Spiritual and Religious Experience

             Varieties and aspects of spiritual and religious experience

 

ARTICLES:

Our Souls Cannot Live Our Professed Values

For What Purpose Liberation?          Four Tiers of Happiness

Why God Needs Our Understanding          Delicate is the Love of God

Ego Strength          Different Forms of God          Love and Fear

Liberated Conscience          Blessing or Temptation

Ignorance, Innocence, Purity          Dichotomies

 

Our Souls Cannot Live Our Professed Values

Almost all of us lament the difficult conditions of the world, those that cause and maintain human tragedy and suffering. This attitude is laudable, reflecting beliefs that value others and wants what is best for them. And, one can observe these values being translated into actions in which those in need are given assistance. Yet the sad truth is that social problems born of hatred, greed, and envy have plagued the human race for millennia and continue to do so to this day. Compounding this problem is everyone’s tendency to claim they do not act in a destructive manner, that they are the ones that value and care about others; rather it is others who do not behave compassionately and constructively. This begs the question, how has it come to be this way, and why does it persist in this fashion?

The answer lies with our souls, that spiritual part of ourselves that is the best of us that reflects the Divine, our God. Holding our good heart filled with love, and our caring virtues, it gives us our life affirming values. The soul in us acts lovingly kind, generous, and altruistic enabling us to give to others, without prejudice and without concern for self. It is of noble wisdom and intent. And when it can, it acts in ways that bring forward the best in human beings, and goodness enters the world. However it cannot do this consistently because of forces in the world that separate us from our true selves, and so from one another. This challenge to goodness and world happiness is exacerbated by our tendency to deny our culpability in the matter. This complicity is not maliciously intended but stems from ignorance that what we do on our spiritual path is sufficient. We falsely believe that in time we will achieve significant personal change that will result in a positive impact on the world; and that until that time our small contributions have significant value. Let it suffice to say that these assumptions are invalid as evidenced by the fact that raised human consciousness, and the good that results, is losing in the race with tragic human inequality, global wars, and environmental destruction. The essentiality of time as a factor in the required change is minimized, and results in a complacency that replaces the commitment necessary for true change.

This denial, deeply woven into our existential consciousness, hinders the soul and must be replaced by a truth that can never be hidden. This verity can then support the soul in righteous ways necessary for it to become the dominant force in our character, and therefore in our world. It is only with this commitment to our souls that wisdom and faith can determine our behavior, making it consistent with the noble values we claim as our own, enabling the soul to consistently live those desperately needed values in the world.

Questions:

Describe in your own words spiritual aspect of your being (soul) and its relationship to your ego.

What beliefs and values do you ascribe to your soul?

What do you do when you notice the discrepancy between your actions and your spiritual values?

Do you believe the human race has evolved toward greater goodness over the course of history? Present the evidence for your opinion.

If you could change one characteristic of the human race what would it be?

*****

For What Purpose Liberation?

Regardless of one’s tradition, or of one’s condition on the spiritual journey, the objective is liberation. Whether called ego transcendence, self-realization, Christ consciousness, enlightenment, bodhisattva mind, Samadhi, or any number of other concepts, liberation means freeing one’s mind from the conditioned purely material and linear fashion in which one relates to the world. Everyone’s initial striving is to be themselves, throwing off the constraints of social and cultural conditioning to be one’s unique self. For many this actualization of self is their life’s work and goal, and it generally secures them a true happiness. Others hear the call of Spirit and seek transcendence of individuality, setting sights on being a transpersonal being, a soul that maintains a close relationship with God and may have certain spiritual powers. Their liberty comes from their worship and obedience to God, and the resulting faith that helps them persevere in all circumstances and lessens their suffering. And obstacles to true knowledge of the world and love are reduced. Still others find liberation in their identification with the Divine principle that permeates reality. In doing so their purpose is to embody Spirit in thought, feeling, and action. Being God’s extension into the world they live the paradox of complete freedom that comes from total surrender of oneself to the Divine with its wisdom, peace, and bliss. And their holiness serves as a model of the best of human nature and its destiny. And as a result all benefit.

