A few scattered thoughts.
It seems to me that we are all afflicted with self-hatred. Perhaps this is buried or perhaps it is near the surface of consciousness. I would regard it as a common problem. Furthermore, it is a problem that is useless and absurd. When one hates oneself, one inflicts suffering upon oneself to the benefit of nobody.
Most of our ways of progress involve some aspect of denial of the self. Rationality requires us to abandon our subjective feelings for objective facts. Religion requires us to follow moral codes and in doing so, deny our emotions and impulses. Mysticism’s goal is frequently described as “transcendence of the ego.” Society requires us to deny ourselves as a basic requirement for functioning in it. The more involved we become in any of the available systems of progress, the more we are likely to increase the self-hatred which exists in ourselves.
This self-hatred, besides having intrinsic negative value, probably limits our ability to make further progress. An entity that is divided against itself wastes energy in fighting against itself, canceling out its own efforts and reducing the amount of useful work which it is able to perform. If we wish to increase our impact on ourselves or on the world, it will be helpful for us not to hate ourselves.
I suggest that a reasonable course of action is to take countermeasures to reverse this process of increasing self-hatred. I suggest that it would be fruitful to foster within ourselves self-acceptance and self-love, and recognize the fact of our own godliness.
This is immediately recognized as a dangerous course of action. If one develops self-love and recognizes one’s own godliness, there are two directions in which this can go:
Inflation. One develops love for self without developing love for others, and recognizes one’s godliness without balancing this with a recognition of others’ godliness. In this case one is polarizing towards the negative.
Expansion. One develops love for self and develops love for others, recognizing one’s godliness and the godliness of others. In this case one is polarizing towards the positive.
It follows that in order to accept ourselves profitably, we would have to balance this with an equal acceptance of others.
I suggest that the concept of authority has created problems in all systems of progress. The early stages of rationality were hindered by a reliance on authorities such as Plato, Aristotle, and the Bible, wherein people took these sources as infallible. Sometimes these sources were wrong, and this led to people dogmatically believing things that were false. One may further speculate that the intense scrutiny which was applied to these sources at the expense of gathering new data, or examining other sources, was a waste of energy. Rationality has overcome these problems to a great extent by the device of not regading any source as authoritative.
The same phenomenon of regarding some sources as authoritative occurs in spirituality. It leads to the same problems: people dogmatically believing things that were false, and perhaps also people intensely scrutinizing certain sources at the expense of losing what they would gain from examining a broader range of sources. Spirituality is still afflicted with these problems to a great extent, and could probably benefit from following rationality’s lead in not regarding any source as authoritative.
Spirituality is infected by the concept of the “guru” or “prophet:” the individual of surpassing spiritual wisdom who is to be followed unquestioningly on account of the depth and purity of his wisdom. While I do not doubt that individuals with this level of power and insight have existed (e.g., Jesus and the Buddha), I also suggest that the concept of a guru/prophet leads people on many wild goose chases when they come to believe that a certain person is a guru/prophet and therefore fall into unquestioning subordination to this person. Certain individuals decide that they are guru/prophets out of delusions of grandeur or ulterior motives, numerous people buy into this belief system, and the phony guru/prophet takes these people for a ride. This can be seen happening now most egregiously in India.
I suggest that the proposition “obey me and I will bring you closer to God/enlightenment” is to be rejected in every case. I suggest that it is a negative proposition, and that if a teacher were really positive then they would not have any need or desire to ask for obedience. It would follow that what we lose by not following teachers who put forth this proposition is nothing that we should regret losing, if preserving our positive polarity is of foremost importance to us.
A problem with which rationality is consistently afflicted is the problem of accomplishing things that are worthwhile. Rationality gives us a great deal of power to accomplish things, but the things which we then choose to accomplish are often perhaps not worth accomplishing. For instance, we have sunk a tremendous amount of energy into cataloguing the details of our world when in fact this may not help us to shed light on the broader nature of the truth.
We have sunk a tremendous amount of energy into technology. What have we gained from it? A number of large positive outcomes can be named. We can produce food cheaply and easily; we have medicine; we have computers and the Internet. Much of our technological effort has been sunk into inventing more powerful weapons, and into making people who are already too comfortable even more comfortable.
The pursuit of technology is a special case of the pursuit of “projects.” In undertaking a project, one invests a large amount of time and energy into achieving some narrow and specific goal with materially observable results. Businesses, research, government activities, technologies, and artistic endeavours are examples of projects. It is clear that projects are a central value of Western society, and that we spend a major portion of our waking hours engaging in various projects.
I suggest that we invest too much time and energy in projects. In doing so we neglect the other things that life has to offer, including connecting with others, introspective reflection, and spiritual pursuits. Projects are valuable, but in Western society we have become obsessed with projects to a distinctly unhealthy extent.
Our fascination with projects is tied to our fascination with rationality. Rationality’s chief virtue is that it helps us to carry out our projects. It is significantly less useful for connecting with others, introspective reflection, and spiritual pursuits.
The challenge for rationality is not to accomplish something, but to accomplish something worthwhile. Rationality gives us the power to do a million different things. But only some of them are things that we ought to do. The challenge for rationality is to find what is worth doing; once this is discovered, actually doing it is to a great extent a mechanical process.
In some ways spirituality is faced with the opposite challenge. Spirituality has a clear idea of what is to be done. What is to be done is to come closer to God/enlightenment. But spirituality is faced with the challenge of actually doing this. I think it is safe to say that nobody has a clear idea of how to get to God/enlightenment.
Thus, where rationality has the “how?” but not the “why?,” spirituality has the “why?” but not the “how?” This in itself forms an argument for the unification of rationality and spirituality.
Faith That I Understand
It is uncomfortable for me to acknowledge the fact that I do not understand reality. It is very easy to construct a facade which gives one the sense that one understands. Every constructed version of the truth which I have made for myself has broken down upon close analysis. I am under the impression that the feeling of having things figured out is a common feeling.
I am certain that I do not understand, and I am equally certain that nobody else on Earth understands either. It is hard for me to escape the irrational feeling that I do understand. I suspect, however, that this feeling that we understand blocks us from deepening our understanding.
The One System Effect
I have a personal bias towards wanting to unite all of my knowledge and spiritual technique into a single system. My feeling is that, since there is one truth, the paths to this truth ought to be one as well. But I am coming to believe that this is one system is a pipe dream.
Probably we are too far off from the truth to unite all of our knowledge and technique into one system. In my experience any attempt to do this shuts out a lot of useful things because they do not fit into the system. I suggest that a better strategy is to use a diversity of knowledge and techniques without the need to synthesize it all into one system.
The one system effect can afflict attempts at mysticism. It is common to think that one process, or one set of processes, can bring a person to God/enlightenment. I think that this is false.