On Spirituality

Image result for nicholas roerich artI believe in ‘spirituality’ in the sense that it is a psychological perspective. In other words, I do not believe in the ‘spirituality’ which encompasses an objective or existent ‘other-world’ inhabited by sentient spirits.
When most people think of ‘spirituality’, they assume things such as speaking to the dead, or being possessed by spirits, or coming into contact with God. This is largely a result of the Judeo-Christian influence on our western world, which teaches of spirits and angels and the objective existence of non-human entities that live in different dimensions.
However, this is definitely not the kind of ‘spirituality’ I am referring to. Mostly because, as anyone familiar with my work can attest – I am mostly an atheist.
There are other types of ‘spirituality’ which are professed by shamans and spiritual gurus – another group of individuals who, like Christians, expound ideas that I believe to be false or largely imaginative.
Sam Harris, a contemporary philosopher whom I greatly respect, has said that ‘spirituality’ is a psychological phenomenon – one does not need to be religious to follow it or study it.
For almost all religions, spirituality involves some form of altered consciousness. That is my primary concern – the altered states of consciousness. I am interested in the different states that exist within the human mind and how one can achieve them. Obviously, drugs are a great way to do this, but it should be noted that many monks and gurus have had similar states of consciousness without using drugs. Ram Dass, for example, went to India and gave a group of ascetics LSD – he reported that the monks acted normally and that they had experienced these types of visions and thought-processes before. However, while drugs are certainly a good starting point, I feel that one must also try to obtain this altered state without the use of drugs – namely, on their own will and practice.
Spirituality also aims to ‘recover the original shape of man’. In his book Waking Up, Sam Harris writes that’s ‘people of every faith, and of none, have had the same sorts of spiritual experiences. While these states of mind are usually interpreted through the lens of one or another religious doctrine, we know that this is a mistake. Nothing that a Christian, a Muslim, and a Hindu can experience – self-transcending love, ecstasy, bliss, inner light – constitutes evidence in support of their traditional beliefs, because their beliefs are logically incompatible with one another. A deeper principle must be at work.”
In other words, Mr. Harris has noted that spirituality exists as different types of mental states – the problem is that these states are often described by fitting it into a religious dogma for the sake of the religion. However this does not mean that these different states do not exist – rather it simply means that the state was interpreted in a religious way.
Mr. Harris also notes that many altered states of consciousness expounded by Hindu and Buddhist methods require no faith at all in an external, separate entity or spirit. Many of the eastern methods of spirituality rely on a personal, internal will and introspection – not on praying to spirts or submitting to some God (cough cough Abrahamic religions).
Spirituality has, for the most part, been a central tenet of mankind. Even the most primitive of people had some sort of spiritual belief system, and simply because one is an atheist does not mean that one cannot learn a thing or two by studying ‘spiritual’ belief systems.
As mentioned above, many Hindu and Buddhist spiritual techniques do not rely on faith and are thus accessible to anyone.
So, when I speak of spirituality, I mean it in a non-supernatural way – indeed, I mean it in a natural way. Spirituality to me is simply a psychological quest – a journey into the reaches of the mind and what it is capable of. For me, everything spiritual is connected to something personal – something mental – something that is residing in ones psyche.
Since my primary focus and teachings revolve around self-discovery and self-knowledge, it would be a mistake of me to disregard spirituality as merely ‘religious mumbo-jumbo’.
I have an interest in spirituality for the same reason that I have an interest in the occult – not because I believe it can unlock doors to a supernatural other-world, but because it can take one to different realms of their mind and experience things that are not present in ones typical day-to-day consciousness.
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Lost Memories

Do you ever wonder how many lost memories you have? By this, I am referring to events that you have experienced but, over time these memories have either faded (or perhaps were not properly encoded) and thus now are essentially ‘lost’ forever. It just seems strange to me. We experience many things in our lives, yet we often to seem to remember only the bad times or the really good times. This can be unfortunate, because when remembering events we often forget the little things that brought us joy, like taking a walk, or reading a good book, or just talking with friends – all of these little memories that made us happy seem to be lost in obscurity.