To complicate matters further, this last example of liberation is different before and after biological death, and has implications for every practitioner regardless of level of spiritual development. Liberation awareness as we experience it in the world is only an approximation of the Divine, no matter how enlightened one is. It can be no other way, for any experience of the Divine when physically alive is a degraded, or lesser form of the unknowable and indefinable Absolute Reality or God. However, earthly realized awareness has relevance upon death because it shapes our experience as we return to the Absolute Reality. One’s spiritual awareness determines choices one makes as one moves through the “in-between” states that everyone traverses before returning to the Absolute Reality and/or accomplishing rebirth. These states can last for moments or eons, may be pleasant or horrific, and ultimately shape our experience in either the liberated state in the Absolute Reality or our rebirth. Not believing in rebirth, some believe these states are permanent and that one will reside in particular heavens or hells for eternity. Nevertheless all of these conditions are determined by our spiritual life in this world: the way it causes us to act in the “in-between” states, the nature and quality of rebirth, permanent existence in an afterlife, or liberation in the Absolute.

Considering the above ideas, pursuing liberation in this lifetime has more consequences for an individual then just living a pleasant life on earth being uniquely oneself, happy and securely peaceful, living as soul, and/or enlightened. It determines one’s death experience and the nature of the rebirth or afterlife one is given. Examining one’s means of, and reasons for practice become of utmost importance because one will either make good use of, or miss the opportunity to influence one’s eternal life. As humans we are given the right, and responsibility to make a righteous effort during life and through death, to add to the probability the Divine’s light of compassion and justice will shine favorably upon all of us for all eternity.

     Questions:

Liberation may be approached from either the seeking-striving or non-striving direct approach. What approach do you emphasize in your practice?

List the characteristics of awareness that you associate with liberation.

Surrender of one’s will to God/Spirit is emphasized as an essential component of liberation. How do you practice this?

Do you agree or disagree with the principle that liberation while alive on earth is different from liberation after bodily death? What is the rationale for your belief?

What do you believe occurs after biological death, an eventual rebirth or reincarnation, or eternal existence in an afterlife of some kind?

*****

Four Tiers of Happiness      

Most everyone wishes to feel love, peace, and joy: being loved as a member of a group, in relationship with another or the Divine; to feel peaceful because one is free of fear, secure in one’s being, and generally secure in life; and, to experience joy from fulfillment and having what one wants in the form of things, people, or events in one’s life. When living a lifestyle emphasizing personal growth and spirituality this happiness takes different forms depending on one’s primary psychospiritual condition at any given time (see article on this site, Overview of the Transmodern Spirituality Paradigm, https://noperfectom.com/overview-of-the-transmodern-spirituality-paradigm/). Awareness of these variations provides a means to monitor one’s wellbeing and progress, and can also assist one in avoiding insidious pitfalls inherent in the spiritual journey.

Whether just starting out in life or facing challenging problems in living, success defined by society and culture characterizes the first tier of happiness. This includes: accomplishing an improved degree of safety and inner security usually by remedying past psychological conditioning that has left one frightened, constricted and/or angry; securing the right friendships and a loving partner with whom one fits well; and, mastering oneself so one can act in one’s own best interest in all situations thereby achieving what one wants health wise, financially, materially, and interpersonally. A satisfaction with oneself and one’s life has been achieved.

With this success accomplished the second tier of happiness is initiated with a search for meaning, which gives purpose to one’s life. Now love has expanded to accepting oneself, not for being successful or perfect but for being one’s unique self, a whole being living the human condition with all its trials and tribulations. And because one acts from authenticity one makes better choices, resulting in more joy from achieving and/or securing what one wants in life, whether it be relationship, vocational success, spirituality, etc. In this tier, peace is security in oneself and in life. One has come to realize meaningful life resides in the pursuit of one’s dreams, not only in attaining them. One has also learned to not resist opposition to one’s efforts but to pursue the path that is welcoming. And because one remains absorbed in more meaningful activities, inevitable struggle does not steal joy or security because there is an attitude that all experience is life being lived fully and richly. This tier is the happiness of existential fulfillment.

