Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Dialogue about Spirituality

So many of you visit here every day. I am grateful for those who come to read my words, leave their words, and also for those who bring silence. Thank you.

I'm wondering if you might like to dialogue about spirituality and your personal beliefs in this regard. I'd like to see you dialogue with each other as well as with me. If so, we could create a continuing thread to make this possible. Interested?

I will serve up some starting questions, but would like all of you to serve up your own questions as well. Please number your question so we can refer back to it. For example, the next person to post a question would use the number 2. Deal?

Question 1 (Two-part question):

1a: "What does spirituality mean to you personally?"

1b: "How would you describe your core spiritual beliefs and practices?"

Here are my starting thoughts on each.

1a: Spirituality means to me that I am a spirit by nature. All that I do is "spiritual" in this sense. There is nothing that I am or do that is not spiritual. I strive for a direct relationship with the Divine (God-Being) on a daily basis and in this sense follow the mystical tradition. There is no separation between me and God. Spirituality permeates everything I am and do. I see others the same way.

1b: I believe my spiritual essence is consciousness, which is shared with others and not separate. In my way of thinking, there is but one consciousness that is the universe. Mind, body, and spirit are not separate. They are one and I am one with all. Mind and spirit mean the same thing to me.

My worldview is panpsychist. "Panpsychism is the belief that mind, or consciousness, is omnipresent throughout the universe and is a fundamental aspect of the universe. Panpsychists believe the entire universe from the largest galaxy to the smallest sub-atomic particle or wave is sentient or conscious and are all connected parts of the whole. In other words the substance of the universe is composed entirely of "mind" or "consciousness." Source definition: Wikipedia.

I don't consider myself religious in an organized religion sense. In many ways, I subscribe to the Buddhist way of seeing and being, but not entirely. If I had to pick a Western "church" so to speak that I feel any affinity for it would be the Unitarian Universalist Church.

My life vision statement is this: "We are "here" to help others. We help ourselves by helping others. We teach what we ourselves need to learn in life. Life is really very simple once we learn to get beyond ourselves."

The main components of my current spiritual practice include: meditation, poetry, ongoing self-study, nature, giving to and sharing with others, and certain practices from Native American spirituality.



Darius said...

If I were going to have a religious or spiritual belief system, I think it would look a lot like yours. But I don't. I know a few things - not many - but the few things I know, I know quite well and very directly. There's no need for belief because, with respect to these few things, I've directly experienced them. (And I'm pretty sure just about everyone else on the planet has too. One, for example, is love.)

I only believe things for which I find the evidence truly compelling. In fact, my approach in the religion/spirituality area has been to examine beliefs very critically. In particular, I do everything I can to call into question things that I might want to believe. Truth for me is a major spiritual passion.

Question 2: What is the function of religious/spiritual belief systems? Are they necessary? Why?

polona said...

guess i'll skip this one for the time being... may come back later when i manage to articulate some of my thoughts (not so easy to do in my own language, let alone english:))

Don Iannone said...

Polona...Thanks. Whenever you're ready.

Darius...Thanks. I found your statements very interesting. Could you explain what you mean about not having a spiritual belief system? Mine is really quite simple. To some, it may not appear that way.

In response to your question (#2): My view is that people believe they must believe something to be spiritual.They really don't. We are spirits whether we think or believe anything. I think some people feel the need for a spiritual belief system because they think they are supposed to have one. I use words to point to what I feel and experience, but all words fail in this regard. Finally, some people literally think they can think their way to Heaven. It's the Western way. Whatever happened to silence? Thanks Darius.

Rob said...

Spirituality is a very vague word in my view.
However words I might link with it are respect, sincerity, generousity, love, courage.

In my life I try to respect myself and others. I find meditation helps me in this process as it makes me less headstrong and therefore more sensitive to others.

samuru999 said...

What does spirituality mean to me?
It means I choose peace and love and
joy as my goals.
I am not sure a lot of people
would think that is very spiritual... but it is to me.

kathy said...

Spirituality to me means respecting everything in nature. Trees, bugs and animals. everything living has a right to be here. I love the Native American way of looking at things.
I don't attend Church of any kind. But i know I'm a spiritual person...and so are my dogs and cats.

dumbdodi said...

1a: Spirituality to me means to be one with your self, to not lie and pretend in front of others and more importantly towards yourself. It also means total acceptance which I find most difficult. I agree with Don that there is no way but to be spiritual. I have many bad qualities and negativities in me and I think the only way I can better myself is through INTROSPECTION which is nothing but a SPIRITUAL CONVERSATION WITH MYSELF AND MY GOD.