‘My Mind’

People love to use the phrase ‘my mind’. But whose mind is it really? When a person says ‘my mind’ they are implying that the mind belongs to them. Actually, it is the other way around. The concept of a ‘you’ belongs to the mind. The concept of a ‘you’ is a creation of the mind.

It’s not ‘your’ mind because ‘you’ don’t own the mind – the mind owns you.

Causality: Hume and Kant

The philosopher David Hume had a very skeptical perspective on causality. Being an empiricist, Hume believed that all knowledge and perceptions were derived from our senses (i.e. sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell). Hume argued that it was impossible to witness causality, or the “idea that when one object causes another object to do something, there is some kind of real connection between them, some kind of “power” or force by which the cause really exerts its causality in its effect” (Velasquez 344). In other words, Hume believed that “events simply succeed each other”, and that there is no real connection (a cause and an effect) between two events (Velasquez 345). We simply perceive a “cause and effect” situation because we are habituated to the idea that “events of the first kind will be followed by events of the second kind” (Velasquez 345). In other words, Hume seemed to believe that events simply unfold and that there is no causality between them.

A person who is determined to defend the cause and effect scenario would probably respond to Hume’s view in a manner similar to Immanuel Kant. Kant’s epistemological beliefs were a mix of empiricism and rationalism; he believed that we experience the world through our senses, but that our mind organizes these senses in a rational way to construct the world that we perceive.

Kant believed that our mind was a “unified awareness”, or that our minds require unity in order to perceive the world. The sensory information that we perceive is rationally constructed by our mind, and since it is constructed in a “unified” way, that would mean that our minds are a “unified awareness”. The mind “connects and unifies its sensations into a unified world of interrelated objects because it must” (Velasquez 357). So, since our perceptions of the world rely on “unity”, that would mean “cause and effect” exists, because causality shows that every event is ultimately connected. In other words, causality states that every event must have a cause, and this would mean that every action in our universe is somehow connected to another action or event. This “connection” implies some sort of “unity”, and since our minds are a “unified awareness”, it would mean that causality exists (at least in the mind) because it unifies the world around us. Hume’s anti-causality view seemed to imply that there is no “unity” in the world – that things simply happen with no “force” connecting one event to another. This is different from Kant, who believed that there must be some kind of cause and effect relationship present because this relationship explains how our mind constructs the world around us.

Kant believed that our mind uses causality to determine change that is independent of ourselves. So, “if the changes of objects in the world were not caused by other objects in the world… I would not be able to tell the difference between changes of objects in the world and changes I produce” (Velasquez 357). Basically, Kant is saying that causality exists because we can determine what changes are caused by us and what changes are not caused by us (i.e. changes that are independent of our actions). If causality did not exist (as Hume believed) then we would be unable to tell the difference between the changes we cause and the changes we do not cause. However, since we can distinguish between the two, that would mean that cause and effect does exist.

The Enduring Self? The Concept of ‘The Self’ in Western and Eastern Traditions

The term ‘self’ refers to an individual human being, along with their body, mind, and in some cases, the concept of a ‘soul’. The western view of the ‘enduring self’ refers to the notion that “you are the same person you were earlier in your life. In other words, it assumes that we humans are selves that endure through time” (Velasquez 96). So, despite the many mental and physical changes that may occur during our life, we are essentially the same ‘self’ throughout our many developments. While western traditional has, for the most part, accepted and championed the idea of an ‘enduring self’, the exact definition and characteristics of this ‘enduring self’ are diverse. However, the Enlightenment philosopher David Hume and the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, both rejected the idea of an ‘enduring self’, even going so far as to claim any concept of a ‘self’ is an illusion. In this essay, I intend to examine the two different views and state my own thoughts on which viewpoint is more compelling.

The European philosophers Plato, Descartes, and Locke all believed in an ‘enduring self’, however what exactly constituted this ‘self’ was varied. The concept of a ‘soul’ is often the most popular representation of an ‘enduring self’, because according to western belief, a soul is “immaterial or spiritual” (Velasquez 100), thus a ‘soul’ is beyond the physical realm and not subject to change like material objects. Plato was one of the first philosophers to state that the soul is eternal, so it is the soul of a man that makes him an enduring self, because even after death the soul continues to exist. Many years later, the philosopher Descartes stated that “thinking is an attribute of the soul” and that “the continuity of his thinking mind [is what] makes him remain the same person” (Velasquez 100). In other words, our consciousness is a result of our ‘soul’, or of our ‘enduring self’. Descartes basically believed that, if he could not think, then he could not exist, and thus ‘thinking’ in and of itself was what constituted an enduring self. Locke had a similar view, though his idea was the ‘enduring self’ is a person’s memory. In other words, it is our memory that allows us to identify ourselves, and it is the process of identifying ourselves that allows us to formulate the idea of a ‘self’.