Spirituality, and the accompanying radical change in one’s perspective on reality determine the happiness of the third tier. One’s identity is no longer strictly individual and independent but at times transpersonal. There are more experiences of unitive awareness in which one experiences being in union with other sentient beings and non-sentient objects. There is also a felt-attitude of nonattachment to outcome in the unfolding of life events. With this spiritual worldview there is greater acceptance of life as it is, one remains more present to the moment, less controlling, and experiences more peacefulness. Coupled with other philosophical tenets, e.g. immortality, one feels more secure in an unpredictable universe. Adding to this, but also singularly important is the decreased coveting of material objects or particular experiences. Less dependent on worldly materialism, joy arises from the existential fulfillment of sacred experience lived from the transpersonal identity. Additionally, change in the way one experiences love serves to improve the quality of peace and joy. Now there is a human-universal love for all sentient beings, with others’ behavior and character being less a determinant of loving feelings than in the previous tiers (which emphasize filial and romantic love). This change in love includes an increased altruism and service to others resulting in one feeling more liberated, further adding to one’s joy. Additionally, as part of the stronger transpersonal identity, one begins to experience fleeting times of divine unconditional love. These are moments in which everything seems perfect as it is, and they are characterized by a complete absence of fear. All of which further add to one’s love, peace, and joy at this tier. This is the quality of happiness granted to the earnest spiritual practitioner.

The forth tier of happiness may be succinctly described as nondual being of awakened-enlightened awareness. Identifying with the Source of all that exists, realizing oneself as both the Creator and the created, one knows oneself as both Consciousness and the worldly forms It creates. Love, peace, and joy are divinely unconditional with one experiencing universal perfection, absence of neurotic disturbance and suffering, and the complete liberation associated with sacrifice of self and service to others. One lives from a nondual cosmology of reality including, but not limited to timeless awareness and immortality (see Costeines, 2009). Life is Being (not doing) as one thinks (without thinking), feels (without feeling), acts (without acting). Strictly speaking one is love, one is peace, and one is joy.

These tiers have been described in the present manner to assist in assessing one’s psychospiritual condition and happiness, and to provide some basis to monitor one’s spiritual progress. There are two conceptual qualifications required for the best understanding and use of this information. First, though presented in levels, these forms of happiness may also be understood as holons, levels unto themselves but also simultaneously existing in the other levels to a lesser degree or as potential. This accounts for the variability of experience in which one may primarily reside in one level but at times experience qualities of another. Second, it must be remembered that these happiness levels are elements common to all human experience and that each one of us lives and expresses them in our own unique way and time. One’s circumstances, resources, values, worldview, and life goals determine these details.

By realizing that one’s awareness and behavior are in constant movement within and across these holons one is able to maintain the right perspective on one’s individual-transpersonal identity, character, and happiness. Just because for one moment, one day, or one week one was peaceful and loving toward others does not mean the next moment, day, or week one will be the same. This is the rule of thumb that “what goes up must come down” until a permanent enlightened personality change has occurred. Until then one must learn the personal and unique manner in which this fluctuation in happiness occurs. This is so one can efficiently re-establish the individual or transpersonal happiness of one’s sought after and/or dominant psychospiritual condition. This mandates monitoring, and then managing whether or not one’s choices and experiences contribute to losing, maintaining, or strengthening one’s happiness. This entails reflecting on the various ways in which love, peace, and joy are typically experienced and expressed in one’s life. And this requires discerning if happiness is primarily individual or transpersonal as determined by not only its form but also its motivation and objective. While actions may be similar, e.g. helping another, one’s motivation for doing so can vary, e.g. monetary gain versus spiritual practice without individual gain. This distinction is of utmost importance. Psychological practices are necessary for addressing challenges to one’s personal happiness while spiritual practices have different goals.

These levels of happiness may also be used to provide guidance in avoiding spiritual problems that arise when personal and spiritual happiness are confused, commonly experienced as spiritual bypassing and spiritual materialism. Spiritual bypassing is when one uses spirituality in a maladaptive manner to cope or heal psychologically. Some examples are: cultivating relationship with a deity to replace a relationship one has lost with one’s parents; using spiritual practices to manage one’s negative moods rather than psychologically resolving the dysphoria; explaining away adversity or hardship with a spiritual cliché like “it was meant to be”. Spiritual materialism is similar but differs in that one believes one is acting or progressing spiritually but in actuality is strengthening a materialistic lifestyle or worldview. Some examples are: classic ego inflation of concluding from several extraordinary human experiences that one is better than others; expecting spiritual practice to provide one a life free from adversity and pain, and complaining, feeling like a failure, becoming angry when this proves not to be true; and, believing one is able to materialize what one desires, attributing positive results to oneself, forgetting the Source/God is the Creator. Achieving psychological or materialistic goals with one’s spirituality, rather than practicing spiritually for spirituality’s sake, e.g. for service and/or altruistic, virtuous character, is the defining characteristic of these problems.

