As befitting the day of the week, the first topic I want to write about is the cultural phenomenon called The Spiritual Path. As curriculum for my rant, I submit that I have been involved in a number of spiritual communities aver a period of 20 years, 2 coming from the Sufi tradition and one from a more Indian context.
The basic premise upon which the notion of a path is predicated is that the traveler is not yet at the destination, there is somewhere you want to get to and for that you need to travel. This is a seemingly obvious metaphor borrowed from the world of time and space. Of course the travelling involved is more akin to a kind of self transformation, a learning process, and the destination is a presumed future state of “enlightenment” or “completion” or “freedom” or even “knowing God”.
Following from this is of course another premise, in order to get to this future state you need a guide, someone who knows the way, again quite logical if we are talking about trying to find the way to Samarkand or Timbuktu, and like any endeavor, if you want to learn a trade or how to sail a boat, you need a teacher.
So we are presented with a concept of spiritual progress based on metaphors borrowed from very material dimensions, and there’s the rub.
Once the metaphor of a Path and Guide are accepted, the we have no choice but to place our selves in the hands of the guide and get going, where? dunno, why? because we are drawn to the concept, why? dunno, just am, because I want to be happy.
The basic forces driving human activity are 2, procreation and avoidance of suffering.
To understand the motive for undertaking the spiritual path we must accept that our present condition is unacceptable, needs improvement, we suffer and we don’t like it, we feel incomplete, ignorant, out of sorts, and we seek the spiritual guides as others seek therapists or drugs, and indeed, there are plenty of Doctors, Therapists, Guides and Gurus out there ready to tell us that our pain is real, which it is, and that they can alleviate it. In the case of Doctors, they have the knowledge of drugs, Therapists understand the psyche, Guides have already traveled the Path and Gurus can show us the way because they are at the destination. And what is the destination? Enlightenment, Self realization Knowledge of God, they are winners of the Spiritual jackpot and you can win it too!
But, have they? really? How do I know? After all the very fact that I feel I need their help means that I don’t accept my current way of perceiving and understanding life, and yet I do accept my evaluation that such a thing as enlightenment exists, that it is for me, and that this person is the right guide to take me there.
A good question to ask would be , how come I feel that I need a spiritual path? And what mechanism of judgement makes me believe that this Teacher is qualified, is who he says he or she is?
Leaving aside the question as to whether real guides exist, what is the effect of the cult of the spiritual path?
What happens is that I accept the dogma of my incompleteness, of my fall from grace, of my separation, in a very real sense , of my lesser value. The teacher is complete, in grace, united, of greater value, and has the power to change my state, with my effort also, and divine intervention.
The spiritual path is based on the non acceptance of the human being as he or she is, and of the complicity of the aspirant in that devaluation of themselves,
“haven’t quite got there, but I will one day”