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“Spirituality? No, we don’t do that here.”- When Religious Institutions Go Wrong

In the spirit of our membership site’s upcoming unit on spirituality, we thought it was time for a little perspective on all the ingenious ways we humans find to avoid that very subject.  Religious institutions, or at least large parts of them, tend to become masters of the art of avoiding spirituality! 

The reason is simple- like many human institutions, religions often start with a powerful sense of purpose, but over time, people with vested interests make the institution less about that purpose than about them.  At that point, anything that might lead the membership to think that the institution is about more than the rules laid down by those in power becomes a liability. And spiritual life is the ultimate liability- after all, what person in power wants pesky little enlightened people popping up here, there and everywhere, upsetting the applecart and undermining their authority with inconveniences like truth, love and integrity?

That being the case, we thought we’d give you a short tour of some of the clever devices which religious institutions have come up with to avoid such a disastrous state of affairs.  As the saying goes, it is better to laugh than to cry, although we have to admit that sometimes it’s hard to know if these things are the product of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor in all of his diabolical sincerity.

 

Anyone who lives in North America has experienced moveable-letter church signs, from the pointed…

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to the cringe-worthy…

 

 

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to the laugh-out-loud hilarious.

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We will be using these signs, along with a goodly selection of cartoons, to signpost our tour through the mind of corrupt religious institutions, and by extension, corrupt institutions everywhere.

 

The real danger to any corrupt institution is from within.  As the word ‘corrupt’ implies, the people occupying positions of authority are neither toeing the straight and narrow themselves nor are they particularly interested in finding out whether any of their peers are.  What they are all deeply interested in is making sure that no one else ever looks too closely, or if they do that they don’t find anything, or if they find something that they’re discredited, or if they’re not discredited that at least they can’t do anything about it.  To quote a much-loved British sitcom, “When you set the cat among the pigeons, you let the dog out of the bag.  If you spill the beans, you open a whole can of worms!”  In short, a sticky situation. 

 

If something bad has happened once, it’s probably happened more than once, and if it’s happened more than once, there may be something wrong with the system, and if there’s something wrong with the system, the whole house of cards could collapse.  That’s why certain other corrupt systems (the USSR) made it quite clear from the start that it was alright to criticize, but never to generalize.  It’s never the fault of the system.  That kept a lid on pesky critical thinking for a few decades, but since religious institutions don’t always have gulags and firing squads to make sure the people are minding their manners, other, rather more painful processes for burying cans of worms have been found- specifically, denial.

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The first thing degenerate institutions do to help them in the cause of denial is to deprive their people of a central set of principles by which to evaluate the central principles and mission of the institution.  In a religious context, this means leaving people without the tools to evaluate the contents of their religious traditions.  That way, traditions go from ‘golden thread of wisdom reaching down to us from the ages’ to ‘anything that one of us thought or wrote in the past, no matter how moronic or trivial,’ until you get

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Some have gone so far as to declare war on reason altogether.  Of course, reasoned faith is quite possible- but letting your people expose their faith to reason might turn up all sorts of nasty little inconsistencies and moral problems with the gospel-according-to-you, and is therefore to be avoided at all costs.

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Cognitive dissonance is unavoidable in these situations where one has to declare war on morality, sense common or otherwise, and critical thought of any kind. Even so, religious institutions have realized that this is hardly a showstopper.  After all, the key to the propaganda machines of all totalitarian regimes has been not to persuade people, but simply to say something so often that it is accepted as true no matter how laughable it is, because no one dares to speak against what everyone else accepts as obvious truth- in short, new-think.

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Division is a favorite tactic of institutions throughout the ages.  In the 19th Century, nascent European nation-states started wars because they believed that it was the best way to cement national identity.  The surest way to demarcate “us” is by identifying all the evil “them”s.

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Playing the victim is a derivative of this tactic of division, except that rather than attacking the enemy you’ve identified directly, you can talk about how much he’s oppressing you.  The advantage here is that you can treat any attempt on his part to express an opinion different from your own as further oppression.  If you’re particularly talented, you can get so much credit for being that victim that the more violent and unreasonable your reactions, the more everyone will bend over backwards to placate you.