1b. I am relgious in my beliefs,I light a diya or a candle everyday.Pray to god, usually in forms of idols or in a temple. I do put ash or kumkum on my forehead on auspicious days. I follow hinduism as much as I can. But I do not follow any regular discipline or practices, though I enjoy and celebrate hindu festivals.

Don Iannone said...

Rob, thanks and yes I agree the word can be vague. I like the linking words you use. Meditation is very important to me, and therefore silence.

Margie, thanks, and wow you make a powerful point: it is about choice. Making the right choices. Of course, some would ask do we really have free choice and how do we choose; that is what rules or principles guide our choices in life.

Kathy, thanks and yes spirit goes all the way down in all beings. The Native way has always appealed to me.

Dumbdodi, thanks and it's nice that you can bring Hinduism into your daily life in a way that means something to you and your relationship with God.

I find all this very interesting. Sometimes the value of these dialogues is that they make us aware of what is inside us. Thank you.

dumbdodi said...

Dear Don, I am writing again.
Our religious beliefs are probably a lot to do with how we are brought up, don't know if its a good thing or bad. Could you please share your opinion on that.
To be specific, I had a Brahmin Hindu upbringing, have to mention I don't believe in the hindu caste system though.
In my religion we have strict procedures and guidelines on everything like our weddings, poojas on special occasions, rites,festivals,birth, a child having his first spoon of rice, a child learning his first aplhabets, death and even after death ceremonies.
Most of hindus follow these things, but I have always wondered how many of us really FOLLOW these things.
Is it a bad thing to do something like this just because it has always been done or is it more bad to never do anything in the name of god and religion at all.

Borut said...

A dialogue about spirituality. What a great idea.

I’ve been going about discussing spirituality for almost twenty years. I suppose I have failed to take into consideration an important factor: ‘Right people, right time, right place’. I hope the present dialogue could be a step forward towards achieving this essential prerequisite.

Question 1a

For me spirituality is an attempt to establish ‘a connecting link with cosmic intent’ (this particular formulation comes from Native American seers and seems to me to be universal enough to be able to bypass most ideological biases).
In another sense, for me spirituality is an attempt to become more humane, even truly human.
Man is evolving and has a chance to take a conscious part in this cosmic process.
Much human suffering results from ignorance of the whole (cosmic) picture and of clinging to just a fragment of it.

Question 1b

I believe that all existing things are basically energy. Our daily world is in a way illusory. It is just a description, a way of perceiving something incomprehensible, eternal, conscious - by our limited means (organs of perception, reason as mostly a mixture of beliefs resulting from conditioning). Our need to go beyond this perceptive barrier and try to return to the eternal origin seems to me to be at the core of our essential being. Calling. Waiting to be found and followed.

Practice must be the least developed part of ‘my spirituality’. I simply try to observe my ‘secondary (undeveloped) self’, to improve my daily responses to actual life situations and develop some kind of contact with ‘essential self’.

Question 2:

Concerning belief systems. I just repeat things said on this topic by some spiritual authorities I’m familiar with. Beliefs should be seen as a means. They are a lower level vehicle, a bridge of sorts, guiding us towards personal realization of their inner meaning. This may happen, under appropriate guidance, or more often than not, it may not. People either realize the inner meaning of true beliefs through inner personal experience. Or, they become indoctrinated - attached to the outer husk of words. Not to speak about the need for supersession of obsolete beliefs – vehicles which no longer fulfil their function of being a means to something, and not just an end; or about the whole array of minor, faulty or obviously wrong beliefs. In my case, I try to use haiku as a means of liberating myself from ‘generalized belief systems’ at the level of ordinary perception of daily life. Either by trying to be purely ‘perceptive’, or by highlighting a particular ‘belief’ used solely for the purpose of reducing the mystery of life to a manageable ‘thing’.

Travis Jay Morgan said...

My spirituality is simply "being"
I am one with all.

Bernadette Schaepdryver said...

And I would call it a third question.

3. What if we put all religions into one, one with only the good of them all into that one? How would it look like? Like Judaism?

Travis Jay Morgan said...

Bernadette, the difficulty in that would be...who would determine what is "good"?

Bernadette Schaepdryver said...

I was referring to the pre-dawn period of this world some more than 5760 years ago where religion was, to say it mildly, not what it has become today, albeit that we could wonder when we take present day Iran in consideration as an example.

But ancient Greece and Rome are very good examples as well as a religious remnant of that old world where handicapped children were murdered once they were born.
And it was legal!

So what if out of the old world, the good in it had been harvest, a good that had as good as no chance to survive?

And hence, it still today must fight for its very existence against all odds.

Can you see the picture unfolding Travis?

