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Beyond Spiritual Correctness

by Chris Tong, Ph.D.

Practical Spirituality Series, Book 7
68 pages
Date Published: April 2000
ISBN: 0717354237

Beyond Spiritual Correctness

Excerpt: On Telescopes and Religious Means

There is an analog of "political correctness" that we might call "spiritual correctness". It goes something like, "all paths to the Divine or ultimate liberation are equal"; and anyone who suggests otherwise risks seriously offending or insulting whomever they are speaking with. But just as with "political correctness", "spiritual correctness" can be carried too far, and cause us to throw discrimination to the winds.

Equality -- relative to political and social freedom, right, and respect -- should absolutely be guaranteed for all groups, religious, spiritual, or otherwise. Never again should there be a "Crusade" or a "religious war" that justifies killing people or depriving them of their basic human rights, in the name of some religion or in the name of any group or nation whatsoever.

That is the sense in which all paths, ways, groups, sects, etc. are equal -- in their social and political and human rights.

But this in no way implies that the religious means -- for actually, tangibly linking up with the Divine -- that accompanies a given path, way, group, or sect is equally powerful, reliable, or revelatory. Let's consider an analogy drawn from the world of science. (While science has its liabilities, one of the great things about science is its demand for genuine discrimination.)

Everybody knows that all telescopes are not created equal! In other words, not all telescopes are equally effective for determining the nature of stars and other distant phenomena. And even at the same time, the full variety of telescopes are available for the variety of purposes they serve -- they are equal in the social or political sense of availability; there are no laws prohibiting the creation or use of a radio telescope, for instance.

It's worth examining the variety of telescopes in detail, because they provide a useful analogy with the variety of religious means!




telescopes
religious means

Play telescopes. Some toy stores sell "telescopes" made of plastic.

toy telescope

Like plastic stoves, or plastic computers, they don't actually work as real telescopes do (not even a little), but this entire style of toys is not meant to actually achieve the purposes of the real things (astronomy, cooking, or word processing); the purpose is for kids to play by themselves or with each other using these accessories to give them the feeling that they are like their adult counterparts. It's all fantasy, of course, but kids really enjoy it!

Purely exoteric religions. In this category are "religions" that provide social interaction, belief systems, principles for moral living, and so forth, but do not actually provide a tangible means for locating the Divine.

That such groups may not provide such means is of course fine. The human and civil rights of all such sects should be guaranteed absolutely, just like the human and civil rights of our local Lions Club, our bowling alleys, or our beautiful National Parks.

But if we are truly and very specifically seeking "re-ligio" -- re-connection with the Divine -- we must ask ourselves whether a given sect provides us with "the right stuff" for doing so. It's a serious question for those who want more than social consolation out of religion or spirituality.

Now it is important to note that many such sects did indeed have a genuine, esoteric origin at one point in their history, and did provide working means for locating the Divine (generally through the Transmission of the Spiritual Master who was the source of the religion). But in many cases, the actual Transmission and means for connecting with It got lost, diffused, or replaced by mere rituals over the centuries.

Weak but real telescopes, impressive to the newcomer, because they actually work! When I was a kid, I received a telescope as a gift -- my first telescope! It was a wonderful gift for a 10-year old. I think it had a magnification of 10 -- which allowed me to see the details of the markings on the moon.

full moon

It didn't help a whole lot in seeing the stars, but it sure helped in being able to see down the block! And made me wonder what looking through an even more powerful telescope would be like. . .

Weak but real religious means, impressive to the newcomer, because they actually work! Everyone experiences the Revelation of the Divine, the "Shock of God", in moments of their life, in some form that is tangible (although possibly rather "diluted", or filtered through one's own viewpoint or background) -- a "near death" experience, a vision (perhaps as the result of a "vision quest"), an extraordinarily tangible feeling of non-separation from all -- it could take many forms.

But these means are "weak", in the sense that (a) they are a product of uncommon circumstance -- everything just happened to be exactly "right" in order for this Revelation to occur; and (b) for this reason, they can't be the basis for a moment-to-moment life of communion with the Divine Being, although they can certainly inspire one to look for such a moment-to-moment means.

