Buddhism, Hinduism / Sanatana Dharma, Philosophy, Society, Spirituality

Episode 41: Navigating Through Spiritual Fads


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How can we know that the spiritual teachings we are interested in learning are genuine or will lead us off some beaten track?

Firstly, the goal of the teaching, the book, or the guru/teacher has to be the same goal you have in mind. Without a goal, we are groping in the dark and can end up absolutely anywhere.

Really reflect on why you want to take up a spiritual practice. Here are some reasons I have come across:

  • Simply following the advice of friends, family, co-workers, or authority figures based on a social and cultural contexts. (For example, “Jnana, you have to try mindfulness practice because it’s given me so many benefits!” or “Say your prayers or you’re going to Hell”)
  • Out of sheer curiosity
  • Egoic necessity: collecting knowledge to impress others or oneself, the accumulation of merit/wealth/relationships/etc. by reciting “special mantras”, doing “special meditations” or performing magic
  • Recognising an inner longing for what the material cannot provide and thus searching for it, whether that be God or otherwise
  • Liberation from the wheel of birth and death (suffering) and/or the wish that others also be free from birth and death
  • Collecting interesting experiences and states of mind; consciousness expansion
  • Learning, personal growth, and self-help
  • Or, you’re a journalist who just wants an interesting story…

So, with the goal in mind, investigate if the end goal of your chosen teaching matches your goal. This might sound silly, but it’s absolutely crucial.

Secondly, recognise reaching your goal is a process and is not figured out overnight. Yes, there are spontaneously awakened beings who did not have to do anything or “simply got it” one day with minimal effort, but if you are still seeking, then you are still in the process. As we know from our own lives, reaching goals can take weeks, months, and years to achieve.

As with any goal, including spiritual goals, there will be setbacks. Let’s apply this most obviously to losing 10 kilos of fat. The first setback is that it doesn’t happen instantly. “It takes months?! WHAT?!” The second setback is cheating on your diet or missing a day at the gym. Another setback could be giving up completely or changing course so that you gain 10 kilos instead of lose them. Because we’re not perfect and we are still learning and growing during the process of figuring out how to reach our goal, we will have setbacks and challenges. Guaranteed.

So be wary of any teacher or teaching that makes it absolutely simple and easy. Because it’s not. Losing 10 kilos if you’ve never done it befire or relaxing into meditation if you’re over-stressed is absolutely difficult and challenging — nevermind figuring out all the secrets of the universe or becoming 100% liberated from suffering forever! Spiritual liberation is, well… the most ambitious and arduous pursuit on the face of the earth. I can’t stress this enough!

So we have created our goal and now have a way to get there that we trust. What next?

There must be some evidence that it works from your own experience. Attaining spiritual wisdom is unlike any other form of learning that we know of. It is trans-rational and goes against the grain of logic and the world. A good rule of thumb is that experience means that it does not come from memory or recollection; it is not an abstraction/concept and is not imaginary; and it is not based on general knowledge or anothers’ supposed experience whatsoever.

A good example of experience is, “I can see the sun.” It is experienced by you, directly, without memory/recollection, abstract conceptions, and nobody else has to show or tell you that. However, don’t confuse knowledge with experience. They are two separate entities. I will demonstrate this here:

A baby cannot add 1+1 together and has no recollection that the answer is 2. If that child is left not knowing anything about math, then 1+1=2 is never knowledge. Even if the child does learn that 1+1=2, it is still an abstract concept coming from the imagination. “But,” you might say, “it’s true and I can experience it because I know it. It’s a fact!”. Yes, it is a logical fact, but it does not come from your own experience. If you’re not a mathemetician, you have no idea how or why 1+1=2. “It just does.” And spiritual experience is not concerned with abstract verifications, claims, imaginations, or blindly trusting others’ claims.

The accumulation of knowledge in the form of information and abstraction that the brain mechanically spews back out is not and never was the goal of any true spiritual tradition anywhere in the world.