Reflection on these ideas while considering basic spiritual principles can enable one to avoid spiritual bypassing and materialism; and prevent these pitfalls from becoming permanent impasses to one’s spiritual development. In spiritual practice the material and psychological are meant to serve the spiritual and collective not increase the individual. And this includes respecting and living by the truth that a spiritual life will include worldly hardship, often seen as a threat to happiness. Nevertheless, while not emphasizing the individual, spirituality may very well provide wellbeing and happiness to one’s life as a secondary benefit. But these should not be the end goal of practice, but instead be used in service of spiritual development: when basic physical and psychological needs are met it is easier to pursue a spiritual life, e.g. a healthy ego is necessary to sustain practice, to transcend independent individuality. Even so, happiness is not to be seen as the true goal of spiritual practice. In fact most traditions prescribe not becoming attached to good fortune, returning blessings to the Source, etc. Rather it is the Source/God, and the manner in which It brings out the best in all of humanity, including oneself that is the overarching goal. Living accordingly requires fearless honesty with oneself so there is keen insight into one’s actions, and an ability to hold to one’s principles while others around one may be acting worldly and/or materialistically. One remains knowing that regardless of circumstance Spirit provides the love, peace, and joy we all seek. As such Spirit is the provider of lasting genuine happiness for oneself, and for all. And when practicing from wisdom, not ignorance, we collaborate with God/Source through the tiers described toward this goal.

     Questions:

This article defines happiness as love, peace, and joy. Would you add more to this definition, and if so can you envision a four level model for elements you have added?

The nondual condition describes one as being love, being peace, and being joy. Do you agree with this idea, and if so, how do you distinguish it from giving love, feeling peaceful, and experiencing joy?

Consider for a moment one of your personal and one of your spiritual goals. Now reflect on them, first with an attitude that they must be attained, and then with an attitude of nonattachment. What do you notice, and how might you apply it in your practice?

Reflect on your personal experience with spiritual bypassing, what you did to stop it from continuing, and the manner in which you presently use the lesson learned from that experience.

Describe in your own words the way you conceptualize the spiritual development principle expressed in the rule of thumb that “what goes up must come down”.

*****

Why God Needs Our Understanding

 It is easy to see all the anger that is directed at God. For some it is because God does not exist at all, and they are tired of hearing about the fiction that causes such harm in the world. For others it is because God has betrayed them, professing to know and love them but has allowed, even caused tragic harm to come into their lives. And though you would think it would actually be the cause for love of God there is the anger people feel because only their God is right or real and all the others are to be discredited or hated because they are not the One. There certainly are other reasons people hate God so much, but these are three that can be altered if only we understood God better.

An understanding of God that could result in respect, forgiveness, and love of God, and that would improve our relationship with God to everyone’s benefit, is predicated on several spiritual principles that are insufficiently employed because they are little known or misunderstood. The first is that God is actually an entity of three elements (cf. Smith, 2012): a) God is the unknown Substance from which all is created and originates; b) a state of enlightened awareness in our minds that is the expression of this Substance when our mind is freed from the conditioned psychological and mundane way of being in the world; and, c) a discernible being that is a personified version of the other two aspects and can be related to as the “other” from whom we may be helped, loved, and receive guidance. Truly a form, actually a being of many forms He/She/It exists in what is called the subtle reality but can be perceived in ours; and It is influential in the gross or material world, though It both originates from and is the causal reality (i.e. formless Substance/Source/Mystery). The second principle is that sin is not wrong doing but rather wrong relationship with God, i.e. separation (Chambers, 1992). It is one in which our individual and independent self determines our life, regardless of spiritual teachings that tell us to trust only in God for all our needs to be met. It is only through this reliance and oneness with God that one is granted the love, peace of grace, and the ability to follow the spiritual mandates of the golden rule and altruism. The third principle states all that occurs in our lives is a consequence of our own and everyone else’s thoughts and actions (including God’s) that precede the very next incident or event in our life (what Buddhism and Hinduism call karma). The fourth principle is that religious and spiritual practice is a participatory endeavor (cf. Ferrer, 2002) in which unique aspects of our personal psychology and worldview create in conjunction with God a unique form of religious theology and spiritual experience; one that fits perfectly well with all other similarly created paradigms.

