest had come to fruition. Since then I have watched Naturalist, Scientific and Rational Pantheism grow and watched others find a redefined spiritualism in atheism and materialism.
Even though there is no life after death as an individual, we know through science that what we are cannot be destroyed and goes on forever as part of other systems. We know that the chains of cause and effect we influence and create go on forever. And that’s how it should be. I am willing to give up this I upon death for the totality because that’s how it all works. And that makes every life and every I precious because they are unique and will never be again. The idea is to live life, resolve your inner conflicts and thereby help others to do the same through your relationships with them. It’s all part of the process, and we serve the process whether we know it or not with everything we do. We can do nothing but serve god because there is nothing but god. God, of course, being a metaphor for the process of existence; the nature of energy/matter.
In the spiritual quest you have to want only one thing: Truth. No matter what it turns out to be. Even if it is something you don’t want to know. And then you have to accept it. So once again I leave you with a word from U.G.
“God or enlightenment is the ultimate pleasure, uninterrupted happiness. No such thing exists. Your wanting something that does not exist is the root of your problems. Transformation, moksha, liberation, and all that stuff, are just variations of the same theme: permanent happiness. The body can't take uninterrupted pleasure for long; it would be destroyed. Wanting to impose a fictitious permanent state of happiness on the body is a serious neurological problem.” -- U.G.
Stay hungry for truth.
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