Evading Spiritual Antiquarianism

Well, here’s another blog for posterity. Back in the 70s and 80s of the last millennium, Asian martial arts was a huge craze. Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris were the trend-setters. Thousands practiced in dojos and kwoons to develop their fighting skills. I was one of them who did not lose interest and move on to some other hobby. I’m still doing it and wonder at the precipitous decline of such an enormously popular pastime.

The same thing, it seems to me, is happening with Asian spiritual studies and practice. Like The Monster Mash, Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist spirituality caught on in a flash during the 60s and 70s. I could argue that it wasn’t particularly authentic because it was watered down by various gurus and abbots for easier public consumption. Still, the melody lingers on. Hinduism and Buddhism are still enormously popular with the spiritually-minded. Tibetan Buddhism and Zen have kept a strong hold on peoples’ imaginations as esoteric variants on the major traditions. You still hear references to the Dharma and Karma in lunch-time conversations about designer enlightenment. Yoga is more popular than ever. On the Western side of things, P. D. Ouspensky and Madam Blavatsky still attract adherents. Apparently, if it ain’t that old-time rock and roll, it just ain’t got the same soul.

Despite the emergence into popular thought of quantum mechanics, many spiritual seekers still prefer the old traditions because of their arcane terminology and laborious and time-consuming practices. In addition, adherents get to wear very cool uniforms that signify their commitment to strange, but superior knowledge and its application to lives patterned on universal truths. Turbans are fashionable as well as dhotis, saris, and asana suits. The yoga mat is essential for progressive, spiritually-minded suburbanites. “To hell with modern innovations,” they proclaim. “We carry water and chop wood because that is the only officially-sanctioned way to progress in spiritual development.”

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I wonder if the Buddha would have developed his characteristic line of thought had he been aware of the Observer Effect and collapse of the wave function? The point is that spiritual development and realization have moved on. The heady mix of neurobiology and quantum mechanics has outstripped the laborious practices of traditional spiritual systems. A seeker can now experience the levels of spiritual insight in seconds that took the traditionalists decades of meditation in solitude to achieve. Of course, you don’t get the same bragging rights about mastering a spiritual discipline that was a big part of practicing an established form of spirituality. If you can have enlightenment at the snap of a finger, you can’t earn the awe and respect of lesser mortals who are not inclined to devote their lives to struggle and self-denial in the name of something they can’t even imagine. That’s why the archaic traditions keep hanging on.

It’s time to get on with it, to adopt instantaneous change rather than enter a never-ending program of self-imposed inner conflict, which might lead to an Aha moment somewhere along the line. The issue here is really whether or not you want to be who you are. Becoming a surrogate Buddha or an imitation Lao-tze is not accepting and loving who you truly are. You don’t live in the fifth century B.C., and you don’t wear robes and sandals. You don’t fawn over enlightened gurus and pledge your life to “service” of those less fortunate than you. There is nothing wrong with you to begin with, so why beat yourself up in a vain attempt to become perfect? Be who you are; love who you are, and don’t be afraid to get in someone else’s face about it.

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