By applying the spiritual principles noted above one accepts that God is not a being orchestrating all that occurs in the world but is the Source from which it all originates. God participates in creating a reality that has been generated not solely by Itself but in tandem with all of Its Creations. Whether as the subtle personified form or as the Source, God’s intervention into the world is determined by the relationships each and every one of us has with It, individually as well as collectively. This is the karmic principle in action; and whether life goes well or with great hardship depends on what preceded and resulted from each and every detail of one’s life. As part of this principle, the greater and more pure the relationship of oneness with God, the better the circumstances and outcomes in life and/or the stronger the grace that has been granted one to support one through life’s difficulties. The closer and more righteous the relationship with God the greater the likelihood God and oneself work together toward a common goal, that of the collective good. Frequently referred to as God’s will we are to love everyone and everything as God does, and in doing so we also benefit. This collaborative effort succeeds if one truly understands God and God’s ways.

God appears to us in many forms, some familiar and some not, but all are only representations of the formless Substance of God’s true nature. No matter how familiar with one’s God, nor how much one loves one’s God, there is no one or final form of God. And God does not orchestrate our lives without our participation, nor is the harm and evil in the world free of our own responsibility as a species. Most importantly, God provides us the means to be happy and fulfilled in spite of life’s difficulties and hardships, if only we choose to have the right relationship with God.

For some this perspective on God will be confusing, perhaps repugnant. To the extent that one can open one’s mind and heart to having one’s religious-spiritual theology challenged one is encouraged to experiment with the principles described. Observe for their impact on your relationship with God, on your relationship with others’ Gods, and on your anger at God. There is a good likelihood you will know more grace, God may thank you, and all will benefit.

     Questions:

What causes you, how often, and in what way, do you express anger at God or Spirit?

What efforts do you make to understand another’s concept of, and beliefs about God or Spirit?

Describe your relationship with God or Spirit according to the three forms of God mentioned in the article.

Has your relationship with God or Spirit provided you the resilience discussed in the article? Explain how and why it has been this way for you.

Whether they are positive or negative, do you employ karma, or a concept like karma, when examining and responding to events in your life?

*****

Delicate is the Love of God

When strong it is a love without beginning or end; irrepressibly expressed it is limitless, and the world changed forever for those endlessly touched by it. Divine Love is more than unconditional love; it is the supernatural love of God. Though similar, it is so much more than the all-accepting love with which most people equate it. It is a bliss in which you have lost yourself in the other and everything else around you. All existence arises and passes in the moment with nothing separate and apart from you. Fear drops away, no longer taking space in awareness; one’s presence is without anticipation, receptivity, or intention. One just “is”, tranquilly resting as enormous peace. Being, you are speechless, with no words coming forth; no need, Spirit will speak when It is ready. Adoration and warmth prevail; coming forth regardless of circumstance, for nothing but beauty lies before you. Perfection is the order of the day and joy the background music. And if shared with another, one is certain the search is over, one’s soulmate has been found, kismet realized.

You’re fooling yourself if you think you can will your heart to love this gloriously, it can only be granted by God. It must come through the grace of God to one who desires such a gift and has sacrificed oneself to the world. Then, above and beyond all else, you must obey and submit to God’s will if you are to have an ongoing relationship with the given grace that sustains this numinous Love. No matter what your religious beliefs or God, worship is now a matter of maintaining God-given virtue and God-directed altruism regarding all others as a means of expressing love to God. Without this worship Divine Love as powerful as it is, will be lost.