The mind is just a tool that recalls and learns, and healthy people can use it in similar ways. You want to learn Yoga Asanas? Okay, many people can do that. You want to learn quantum physics? Okay, less people do that, but it is still in the realm of possibility for those with healthy minds. Therefore, identification with the mind’s concepts will not lead to spiritual liberation: just because a teacher showed you Yoga Asanas does not mean you will experience the full impact of the purpose of Yoga.

The bottom line is if you’re experiencing what the teacher or teachings are said you are supposed to experience — then you are on the right track!

Why, then, do we have mind-centred/mind-made paths and teachings that lead us to the trans-rational?

Because most human beings are used to it. Since childhood, we have been conditioned by other ignorant human beings about whoand how we are supposed to be but were never taught who we really are. So we are not clear yet. Teachings are like feather-dusters to show us the truth about our own mental scope: our emotions, fears, beliefs, goals, thoughts, and general viewpoint of our own conscious experience and the world — then, when we are honest about all of this, we human beings can begin to experience the trans-rational.

Giving without getting anything in return is trans-rational. How is it logical that you would give away your thing, if it belongs to you, for no good reason? It’s not. It’s other-worldly. We have to learn this, and we will struggle and fail many times in our own psychological mind when we have this basic conception of me and my thing. This is precisely why there is a path and there are teachings: to bring us back on the good boat.

The authentic and original teachings of the Buddha make it absolutely clear about the number one goal, the trials and tribulations on reaching it, and that experience is the most important so that you can verify for yourself and not just blindly believe. He was against Vedic rituals, for example, when they did not produce results and pointed this out in debates with Brahmans many times.

He also admitted the 8-fold path is a fabrication!

The Buddha, too, admits every single word uttered from his mouth is only “a raft” to be abandoned when we no longer need it. We do this all the time with: when we change jobs, for example, the skills from previous jobs are abandoned because we no longer need them.

Just for fun, I’ll leave you with this real-life analogy on how spiritual teachings function:

The Buddhist path is akin to building a beautiful mansion from scratch: first, we have to imagine the mansion (our goal) and then start to build it. The first step is Right View, which is like making the blueprints from the awareness that we want to end up with a mansion. Then we have Right Intention, knowing that we will be there physically, mentally, and emotionally to build it. Next, we lay concrete and put up scaffolding so the structure starts to take shape: Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, & Right Effort. In the final stages, the structure becomes more complex, nuanced, and beautiful. We paint, furnish, add lighting, artworks, and decorations: Right Mindfulness & Right Concentration. Finally, we have the goal: the mansion or Liberation.

Namaste!

Hinduism / Sanatana Dharma, Society, Spirituality

Episode 40: God, Dharma, & Vedic Spirituality for all Seekers — Interview with Sri Acharya


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“Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya”

is his full name: it means “He Who Sets Dharma In Motion”. For the past 40+ years, Sri Acharya has been a sincere transmittor of peace and authentic Vedic spirituality. Though he has an unimaginable list of academic qualifications, he is no armchair philosopher – he is an everyday activist and regularly speaks to large groups and officially teaches Sanatana Dharma to students. He left the academic life to pursue the spiritual path of Sanatana Dharma, specifically, and to share his wisdom and knowledge with others.

In our first episode together, we touch on a few fundamental questions that should begin every spiritual conversation. Here is a brief synopsis of what we cover.

1. Are all spiritual paths the same, eventually leading everyone to the same goal, since we are all in Samsara, after all?

We can take many angles with this question, depending from the standpoint – Jewish, Vedantan, or Buddhist, etc – but is everyone going in the same direction, regardless of the spiritual path or lack thereof? Sri Acharyaji goes on to explain this in a logical fashion, which leads into our next question:

2. How and why can we know that Vedic scriptures are more valid sources than other spiritual scriptures? What’s the difference?