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One of the surest signs of a religious milieu gone bad is that it will attempt to dictate the politics of its members.

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Closely connected with trying to dictate the politics of their members, corrupt institutions will often seek to colonize territory- that is, to make themselves as exclusive as possible in a given area and turf out all other influences and ways of thinking,

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which is why after just a small taste of government by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the world population distribution of Coptic Christians now looks like this:

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Fear is the ubiquitous weapon of all institutions-gone-wrong, but where bosses and bankers can only threaten your money, religious institutions have a somewhat broader repertoire.  Hellfire and brimstone is the old favorite…

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because it seems people are easily intimidated and will do anything to spend eternity with someone when they hear he’s thinking about spit-roasting them.

 

Another tactic is the attempt on the part of a religious institution to divorce its clergy, and even its membership at large, from genuine understanding and contact with the society around them.

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When all else fails, when you have nothing else going for you, when the cognitive dissonance between your agenda and any sort of objective reason and morality is enough to make even Andrew Jackson baulk, dispense with the implied intimidation and just threaten to kill them.

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Of course, there are certain strategies which almost guarantee that your institution won’t survive.  It’s alright to predict the end of days, for example, but if you give an exact date, well, you’ve just put an expiry date on your viability.  Of course, originators of doomsday cults aren’t in it for the long haul- they just figure that people are less likely to guard their wallets while they’re waiting for the rapture.

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All joking aside, the point is not to vilify faith or the faithful (although many atheists make a self-serving and one-sided argument in that direction) but rather to bring home the point that religion tends to include two of humanity’s most dangerous weapons- institutions and ideas.  It’s important to test both when you’re looking for a spiritual home.  The blessing is that even in the most decrepit institution, there are small, unnoticed islands of sanity and grace.

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~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

 


Putting it All Together!

In the coming weeks, we’ll be reintroducing the Resilient Life Code, a course that will bring together all the aspects of personal resilience we’ve talked about.  It’s easy to spend your life reading up on health, mindset, spirituality, energy work and so forth without finding any coherent body of information that will show you how they all fit together.  Finally you’ll have access to that indispensable information.

 

Dualism- How We Forgot

One thing that all ancient traditions have in common is the unity of all of these elements within their spiritual disciplines, elements which we far too often treat as isolated areas of concern.  In my opinion, this traces back to Western culture’s fundamental dualism- the mind and the body are placed in fundamental opposition.

One symptom of this trend historically has been the complete misunderstanding within Western Christianity of its own “external” practices- fasting, use of images, genuflection, holy water, holy oil, incense, all of the elements that Protestantism discarded as meaningless ritual- which it had, in fact, largely become.  If you grew up in a Protestant country, chances are you’ve absorbed some of Protestantism’s disgust for these “primitive,” “superstitious” practices in one form or another.

People like to make rules to replace authentic traditions- following rules, after all, is easier than struggling to transform the human person- and the “externals” are easy fodder for this sort of thing, as I am painfully aware from my own church background.  But the fundamental superstition here is not that the externals affect us internally, but that they don’t.  The body and the mind are one organism, and you simply can’t make progress in personal resilience without using each to change the state of the other.

 

The Full Picture

I cannot think of a single authentic tradition that does not control diet, for example, in one form or another.  From Buddhist vegetarianism to the extensive corpus of Taoist dietary advice to the fasting practiced by many faiths globally, the question is not how to alter the diet, but in what way.  This was certainly the approach of early Christianity.  They had no question that fasting could help them to put their body-mind organism in a state more receptive to the presence of God.  The only question was what it would look like.  We have the evidence to show the vastly different dietary practices they experimented with, some of which still coexist today.  The distortion occurs when this becomes an external rule or a mortification of the flesh rather than an activity with an internal purpose.