If one’s dedication to this worship is weak Divine Love remains fragile, subject to diminishment, and even death by the ways of the world. And the most common, one might dare say most tragic course to this end is to love another human being as if he or she were the rightful sole recipient of this love. To do so means one has romanticized what was Divine, retracted one’s love from God, and become more attached to another person than to God. And in separating oneself from God one loses the grace that had been granted, tarnishing the Light of the Love within. God, who had been shining through you all along, is no longer alive within to recognize Itself in the other, and Divine Love withers away. 

     Questions:

What other characteristics are you aware of that distinguish unconditional love from Divine Love?

If you have experienced Divine Love, what impact would you say it had on your life?

What is your reaction to worship being characterized as submission and obedience to God’s will, and if you could replace “submission” and “obedience” with other words, what would they be?

If you disagree with the main premise of this article, that Divine Love is lost when one lessens love toward God, then how do you explain that so many people experience Divine Love but that it lasts for only a few?

*****

Ego Strength

Weak ego has an easy time relating to another in relationship. It only considers the other, forgetting oneself, all decisions made to benefit the other person, leaving weak ego feeling exceptionally kind and generous. But it is also often left feeling depressed or anxious, and full of self-doubt. Healthy ego decision-making in relationship is more difficult, now two people must be valued and considered. And because healthy ego is more secure in itself, less worried or stressed in general, it can at times be insensitive to, or unaware of, the impact of its words or actions, something it now needs to monitor. Challenged by this it learns who it is, and what it can do, and its worth is strengthened. Transcend healthy ego and relating is simultaneously self-sacrificing and self-valuing while unconditionally affirming and loving all concerned. One has identified with, and is guided by, a Higher Self that draws upon the Divine’s Wisdom, Love, Peace, and Joy. Even in difficult situations that would challenge ego the result is spontaneous right action resulting in the greater good being served.

     Questions:

In your words describe characteristics of a weak ego, and problems it faces.

Under what conditions would you accept that a strong ego would be offensive?

Have you ever confused a weak ego with transcendence of ego?

What practices do you engage in to transcend ego?

What do you label the awareness that is more than ego, in which the self has given up its individual identity?

*****

Different Forms of God

When you, your friends, or strangers use the word God or Goddess, to what are they referring? Is it the unknowable, formless Source from which we all originate, and within which we all exist? And/or is it that Being which one petitions for blessings and miracles, serves others on its behalf, and maintains relationship with through ritual and worship? And/or is it the Highest Self with which we associate enlightened consciousness, wisdom, and our highest standard of behavior?

      Questions:

Do you use the term God, and/or accept when others do?

To what are you referring, or thinking of, when “God” is used?

How do you maintain and what is the nature of the relationship you have with your God?

If you believe in more than one of the above-mentioned forms of God, how do you reconcile the inherent differences in them?

Do you believe there is a state of awareness that humans can experience that can validly be labeled God?

*****

Love and Fear

For those of us not enlightened, nowhere is the collaboration between healthy ego and Self more evident than in managing the extraordinary relationship between love and fear. Ego contributes by being intimately familiar with what it typically finds threatening, enabling it to respond with a calm body and mind to express itself while doing no harm. This supports the Self to respond with an engaging blissful absence of fear, filling the moment, and with uniquely paradoxical word and action convey benevolence, create harmony, and transform threat into peace.

     Questions:

How proficient are you at reducing your anxiety and fear at will?

Clarify the difference between a state of calm and one of peace, and describe the strategies you employ to experience them.

Is one of the goals of your spiritual practice being able to respond to threat with love and peace?

Have you experienced the above-mentioned phenomena in which your first impulse is fear and perhaps fleeing or aggression, but then were able to let Spirit act for you with a loving and positive response that proved successful?

*****

Liberated Conscience

Theologians tell us that the world’s major religions emphasize obedience, submission, and service. Powerful, even intimidating words, of which obedience is a cornerstone. Obedience may be understood as comprehending and applying the worldview put forth in the theology of one’s chosen tradition through disciplined actions of practice and interpersonal relations.

Obedience is challenging for most because until teachings or experience inform one sufficiently what we are to obey seems contrary to our understanding of the world, beyond our ability without life altering commitment, and can go against the worldly norms of our society or culture. And obedience can all too often be equated with reward in the future, e.g. heaven, enlightenment. This makes one misconceive the true result of obedience, believing that Spirit is not omnipresent, not immediately available, and must be sought after, eventually achieved. And in a most damaging way can convey a restrictive or moralistic aspect to spiritual practice.