I ask, because almost all holy books I’ve come across have a claim of transcendent nature. This is why, when devoutly religious people are asked challenging questions about the nature of life and reality, they usually revert to two tactics: instead of making up their own mind from experience, they go into the scriptures and quote the answer, as they are believed to be transcendent. Secondly, if the answer is not found in the scriptures for one reason or another, then they say “that’s the way it is, because God is mysterious” or “only God knows the answer, and I trust God”. When we want answers, though, what good is it to give our power of intellect, emotion, and mind to a source when we are not sure how accurate that source is? (I have talked previously about the pitfalls of trusting in outside, authoritative, sources in my post, here, with Greg Lawrence.) So, we either have to experience for ourselves (find out if the fire is hot by touching it) or we have to make sure the source is trustworthy. However we approach a source, it should lead us back into our own experience for validation. From here, I ask Sri Acharya:

3. As in Buddhism, which relies heavily on experience and experimentation, how does experience play into Sanatana Dharma and knowing Krishna as the absolute?

I picked this quote out of our interview, because it is extremely telling. Acharyaji says:

“If we think we are our own guru, then we have a fool for a disciple”.

What does this mean? It means that, before we can teach or even learn, we need to have a clear goal and also have a clear and true answer that either comes from ourself or our guru/master – that is, a guru who is not lying and has cleared his way, such as the Buddha and other awakened beings walking this earth. (See footnote below on the subject of the authentic guru.¹) Many aspects of ourself can get in the way – this is called “ego” and consists of our biases, past experiences as individual bodies/minds, and feelings or emotional tendencies that may actually be leading us astray. So, experience is essential, but weeding out the true from the false experience is also a skill we must learn as spiritual beings.

4. Why do we have this material body? Did we choose this before coming into existence?

Karma is a hefty subject in both Vedic and Buddhist teachings, but the simple answer is because of our karma. We will do another episode on karma, so don’t worry about the nitty-gritty details just yet. Acharyaji gives a brief synopsis of how karma functions.

5. What is this whole ‘unconditional love’ business about, and why does God need it?

Does God need anything? Why does the pendulum swing towards love and not another facet of our being? I’ve always wondered this. It is in my understanding, thus far, that the Supreme does not need anything but if there is a truth regarding this question, then there must be an answer. And as beings who experience a whole range of emotions and sensations that continually change, then we must whittle it down to the base perception and what that actually is. Could it be unconditional love?

6. What role does intuition or the personal intuitive factor play in Sanatana Dharma?

As above, since we all are independent agents (or at least think that we are) and have a broad range of feelings and emotions, we must be able to tell a true feeling from an untrue feeling. Some people have better intuition than others and this guides their experience in a harmonious direction; yet, all of us have a degree of intuition, or we wouldn’t be able to function. Should I walk left or right? Should I duck down if that bird is flying my way? Should I give my money to that person or not? These all rely on some ‘sense’ we have, and that sense can be honed – we may not even realise when we are using our intutitive force! Acharyaji talks about intuitive recognition in Sanatana Dharma from here.

I hope you enjoy our episode, and please drop me a line at curiousbodhi@zoho.com or see Sri Acharya’s contact at www.dharmacentral.com.

Peace to you, however you are and whatever stage of life you are in! May you and everyone you know be happy and free from all forms of suffering!

Namaste!

¹ A teacher, guru, or rishi, one has to undertake many years of training to earn this sort of title – “Acharya”, “Swami/Swamini”, etc.

In Vedanta (of which there are many, many schools) and Sanatana Dharma, the role of the guru is regarded as of utmost necessity on the path, because they have done the work of cleaning up their own act and their own mind to be a true transmittor. Too often in our world, whether in politics or business or in spiritual circles, leaders abuse their power, because they have hidden motives and this is due, really, to the unclean mind of grasping and ignorance. I recommend two videos by Sri Acharya that touch on this subject: How to Recognize an Authentic Guru and The Age of Anti-Guru.