The struggle to develop our full potential as human beings is aided or hindered by the full picture of our daily life.  What is the first thing you do in the morning?  What do you think about during the day?  How do you feel?  What is your body’s physical condition?  What do you see, hear, smell, taste, touch in the course of your day?  What energetic input are you getting from the people around you?  What material are you feeding your mind with, and how does it affect you on a deeper level?  How do you respond to conflict, to stress?  All of these questions become critically important to create the conditions in which you will find it easier to flourish in the long term.

 

Full Immersion

Ancient traditions understood this, and that’s why so many of them embraced the most radical of solutions.  The seeker leaves his old life behind, all the possessions, friends and family, career prospects, expectations that he has ever known.  In short, he breaks every old habit, every old input except what is in his head.  Perhaps more importantly, he gives himself no alternative but total belief.  He finds a master to teach him, and slowly, he begins to rebuild himself in a new setting.  His diet, exercise, work, reading, acquaintances, surroundings are all deliberate.  His inner life begins to change as he is taught to face his own inner obstacles and transmute them.  His physical body begins to change, and his consciousness with it.

This is hardly possible for everyone, and such an approach can be quite dangerous if you don’t know what to look for.  But it is important for us, living in a disjointed and materialistic society, to understand why things were done in this holistic way.

Imagine, for a moment, a nation somewhere in the world that had dedicated itself to finding the best possible way for every human being to reach their own unique potential in everything they do, everything they are, and to realize the divine imprint within their being.  Imagine that for centuries, this nation had absorbed seekers from all nations with all of their many gifts and perspectives, considered many ways of life, and from these tried to create, not a consensus, but a way of life that reflected and facilitated that common endeavor in every facet of this society, that gave everyone scope and encouragement to find and develop their own unique talent and potential.

What might such a society look like?  We can’t know, but that’s the point- it doesn’t exist.  The next best thing for us is to become more conscious in how we live our own lives, to reclaim control of our inner state one piece at a time by understanding what affects that state.  Our purpose going forward with the Resilient Life Code is to bring together all the pieces of the puzzle in a synergistic way, to show how they intersect and how to put it all together.

More on this is coming your way very soon…

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


The REAL Meaning of Christmas

As you walk through the bustling shopping malls listening to carol music or tune in to the talking heads of radio and television yapping about the “meaning of Christmas”, you can’t help but be struck by one inescapable fact – if the meaning of this allegedly monumental event of two millennia ago is what they say it is, then… frankly… who cares?

“Peace on earth?”  Fat chance.  And if the birth of Jesus was about putting an end to armed conflict, then it wasn’t such a great success.  “Being surrounded by family and friends?”  Heck, most of us look forward to a vacation where we can get away from our relatives.  And we won’t even discuss Santa, Rudolph, or – worse still – snow and sleigh bells.  


So what is it about?  Well, as it turns out, the ancient Christian tradition has some much needed light to shed on the event.  And when you consider what this tradition really says about Christmas, it’s actually breathtaking… and totally different than the dumbed down and distorted perspectives that most Christians have dancing in their heads.

Prepared to be challenged?  Then read on!  Just know that this is not “light reading” or fluff…

And I’ve tossed in a bit of the ancient tradition’s Christmas music for your enjoyment too, some in Byzantine chant and some in Slavic melodies, sung in English and other languages.

Jesus Who?



The ancient liturgical texts of the Christian East unambiguously affirm that the one born in Bethlehem is a divine person, and “older than ancient Adam.”  Yet he is also fully human, “not merely in appearance, but in reality.”  So he is divine and uncreated, yet he has or takes on human flesh, a human mind and a human soul.  The ancient hymns put these words into the mouth of Jesus: “I who fashioned Adam’s form, now willingly put it on.”  


And because he is divine, yet adopts a human nature, he is just one person, one single identity: “The person of your divinity and of your flesh was one.” 


