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Saturday March 5, 2005: Mysticism versus dogma

        How much do you love truth? Mysticism is a devoted search for truth and for the divine. Most people steer clear of the path. I’m in a mischievous mood today, so I should steer clear of drawing conclusions about human nature. The mystic path is not for everyone, even if you hear lots of people talk about wanting to experience God. It comes down to the price you’re willing to pay for a serious relationship. An isolated spiritual experience does wonders, can change your life around for the better, and it’s usually a freebie anyway, requiring little in the way of personal sacrifice prior to being ‘touched.’ I think that’s what most people want.

        The true mystic’s path can be lonely (within the secular world, not higher worlds). Indeed, mysticism at times comes in conflict with organized religions just because it is such an individual path. There’s a delicate balance: allow too much personal motivation and religions end up with splinter groups; clamp down too hard on maintaining tradition, and religion becomes empty ritual, devoid of spiritual impact.  

        Spiritual laws themselves are very simple and basic; they exist in any long-standing religious faith. Founders of world religions all began with the idea of sharing their own profound spiritual insights and only afterwards discovered the need to create rituals and customs for their followers. Religions are created to build and maintain group unity, to provide concrete examples of how to live a spiritual life.

        How many rules and regulations of organized religions arise after the death of the founder, created by followers who never had a master’s insight? Too many in my book, if I’m looking at the issues that people fight over. However, I’m trying to be tolerant. Rules and regulations are not bad things; if people long for spiritual heights but have their feet stuck on the ground, there is great comfort in having a path to enlightenment mapped out in careful detail. If a religion has survived over long periods of time, it’s a pretty good indication that some spiritual truths have survived and can still be experienced within that culture.

        Religious dogma allows teachings to continue through time without being diluted by outside belief systems. Problems inevitably begin, however, when followers start believing their particular religious rules are ultimate spiritual requirements. Organized religion leads to a terrific sense of community and a shared support system, but it can become a confining social structure for the individual who craves a deep personal relationship with the divine. An all-encompassing divine does not favor one religious group over another. Deep relationships are based on heart, not membership.

        The trick is separating away spiritual laws from religious dogma. A mystic does not have to leave an organized group, but he or she must have the courage to look at the meaning and purpose behind rituals and dogma, rather than clinging doggedly to words and history. Challenges -- such as who said what, who gave whom authority, and who correctly interpreted the words or intent of divine will -- end up focused on defending and proving the legitimacy of a particular belief system. Those ego-protecting systems drop away as the mystic shifts from following group rules and behaving as one of the faithful, and becomes more concerned with simply putting spiritual truth to work in his or her individual life.

        There was a point early in my twenties where I was spending a great deal of time with inner masters, and they would often pull me up to higher levels before beginning their lesson. As I sat before one master, I remember him methodically listing five things I was to remember. At about number three, I was shocked by my own inner recognition -- these truths were being told at a level of awareness so far beyond physical reality that they could never be carried back into the everyday world.

        I freaked. These were truths resounding so deeply that I could not challenge the truths themselves, only my interpretation of surrounding events. I freaked at the idea of being at such an awareness level and the responsibility it must inevitably carry. I recoiled in the fear of ever confronting who I was (or had been) and why I’d had inner teachers since childhood. My mind raced, desperately seeking out alternative explanations.

        "Calm down," I told myself. "This is probably just my higher self, some inner part of my own wisdom, released by meditation and now giving me insights that regular social conditioning would usually block."

        That certainly seemed the most practical explanation. That would turn the whole experience into a reality I could live with -- because it would mean the truth was within everyone and I had just stumbled across it. Better that than the idea of being singled out and given the responsibility of higher truths. No way could I accept the implications that went with the idea of an actual master passing on this level of teaching.

        The master patiently watched my mental contortions. Then he leaned forward.

        "Jan, does it matter where this information comes from? What should matter is not whether the truth comes from me or from the world around you or from your own inner wisdom. What matters is whether this truth can be applied to improving your life, your understanding of how to live, and your relationship with the divine."

        That was a turning point for me. From that day on, I never was disturbed if someone questioned which spiritual author had written which passage, or whether it was divinely or creatively inspired. Let the messenger be dragged down and shown to be a fraud – the outer personality is a temporal reality. What I searched for was truth that lasted despite changes in everyday reality.

        I began to see the many ways truth surrounds us, hidden because we traditionally do not expect to find it scattered in so many elements of existence, because we want the simplicity of finding it neatly packaged in a single source. Is that need part of human nature, too? The divine created universes. Why would we expect to find truth restricted to any one single location? The divine is all encompassing, all-inclusive; all answers are provided within that divine awareness.

        I began opening my eyes to what existed around me. Suddenly I found wisdom presenting itself at the moment I most needed it and was best able to understand its significance. I no longer cared if someone could show that this teaching was taken from an earlier source, or that this leader had indiscretions in his personal life, or that the founder was not the end-all and be-all. I was not following a personality but spiritual truth.

        I challenged conventional wisdom, accepting it as a working model but looking closer to see if it really held true within the everyday world. Would bringing a practice or belief into my life and really living its message change me into a better person? Would it bring me closer to God? That’s where I wanted my focus.

        When people quit fighting over whose path is the ‘one and only way to God,’ focusing instead on discovering ever deeper levels of truth, they might be surprised. As rigid defenses fall away, they might discover how much time they’ve freed up to spend actually living a spiritual life.

Posted on Saturday, March 5, 2005 at 09:50AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | Comments2 Comments

Reader Comments (2)

Very well said. It may seem strange to paraphrase Jack Nicholson's character in a description of mysticism, but it's true, most people can't handle the truth. Mysticism is hard, squeezing us into the role of outsider, a lonely place. I think the rewards come under the category of, "I guess you had to be there."
March 11, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermichael
when i read this blog i felt a little satisfaction. to tell you the truth, most people not only steer clear of the path of truth, they get scared of it and refuse it vehemently. sometimes the people you care about most have no idea what you believe in or know about. and its really frustrating that you never seem to get across to them. i hope you find yourself in company of those who have some inclination to take hints and maybe even help from you - and i hope you find a person who can make you realise how close you are to victory, and help you reach there faster. :)
April 7, 2005 | Unregistered Commentervyoma

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