Genuinely powerful and steadily reliable telescopes. Let's consider some other telescopes. These ones have magnifications on the order of "1000 times" on up.

  • Conventional telescopes work on the principle of the magnification of visible light. One of the problems with using conventional telescopes, however powerful, is the distraction from other sources of light (cities, etc.) So the best conventional telescopes tend to be somewhat removed from urban areas, and located on the tops of mountains. The Mount Palomar Observatory's "200-inch Hale telescope" is a good example of this type, and is situated 3 hours drive away from Los Angeles, and 2 hours drive from San Diego.

    Mt. Palomar
    Mt. Palomar Observatory

    Crab Nebula
    Crab Nebula,
    via Palomar telescope


  • Unconventional telescopes use other frequencies than visible light. The best known are the giant radio telescopes, whose gargantuan dishes can be several hundred feet across. The virtue over conventional telescopes is that these telescopes are not affected by other sources of visible light. A well-known example is the Arecibo Telescope, located on Puerto Rico, whose dish is a thousand feet wide.

    Arecibo radio dish
    Arecibo radio dish
    ( 1000 ft. across
    )

    However, you can guess their liability: they are affected by other sources of radio waves!

    "I thought we had discovered extraterrestrial life, but it turned out to be the local rock station."


  • Telescopes that "transcend" all limitations. Well, here's where our analogy breaks down, because there is no such thing as perfection, or freedom from limitation in this place. But we can at least point to certain other efforts in telescopy that have some analogy -- for instance the Hubble Space Telescope, which, being in orbit above the atmosphere, provides a "viewpoint" that is free of all the ordinary limitations of trying to see stars through an interfering (light-distorting) atmosphere.

    Hubble space telescope
    Hubble space telescope


    image from Hubble telescope
    image produced by
    the Hubble space telescope

    But actually the Hubble telescope is more analogous to a spiritual seeker who moves into a cave so he or she can better contemplate the Divine, free of ordinary worldly distractions. A truer analogy would be a telescope that doesn't involve going anywhere else (e.g., into orbit), and can obtain whatever information you are looking for without any limitations on the type or the accuracy of information.

 

Genuinely powerful and steadily reliable religious means. In order for a religious means to truly enable a life in the Divine, moment to moment, that "means" must provide an unrelenting, always accessible "doorway" to the Divine. In the world's traditions of "religious means", the only means of this kind are the great Spiritual Masters.

A genuine Spiritual Master is a "Transmission Master", himself or herself literally a doorway through which the Divine Revelation is transmitted in a tangible form. Spiritual practice is then primarily a matter of becoming better and better at tuning into the Divine Transmission of one's Spiritual Master.

The nature and strength of that Transmission depends on the 'transparency" (the Spiritual Realization) of the one serving as the "doorway":

  • Spiritual Masters whose Realization of God is the fourth stage of life.

  • Spiritual Masters whose Realization of God is the fifth stage of life.

  • Spiritual Masters whose Realization of God is the sixth or the seventh stage.

More elaboration on the stages of life and the nature of Spiritual Transmission is available in courses COMP201 - COMP204.

A final note on "spiritual correctness". If we really think about it, to say "all spiritual paths are equal" is basically a tip of the hat to that non-path, materialism. Any spiritual paths that come into contact with something that is Real, can actually be assessed and compared in terms of What they come into contact with and how well, how direct, etc. they do it -- isn't that obvious? To say that they cannot be so compared is basically to imply that they do not come into contact with anything Real, beyond one's own subjectivity. Religions, in such a view, are merely means for feeling better using consoling stories and belief systems about the purpose of life and what happens after life, and, for this reason, should not be assessed or compared, any more than I should say "my favorite color is red, your favorite color is blue, and my choice is better." That's ridiculous, of course, unless we discover that there is some other means for assessing these choices, like having red as your favorite color gives you an edge in the natural selection game, or something very specific like that.

Do you truly believe that no spiritual path comes into contact with anything Real? Or, perhaps better put, do you know this for certain about all spiritual paths? Is it your considered opinion that religions and spiritual paths are all so subjective, nebulous, unverifiable, and none of them contain any substance as a basis for comparison? If we know differently, or we don't know for certain, then let us not, in effect, imply it, by saying that all spiritual paths are equal.