What does this all mean?  For the first time in all history, the Uncreated, the Absolute being entered into the created and mortal flesh of humanity, transmitting to that flesh a life-creating power it had not known since the dawn of time.  And since man is the microcosm and mediator of creation, whatever happens to his flesh, his organism, is transmitted to all of creation:


“Hearken O heaven and give ear O earth.  Let the foundations be shaken and let trembling lay hold of the nethermost parts of the world, for our God and Creator has clothed himself in created flesh.”  


This is why the ancient texts refer to the human body of Jesus as “the double-natured seed giving life in the furrows of the earth.”  




Why Did God Become Man?  



Nine hundred years ago, a so-called theologian in Canterbury named Anselm wrote a small book with that title.  Called Cur Deus Homo? in Latin, Anselm’s answer to this question would forever distort Western perceptions of Christmas, help reduce Western Christianity to juridical moralism and sever the bond between humanity and the cosmos.  Good thing he was totally wrong!


The answer to our question is simple.  “I have come openly,” says Christ in the ancient hymns, “to restore and to glorify with myself the fallen nature of mortal man.”  The “restore” part relates to the idea of salvation.  It’s the negative part, the recovery from the undesirable condition of mortality.  


But the “glorify” part is a whole other story and equates to a concept that was erased from Western Christianity a millennium ago, the concept of “deification” (theosis in Greek).  This means that by joining the human organism to its uncreated prototype through the birth of Jesus Christ, God not only repaired the damage of the fall, but also opened up the possibility for each person to unite him or herself with the divine.  


We’re not talking about some sort of fruitcake, pseudo-mystical experience here, not about something produced by emotional frenzy or drugs or whatever.  You see, the ancient tradition maintained that you could have direct, intimate contact with God even here, now in this lifetime.  Yet if you examine Western theology closely, you’ll notice it denies that is even possible.  Disagree?  Got news for you – it’s an open and shut case and easy to prove.  However, no time to do it here.




The Day the Universe Changed



The ancient texts go on to explain in detail, if in metaphorical language, how the birth of Christ has in itself opened the path to the true life of deification for every person:


“Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord, as we sing of this present mystery.  The middle wall of partition has been destroyed.  The flaming sword turns back.  The Cherubim withdraw from the Tree of Life.  And I partake of the delights of paradise from which I had been cast out through disobedience.  For the express image of the Father, the imprint of his eternity, takes on the form of a servant…”


And this miraculous rebirth extends to all of creation so that, in a real and physical sense (and everything in the ancient tradition is very “physical”), all of creation – rocks and trees, mountains and streams, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea – all of it “becomes” divine, filled with divine energy (a technical term in the ancient tradition) and supremely important.  If you’re looking for a “green-friendly” theology, look no further.



It’s Not About Salvation



As you may have noticed above, the birth of Jesus isn’t just about salvation, but about something much greater.  And this fact, which the ancient Christian mystics and their modern successors have verified through their own spiritual experience, led them to a startling conclusion…


…God did not become man just to “save us from our sins”.  God would have become man even if the fall had never happened and we didn’t need help to escape our mortality.  In the words of the great mystic and theologian, St. Maximos the Confessor:


“This is the great hidden mystery.  This is the purpose for which all things were created.  It was with a view to this (God becoming man) that God brought forth all beings.”  

In the words of the 14th century writer, Gregory Palamas, who successfully defended the ancient tradition from the the dualistic, body-hating tendencies (1) inherent in the emerging Western theology of his time:  “Hence the original creation of the human being, which was formed in the image of God, was for the sake of Christ, so that the human being should be able one day to make room for its archetype.”  




What’s the Big Deal?



Well, if you know anything at all about the conventional view of Christianity, you don’t need to read this part, because the foregoing has just blown the doors off your world.  I guess what it comes down to is this.  Here we have the original, ancient version of Christianity, which claims:

  • Jesus Christ is a divine person
  • By taking on a human body and soul, he transmitted divine, vivifying power to all humanity and through humanity to all of creation
  • So on the original Christmas day, the whole universe actually experienced a dramatic change 
  • By joining the divine and human organisms together, human beings were given the possibility of “becoming god” 
  • Joining the two natures together was the purpose for which everything was created 



It blows the mind….