Mike said...

1a: Spirituality, to me, is the seeing of our true nature. When we see our true nature, we can recognize the perfection that is veiled by anger, greed, and delusion.

1b: My core spiritual beliefs are based on what I experience. As my blog notes, I'm a Buddhist. But I came to Buddhism through my experiences. Looking at what I experienced in life, I then noticed that Buddhism was expressing those very things in terms of impermance, non-self, and nirvana. That gave me faith that some of the things I had not yet experienced, but were contained within the Buddhism paradigm, would also ring true when I was ready.

Sorry for the vagueness, I'm a little short on time, but this is the means and method whereby I came to my spirituality.

A quick answer to 3: Bernadette, I think that, unfortunately, would not work. The different religions, while resulting in similar systems of ethics, are based on irreconcilable ontological differences. A Buddhist and a Christian, for instance, can obtain experiential benefit from adopting some of the other religion's practices, but the two systems cannot be combined—Buddhism denies the existence of a personal creator god, and Christianity requires a belief in Jesus for ultimate forgiveness (to just name 2 issues). Any attempt to bridge the gap between them can result in superficial agreement, but at the cost of losing each respective ontology. Also, I think diversity plays a major role in our spiritual systems. How is it that my experiences can mirror that which Buddhism teaches to such an extent that I choose to follow that system, while Christianity mirrors to the same degree someone else's life experiences, such that they choose to follow that system? Can anyone truly say that one of their experiences were not valid? The diversity of religions accounts for this by providing mythological systems for all psyches.

Seawave said...

Having been a seeker for most of my life, and having traveled down different paths in that journey, spirituality has come to mean for me something deeply sacred within myself; a sense of connection to that which is divine in myself and that which is connected to God and to every human being in compassion and love. Having identified with "religion" in the past, I no longer connect myself with any one tradition, and rather favor the integration of aspects of many faith traditions into my own spiritual awakening. I find much congruence among the highly enlightened masters of many faith traditions, and have a heart for the common threads that run through their teachings. For me, love and compassion are my highest goals.

I think a discussion such as this can often be challenging to articulate for those of us who choose to seek a "spiritual" path as opposed to a "religious" one. Often times, articulating aspects of the spirit can feel clumsy, as if words are not available to express what resides so deeply within. Thank you, Don, for creating this enlightening and inspiring thread. I have been blessed today for having visited, and I look forward to the continued dialogue.

Don Iannone said...

So many wonderful thoughts shared by all of you. Thank you all.

Dumbdodi...what you say about growing up influences in quite true. I outgrew my original Christian upbringing. Everyone has to find their own way. As an adult they have a greater opportunity to do so.

More later as I catch my breath. Just back from a business trip and am quite tired. All that flying makes my arms very tired (wink).

Blessings and thank you all again.

Kari Glover said...

Spirituality is how I comprehend the universe and my place within it.

As a determinist, I suspect that all events are effects of the past. More directly, each event (thought, action, etc.) is the result of events before it, much like a ball rolling down a rocky slope. Spirit is the essence of our blended existence and the connectedness between all things material and non-material. This outlook provides me with a sense of unity and a better understanding of behavior and life.

As a side note, your poetry is very elegant - thank you for sharing it. :)

anonymous julie said...

1a: It's not what it means... it's what it is... it is me.

1b: As it applies to the faith I grew up with... The real meaning of the Gospel, in Christianity - the Good News - is that we are not separate from God, nor are we separate from each other. That's the reality. But we think we are separate, or can be separated - by sin, by death, by being in different apparent bodies, whatever. Aren't separate and cannot be separated.

I'll look forward to coming back and reading the rest of this!

Don Iannone said...

Borut...thank you for sharing your thoughts. I like your idea of connecting with a cosmic intent. That says we live in a purposeful universe. Lovely thought. You said that you see the universe as comprised of energy. Is your concept of energy rooted ultimately in matter (or matter-energy) or spirit-consciousness? Your notion of belief is also interesting. Do we have to believe in anything to support our spiritual being or evolution?

Thanks Travis. I, too, see things in "being one with all" terms. Do you hold to any particular spiritual belief system or philosophy, such as Zen Buddhism?

Thanks Bernadette. There are those who seek interspirituality. One I like is Wayne Teasdale, a Christian mystic actually, who wrote The Msytic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World's Religions. Teasdale advocates mysticism as the path across all religions, which of course seeks a direct relationship with the Divine or a God-Being.

Getting people of all faiths to adopt one established faith strikes me as exceedingly challenging because of current and past distinctions and the varied meanings attached to particular systems of religious belief. Interspirituality in a mystical sense might bridge many world religions, but not all. Some, like Buddhism, sees no God-Being to connect with.

