Last week I had a long conversation with an individual in a religious movement. When he suggested that I was a fool for not accepting his beliefs that were embraced by millions of followers for thousands of years, I ended the conversation. This often happens with people in a fundamentalist path. When they cannot convince others of the veracity of their religion they resort to insult.
But this did bring up an important question. Is a religion true because of its popularity for thousands of years?
Are the words of God true in a religious book because millions of people believe in it even though it’s been translated and altered by men over a 100 times? Am I more spiritual because of the way I dress because the founder of my age-old tradition says so? Will I go to heaven if I kill the infidels because thousands of people believe this is true?
Here’s my take on all of this which I will explain:
1. Belief traps us in a false reality that deceptively appears true.
2. We need not believe in anything we have not experienced.
First off I must say, I do honour long-time traditions for their representations of what is true. Every ancient tradition must have some truth as part of it to have lasted so long (and I must confess I love reading spiritual texts) but the key word here is representation. All religions are representations of truth.
Just as a menu is a description of the meal, and not the food, a map is picture of the land and not the territory and the chemical constituents of a peach is an analysis not the taste so too religions are just representations. It is someone else’s, maybe thousands of “someone else’s” pre-digested versions of the divine. We would cringe at the idea of eating someone’s pre-masticated meal yet many people do this with belief systems. Ugh!
This is one of the biggest traps on the spiritual path.
Thinking that thought is truth.
The word “tree” is not the tree and extending this further... all the words, thoughts and combinations of thoughts into concepts about enlightenment are not the experience of enlightenment. Just because we understand a lot about a subject does not mean that we know its truth. Being thoroughly educated on the nature of love does not mean we know love if we have never experienced it. It just means we are good scholars on the topic. Maybe you have met a lot of inexperienced scholars on the spiritual path, totally in their head.
But there is an even bigger danger here concerning belief.
Once we take on a belief we create it as an experience and then take it on as false reality. Let me illustrate this. Just for a moment take the point of view that the colour of your chair is very toxic to your health. Pause a few moments and notice what you experience. What did you feel about your chair? Now believe that the colour of your chair is very very healthy. Pause a few moments and notice what you experience. More than likely you felt bad vibes from the toxic colour and good vibes from the healthy colour.
What changed here?
Did the chair suddenly physically morph with your belief..or was it your point of view that changed your experience? Of course it was your point of view i.e. its not what we see it’s how we see.
I have witnessed this on larger scale with religious groups that came to the Ecology Retreat Centre near Orangeville when I owned the business. Some groups would contemplate emptiness, others would meditate on divine love and others would feel into cosmic consciousness. Guess what each one would experience?
Now I don’t doubt that a few people would fall into a genuine spiritual experience but what I witnessed were many followers creating a manufactured experience. It is a delusion that is so believable because millions of followers for thousands of years have believed in the same representations. It’s a shortcut to hard earned realization that only leads to a dead-end.
We can get trapped for years or a lifetime not even knowing we are trapped. When a person starts to recognize this phenomenon it will be overwhelming. You will begin to see the biggest source of our suffering in the world: believing in manufactured experience. It’s everywhere in life: religion, politics, economics, different cultures, racial discrimination, beliefs about life and ourselves and on and on. You name it, it is there.
So what’s to be done about this?
There’s a lot I can say about this, in fact that’s what my book “Awakening the Guru in You” is all about. But the long and short of this is: With every belief that comes your way ask: How do I know this is true? and don’t believe in anything until you have experienced the truth of it for yourself. Ask the fundamental questions such as “Who am I?” and “What is the nature of life?” Question dogma.
Forget about someone else’s pre-digested answers; directly experience reality for yourself. Throw away the menu and eat the food. Look at the map but take the journey and enjoy the landscape.
Taste the peach and for God’s sake... fall in love.
Blessings to you