Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Spiritual but not Religious, but Maybe Religious?

I guess, I'm not the only one thinking of religious feelings right now. Tim Urban over at the blog has an interesting post describing nirs views on a religion for the nonreligious.

Merriam-Webster defines religion, non-metaphorically as:
: the belief in a god or in a group of gods
: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
A little imprecise, since it doesn't include religions like Shinto, or Shamanism, which view everything in the universe as partaking in the divine and having an associated spirit. But, these religions also seek to worship, petition, or appease said spirits as the others do their various gods. Maybe I'm nitpicking.

I'm not sure we need a new organized religion, but maybe each of us could benefit from creating our own personal religion. I certainly feel I benefit from my own ideas of spirituality, assembled from those ideas which seem to work best for me. Most people I've met have the religious feelings I've talked about before. What Tim calls, that "Woah" moment. Most people structure a set of beliefs about those feelings, sometimes in a religious context, sometimes in a non-theistic context like the scientific model.

I like Tim's metaphor of the fog from the babbling of our various animal selves, but nirs casting of our better impulses as a higher being seems a little too like anthropomorphic hubris to me. I think it oversimplifies things to think of our consciousness as only having a few animal voices to get under control, but the idea of it feeling or acting like a fog seems like a good metaphor.

I think casting some of our impulses as selfish animals and others of our impulses as those of a higher being, unnecessarily elevates some impulses and denigrates other impulses. A value judgement that will necessarily vary from individual to individual, at least somewhat; certainly substantially between individuals of differing cultures.

His Consciousness Staircase and Human Consciousness Sub-staircase creates hierarchy were we need one the least. At least in the sense that step 2 very naturally seems higher than step 1. It easily creates a metaphor for looking down at all the schlubs still stuck on step 1. No doubt that clearing away the fog of all our conflicting, competing impulses for at least some of the time has some benefits. It doesn't necessarily make you a better person, nicer person, or more compassionate person than someone on step 1. I don't know if Tim necessarily had this in mind when he modeled it as a staircase; just that the model implies an aboveness, where using such a direction seems misleading.

People will abuse these kinds of features in a model about spirituality. Evidently, it's easier to remain ignorant, unenlightened but put on a pretense of spiritual advancement than to endure the suffering that comes from actually advancing one's approximation of enlightenment.

It bugs me because it goes against the Cosmic Schmuck principle of RAW. I think realizing you never leave the Cosmic Schmuck stage, keep reducing some of the Schmuckiness as you grow probably has more existential utility that most models of enlightenment/religious feelings. Hopefully one of those videos from that YouTube link has ol' Bob talking about being a Cosmic Schmuck. No matter how much of the fog of animal impulse ne clears away, ne remains a Cosmic Schmuck. Our ignorance will always outweigh our knowledge, and our stupidity will always outweigh our wisdom.

Looking at it from the Secular Buddhist I think when we seek for enlightenment, that knowledge of our eternal schmuckness seems just as important as knowledge of the Buddha mind. No matter how far into enlightenment we get, we'll always feel like a schmuck, even if we just look at our behavior yesterday.

That doesn't imply a fatalistic view that we shouldn't try and grow smarter, or more enlightened, just that we shouldn't forget we're still a schmuck most of the time.

In one of RAW's books,  Masks of the Illuminati, he dramatized a lecture given by Aleister Crowley. Crowley speaks of the Soldier and the Hunchback, an actual essay in The Equinox, v1 n1.

It's one of Crowley's more amusing essays. He uses the !, calling it the soldier to represent enlightenment. Standing straight up at attention as a metaphor for that WOW! moment when something hits you and more of the universe comes alive for you. The ? he calls the hunchback both because of its shape, like the ! soldier; but also that hunched over shape we take when we're thinking/asking. The classic example being The Thinker statue by Rodin.
There's your question mark. So basically what it comes down to in that essay, the process of enlightenment isn't a finish line. It's a process that never ends. You investigate spirituality, experience some awe, transcendence, maybe worship. You get a few ! moments. But you still have ?.

Always and ever the ? moments exist. If you look a that process of enlightenment over time you get something like this:


and so on.

So, alway remember, no matter how enlightened you feel today, yesterday you were still a schmuck. A few days from now, you'll look back on today, and realize you were still a schmuck now. You'll always be a schmuck, just accept it, keep soldiering on.