Actually the result of obedience is a state of conscious awareness in which grace is experienced as the Now, including a subjective experience of liberation, and a natural impulse to engage in virtuous and altruistic behavior. This is realized through following the spiritual principles codified and given the world by those who have traveled the path before. They have shown that if one obeys God, God will then act through humanity, and will do so in a more creative and far ranging manner than humanity alone can imagine. Then obedience is not restrictive, but freeing, actually resulting in what one might call a liberated conscience. Rather than a suppressive dogma dictating righteous action, God’s loving grace and presence naturally determine behavior that is altruistically just and caring. In this way obedience facilitates and supports submission to God and service to others and the practitioner feels fulfilled, alive, and uplifted as one obeys.

     Questions:

Do you notice when you recognize, resist, and avoid a religious-spiritual principle you are to obey?

What happens when you practice a religious-spiritual principle with which you disagree?

What will be required of you to follow your religious-spiritual principles even though they may require you live in the world differently than most others?

In your words explain how religious-spiritual obedience is not constrictive or oppressive but rather is liberating.

How is license, acting without responsibility for effect on others or the world, different from liberation?

*****

Blessing or Temptation

When the proverbial door opens it may not always be an entryway, sometimes it is a trapdoor. Blessings are usually characterized by a culmination of significant effort toward a goal that is guided and branded by Spirit. The miracle is in the unexpected opportunity or outcome, but one in which there have been no shortcuts, no bending of the rules, no betrayal of oneself or Spirit. It is a trap, or some may say a temptation from the Devil, when the opportunity or outcome is a shortcut, a way to speedily accomplish or obtain our desire. These occur in many forms, a drug-induced spiritual insight that is not maintained through regular practice, a romantic involvement before grieving the previous relationship, or a business deal that is too easy or good to be true. In discerning whether blessing or temptation it is self-awareness and witnessing mind that guide us best.

     Questions:

When was the last time you gave in to temptation and what was the result?

When was the last time you felt blessed and what did you do with the blessing?

Thinking of your present spiritual goals, to what temptation are you most vulnerable?

When tempted do you recognize the lust, the need to have it now, that is part of your experience?

What do you do when you recognize a “too good to be true” temptation and decide not to accept it?

*****

Ignorance, Innocence, and Purity  

There is always a journey from ignorance to purity on the spiritual path. Ignorance is not stupidity, but is a lack of knowledge or of wisdom. Not realizing they are alluding to the positive aspects of purity, seekers can mistakenly label ignorance as innocence, while rejecting purity as moralistic and at odds with spirituality’s unconditional acceptance and valuing of a person and circumstance. But innocence is an age appropriate lack of knowledge that adult seekers should not claim. Purity refers to the stillness and emptiness of mind, receptivity to direct knowing or claircognizance, the presence of unconditional Divine love, and naturally practiced compassion and altruism. In Christian terms purity is granted through the grace of the Holy Spirit and in more Eastern terms is the nondual Witness awareness. Like ignorance, purity is not a pejorative term but rather a descriptive one that conveys one’s condition or conscious awareness, provides a means to assess the quality of one’s altruism, and is useful in monitoring one’s overall spiritual emergence.

       Questions:

What happens when you realize there are religious-spiritual topics of which you have no right to be ignorant?

What efforts are you making to gain knowledge and wisdom?

Referring to wisdom, define purity in your own terms.

In your practice, what are you doing to become more pure?

*****

Dichotomies

On a spiritual journey?

Should you strive or not strive toward your goals?

Want to replace your ego with a wiser, more peaceful, enlightened self?

Need greed, hatred, and violence to be replaced by harmony, universal love, and world peace?

Then remember, dichotomies have no place in spiritual practice.

     Questions:

How do you balance striving with not striving in your practice?

Do you religious or spiritual beliefs call for ego death, and if so what does that mean to you?

What does your tradition say about different theologies than your own, what to do when wronged by another, and the consequences for you of doing wrong?

Think of several spiritual dichotomies, e.g. love-hate, good-evil, fear-peace and attempt to reconcile them to one another.