Wishing you and yours a most blessed Christmas!


~ Dr. Symeon Rodger






Noetic Prayer: The "Real Chocolate" of Spiritual Life

In the pre-dawn darkness, broken only by candle light, I felt a tap on the shoulder.  “The ‘yerondas’ will see you now,” said a voice from behind, speaking Greek.  I turned to follow him out of the Church, where we had already been praying for half an hour, and across the compound to another of the monastery’s buildings. 

As I entered the abbott’s humble quarters, he rose to introduce himself in a very warm and welcoming way, as is typical on Mount Athos, a penninsula jutting into the Aegean off the Greek mainland, where only Orthodox Christian monks have lived for the last thousand years. 

Though we were both multi-lingual, we quickly settled on French as the easiest form of communication for us and began to talk about various things.  I told the abbott I would soon be teaching theology at the university level for the first time and asked his advice. 

“The most important thing is the heart, ” he said.  “Theology is not primarily dates, events and facts.  It’s primarily the transmission of a living experience.  You need ‘the prayer’ – it’s the key to everything.  The more you get a grip on ‘the prayer’, the greater the effect of your teaching.”

Hmmm… not “prayer” generically, but “the prayer”.  An enigmtic expression, yet very clear to the two of us conversing in the candle-lit darkness of the Athonite wilderness. 

What is “The Prayer”?

We’ve already talked this week about the importance of prayer to your personal resilience and how to begin a life of prayer that gets results and increases your faith in the process.  Today, though, we’re going to talk about the highest form of prayer, the “real chocolate” of spiritual life.

It’s sometimes called “unceasing prayer” because it becomes eventually a state of being.  And it’s technically called “noetic” prayer because it’s the prayer of the nous, as opposed to the rational mind.  The nous is the ancient Christian term for your deep, intuitive mind – it’s a form of intelligence within you that knows reality directly and not through concepts, the way the rational mind does. 


To clarify, this isn’t prayer in the sense of “give me, give me” or “save me from the consequences of my own stupidity”.  This kind of prayer is about achieving a living communion, an assimilation of being, with the Absolute Reality. 


We build our resilience by remaining as far as possible integrated into the Absolute (God), under His influence and open to His energies (the energies of God, by the way, is a technical term that goes back at least to the 4th century), and the only way to do this is to cultivate a meditative state of openness and inner stillness. 


What’s the catch?  Your mind stream, that internal dialogue that locks you up into an individual, isolated and ego-centric perception of reality is what prevents this.  The more active the mind stream, the more we identify ourselves with our thoughts and fall under the sway of delusive thinking and powerful emotions we don’t control.  The Absolute can’t act within us under these circumstances. 


Your real self is not your thoughts or your emotions.  So the more you’re under the mind stream’s influence, the more you lose track of who you are, until finally you totally identify your self with your personality, which is little more than a collection of reactions to past experiences, to cultural brainwashing, to media propaganda, as well as of numerous other influences, including fluctuating hormones, biorhythms and phases of the moon.  In the end, you’re totally controlled by your environment and lose your inner freedom.  


Noetic prayer frees you from all that and enables you to become who you really are.  It also opens you up to the Absolute and keeps you that way.  You begin to perceive the world in much more vibrant colors, so to speak, than other people do.


One master of noetic prayer, the famous elder Porphyrios of Athens (d. 1991), knew everyone’s name, could communicate with animals and, if you came to see him from overseas, he might tell you clairvoyantly to fix the front step of your house in California and to make sure your sister in Florida sees a specialist for her bad knee.  Such is the power and effect of noetic prayer. 

On my visit to Athos in 1998 I was too late to meet him in person, but we talked to his senior disciple for several hours about the old man.  When another spiritual guide had once told an inquirer to consult Porphyrios, the inquirer protested.  The spiritual guide said, “My child, Father Porphyrios is like a color TV set; I am just a black and white one.” 