While the western tradition may make some fairly significant justifications for an ‘enduring self’, the Buddhist philosophy completely rejects the notion of a ‘self’ in general, viewing it as an illusion. Buddhist philosophy believes that everything in life is ephemeral, or that nothing lasts forever. Everything is in a constant flux of change and impermanence, thus, the ‘enduring self’ cannot exist, because an ‘enduring self’ would imply something that is ‘permanent’ or ‘unchanging’. The Buddha taught that the idea of a ‘self’ is an illusion, and that this illusion leads to pain and suffering. By renouncing the ‘self’ and transcending the ego, one can obtain release from suffering (nirvana) and finally be at peace.

The Enlightenment thinker David Hume had a somewhat similar idea, in the sense that he too believed there is ‘no self’, and that what we think of as a ‘self’ is just an illusion. Hume “argues that all real knowledge is based on what we can actually perceive with our senses” (Velasquez 104). Hume believed that it was impossible to perceive the ‘self’ with our senses because it doesn’t actually exist – ‘the self’ is just an imaginary concept. Like Buddhism, Hume believed that “because everything is in flux, there is not even an enduring self” (Velasquez 105).

Personally, I find the Eastern tradition (along with Hume’s views) to be more compelling. Like Buddha and David Hume, I too believe that everything is impermanent, including ourselves. For example, right now I’m typing this essay, but the thoughts in my mind at this very moment are different from the thoughts in my mind a few seconds ago. Thus, how could I be an ‘enduring self’ when every few seconds the thoughts in my head are changing? In order to be an ‘enduring self’, wouldn’t that imply that I am unchanging, permanent and stagnant? Even the cells and carbon atoms that make up our bodies change repeatedly. Mentally and physically we are constantly changing, so I think that the idea of an ‘enduring self’ is nothing more than a mystical, idealistic concept.

I would say that the idea of a ‘self’ is just a notion that has been mentally created in order to give ourselves a feeling of identity and purpose. ‘The self’ is really only a product of our evolved consciousness – I personally don’t believe that it exists on any metaphysical, material or spiritual level. ‘The self’ may exist as a product of the mind, in other words, on a psychological level, but in all honesty I think even that definition might be stretching it. I agree with Hume in his reasoning that “we have no real knowledge of a self and so [we] have no justification for claiming that we have a self. What we perceive within ourselves is nothing more than a changing bundle of disconnected sensations” (Velasquez 104). In the end, I feel that David Hume and the Buddha’s views on illusionary nature of ‘the self’ are more rational and realistic.

The Notion of an ‘Afterlife’ is Just Another Mechanism That Humans Use To Distance Themselves From Nature

 

betting-on-the-afterlife-darrell-hagan

Humans are always trying to distance themselves from nature. Our egos make us think that we are separate from nature – that the laws of nature do not apply to us. That we are beyond the chaotic world of primordial instincts.

The idea of an afterlife is example of how humans try to escape the concept of their ‘ultimate fate’ (i.e. death). The idea of an afterlife is based off of the notion that death is the end of the body but not of the soul, and that there is another life beyond this one. While this may sound comforting, it is interesting to note that it appears as if human beings are the only creatures that believe in the idea of an afterlife. There is no evidence that any other living creatures have any sort of notion or conception of an ‘afterlife’. So, in a way, the idea of an afterlife, or the notion that there is another life after death, is in itself another way in which mankind tries to distance itself from nature. As conscious beings, we like to tell ourselves that we will not perish after death, and that something else lies beyond the grave. However, this ‘afterlife’ only applies to humans, and not to other animals, or to insects or plants (all of which are living beings too). Thus, this idea of an afterlife is a purely human concept, and so it operates as a sort of mechanism that we use to try and distance ourselves from nature.