Beginning to Practice Noetic Prayer:


There are many different approaches that can work for different people.  For modern Western people, it’s often best to use basic meditation as a starting point, since this is a very effective way to gain a direct experience of the nous and to separate your self from your mind stream – your thoughts and emotions.


Just use your mental attention to follow your breath in and out.  When thoughts and emotional states arise and try to dominate your inner attention, just ignore them and return your attention to your breathing.  This is called “watchfulness” – using the nous (your mental attention) to keep your mental continuum free of clutter.


The more you do this, the more you’ll discover that the centre of your noetic energy is in “the place of the heart.”  The place of the heart is in the upper chest, and not everyone experiences it in exactly the same location.   For most, it’s in the upper chest, above the physical heart and slightly to the left,  no doubt related to the heart chakra plexus of yogic anatomy.


Now it’s time to request the divine presence, and there are several ways to do this.  The continuous repetition of a short prayer text is one of the most often used methods.  In ancient Christianity there were several in use that we know of, including various psalm verses, snipets of hymns, etc.


Eventually the formula that dominated and virtually replaced all others was the now famous “Jesus Prayer”.  And when the abbott above talked about “the prayer”, this is what he meant.  The text of the Jesus Prayer is “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”  It’s also called the “five word prayer” because in the original Greek, it’s only five words. 


Repitition of the words, which can be done aloud or just mentally, is often combined with the breathing, though not always. 


However, it’s possible to pray noetically and request the divine presence with no words at all.


So it’s not an accident the ancient Christian spiritual tradition (paradoxically the best documented and least known or understood spiritual tradition anywhere!) has always been called “hesychasm” – the practice of stillness or silence.  Note that this “silience” is interior and has nothing at all to do with whether you talk or not. 


By keeping your mental attention in the place of the heart, and more generally inside your physical form, you eventually learn how to defeat the disordered emotional drives of your past, as well as all outside influences, so that you experience an extreme inner peace.


Noetic prayer is, on the one hand, like candy – you can’t taste it just once. You want to stay there always and you experience a great compulsion to do that.  On the other hand, it’s really tough to master and takes continuous and regular practice.  This includes times you set aside to just practice this, because, without separate practice times, your efforts to remain in prayer during the hustle and bustle of the day won’t likely bear fruit.


Ultimately, this kind of prayer leads directly to a direct encounter with the one, true and living God.  This is often called theoria (vision) or the vision of the Uncreated LightThis experience confers real knowledge of God, erases all possibility of doubt in the existence of God, and leaves you in what St. Isaac the Syrian used to call “awstruck wonder”.


It is an experience far beyond anything the human imagination can possibly dream up.  All I’ll say about it is this, quoting another great master of noetic prayer from the 20th century…


“Compared to the Divine Light, all the lights of this world, even of the sun at high noon, are nothing but darkness.  At that time there takes place a union, a communion of the Infinite and Uncreated with human beings, who are created and limited.  By His energie, the latter are truly transformed into children of the Most High.  It is then and only then that you can be assured in all your being that you really are created in the image and likeness of God.  Every limitation of time and space disappears, you soar above duration and space and find yourself immersed in peace.”1

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

1. from The Living Witness of the Holy Mountain, ed. Alexander Golitzin, p.157.


Spiritual Life: Reality or Delusion? (Part 1)

“All fantasies, especially that of religion, are caused by a short-circuit at the centre of the human personality.  This short-circuit, which exists between the heart which pumps blood (the circulatory system) and the spinal cord which circulates spinal fluid (the nervous system) is only repaired by ceaseless prayer in the heart.  It is only when the short-circuit is repaired that you begin to be liberated from the realm of fantasy.”

– Rev. Dr. John Romanides in “Religion as a Neurobiological Illness”

Startling, isn’t it?  – A world-renowned Orthodox Christian priest and theologian calling religion a “neurobiological illness” and a “fantasy”!    You may remember that quotation from chapter one of The 5 Pillars of Life.  I’m bringing it up here because one question I get asked frequently is:

“How do you tell which spiritual paths will transform you life and which ones will wreck your life?” 

A month from now I’ll have a whole new class of university students to explore that question with, as we take a really hard, analytical look at not only the world’s major “religions”, but contemporary spiritual trends as well.

So why is spirituality important at all?  Who needs it?  Simple… if you want to become a truly resilient human being, you cannot do so without a spiritual life because spiritual life, if it’s real, is the only way to actualize the full potential of your being.  On the most obvious level, committing yourself to high values and principles will take you beyond the narrow confines of your ego and even beyond the constraints of this short life.  On a deeper level, there is no other way to open the depths of your being to a direct experience of the Absolute Reality. 


Of course, a quick look at the news is all you need to convince you that what we conventionally call “religion” can be a pretty scary thing – right wing fundamentalists condemning minority groups or telling their people how “God wants them to vote”, Muslim demonstrators carrying placards saying, “Behead those who insult Islam!” are just the tip of the iceberg.  

You may remember that in The 5 Pillars of Life I make a clear distinction between “religions” and “Authentic Ancient Traditions” and outline the differences.  People in our culture these days tend to think religion – the institutional version – is bad, whereas “spirituality” – the individual version – is good.  Reality is not quite so simple.  So how do you tell the kind of spiritual approach that will transform you into a saint / Bodhisattva / immortal from the kind that will transform you into a neurotic, a terrorist or a self-righteous jerk?

Powerful Questions to Ask About ANY Spiritual Path:

1.  Does it insist that the only way to be saved or avoid eternal torture is to become a member and / or believe in its creed?

2. Does it tell you that God is angry, judgmental and is basically just waiting for you to slip up so He can punish you?

3. Does it give rise to a culture of guilt and shame?

4. Does it teach you that God hates “unbelievers” or that you need to convert them by force or otherwise oppress them?

5. If you try to leave this spiritual path, will your life be in danger?

6. Do its teachings give rise to large scale emotional dysfunction? 

If you’re involved in or thinking of becoming involved in any spiritual path where the answer to any of these questions would be “yes”, then I’d suggest you run screaming in the other direction… fast.  

In general, any “spiritual” path advocating violence is simply a fascist religious ideology masquerading as the will of God.  Those that have moral teachings that produce emotional dysfunction are usually distorted versions (religions) of earlier Authentic Ancient Traditions.  

Unless a tradition meets the following criteria, it’s highly likely to be either a dumbed down version of an authentic tradition (i.e., a religion) or simply a fake from day one.  Here’s what every legitimate spiritual path must have or do:


1. It must teach that a total mind-body transformation of the human being is possible, that it can begin in this life and that every human being, here and now, can come to a direct experience of the Absolute Reality (God or whatever the name might be).


2. It must possess a deep spiritual teaching that includes meditation and / or unceasing noetic prayer.


3. It must be able to prove that there is an unbroken lineage of transformed people who have put this teaching into practice, been transformed by it, and can pass it on.


4. It must be able to prove that it gets the results it claims, preferably by demonstrating this across multiple cultures for several centuries.


5. It must value love, compassion and humility above all else and teach forgiveness.  


These simple criteria will enable anyone to get to the truth about any tradition in short order.  


If you’re a Christian or if you know the New Testament well, you may remember a section from the book of Acts (5:34-40) where a Pharisee named Gamaliel says that any spiritual movement that comes from God will survive and thrive, whereas any movement not from God will just fade away.  Since many Christians are used to the idea the Bible contains no errors, they may not have noticed that there’s only one problem with Gamaliel’s theory…

…It’s plain wrong.  Total crap, actually.  History proves that many religious movements have existed for over a millennium, with hundreds of millions of followers, and that these same movements have given rise to near constant strife, killing, emotional dysfunction / neurosis and endless misery.  

So be really careful before you commit your spiritual future to anything.  If you apply the simple criteria above, though, you’ll be just fine.

Next time, we’ll talk about how to build a firm foundation for your spiritual life.


~ Dr. Symeon Rodger




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