Bernadette, your follow-on point about what was (is) done in the name of religious belief is interesting. I just look at the world today and want to cry because of the suffering that owes its origins to the ideas people carry around in their heads. I look at the Christian Right today which is preaching that Israel will fall because it is "God's" will that Israel be returned. I ask: "Whose God?" Such things are exactly why I have encouraged this dialogue. I am very concerned about what actions and attitudes we "justify" in the name of our religious beliefs. I refer to the conflicts across the world and the near irrepairable damage we are inflicting upon our planet.

Mike, thanks. I share much of what you have said. For me, the journey lies in "non-duality." I see more and more religious "seekers" worldwide giving greater emphasis to experience, which you refer to. They seek an aliveness and an active relating to (experiencing of) the Divine or their true nature. The mystics across religions strive for a direct pipeline to their God-Being.

Mike, given your views, would you say that you are an Idealist in a philosophical sense, and if so, how do you see matter in the universal equation?

Seawave, thank you. I share your point about the limitations of words to describe what we all are most concerned about spiritually. Words will always fail us. They are simple pointers in a direction. Our true nature exists beyond words. If we want to wax Jungian for a moment, words are rooted in the conscious mind and fail to reach into the archetypal world of the unconscious. I also find your distinction between "religious" and "spiritual" to be interesting. For me, they point in the same overall direction, but I recognize the vast differences in how people use both terms.

Kari, thanks for joining in. I note you are a poet as well. I really enjoyed reading your poetry. Added you to my blogroll. Thanks for adding me.

A determinist, eh? Would you call yourself a "hard" or "soft" determinist? And what of free will? Or morality? Calvinism, via the idea of predestination, was my first encounter with determinism. Then of course there was BF Skinner's behaviorism, which finds roots in philosophical determinism.

Kari, the Buddha analyzed three kinds of determinism: 1) Prior-action determinism (Puurvakarmak.rataniyativaada);
2) Godly determinism (I'svarak.rtaniyativaada) and
3) Non-causalism (ahetukayvaada). Any reaction to these forms of determinism?

Julie, thanks. Do you consider yourself a Christian? I share your view that we are one with God and that we are not separate from one another. How far do you take the idea of your connection with God? Are you one and the same as God? Do you see yourself as a separate and distinct being from God? I ask these questions because most Christians I know believe in an external concept of God.

I want to thank everyone for sharing their thoughts and hope you will all stay in involved. I have responded to your various contributions in love and with a desire to understand. There is no criticism in my words.

Beyond our various beliefs (or non-beliefs), how do we "embody" these beliefs (on non-beliefs) in our everyday lives? How are we with others? How are we with ourselves? Are kindness, compassion, and empathy natural responses to what we encounter in our daily lives, or do we greet the world (including ourselves) with fear, distrust, jealousy, and anger? Do we carry a sufficient sense of our self around with us; that is a sense of self in non-egoic terms. Do we truly "feel" who we are? I find these questions are logical outflows of the above discussion.

I wish you each a daily blessing of peace and love. As you walk your path during this day, may you each encounter a part of yourself that you did not know before. May you greet that part of yourself and see it for what it really is.

Travis Jay Morgan said...

You know Don, I haven't choosen one particular sect of religion or belief as being the hardcore truth of how I should lead and live my life. However, I can say I take kind to parts of Zen buddhism, determinism, Taoism, and whatever I feel makes sense. But I have not placed my finger on one particular way and said this is the way I will follow. I feel by doing so, I may close some doors. I feel one should always maintain an open mind.

Don Iannone said...

Travis...thanks. I know what you mean. I feel the same way. Open minds are best. Namaste!

Imemine said...

1a. It means living the ordinary everyday life. Without having any spiritual ambitions like sitting next to God when I go to heaven. It's eating when I eat. And sleeping when I sleep. And hoping everybody has enough to eat. And everybody sleeps well.
1b. I don't seem to have any. I mean I try not to have any. But let me think. I believe that the physical world exist and that it is spiritual in nature too. That material things matter and they are meant to keep us alive and healthy. And that we should enjoy them and not be destructive. That we should find a way to help those in need.

Don Iannone said...

Thanks Imemine. It sounds like you embrace what comes your way and yet living with reverence. Neat.

Seawave said...

I guess I tend to make a distinction between religiosity and spirituality only because in my own experience I have found that religion can tend to make faith something very knowledge based, rather than something that comes from the heart or the soul. The structure of it tends to keep me up in my head rather than allow me to feel the connection with God that I have found by freeing myself from the identity with a specific church. Though this is not going to be true for everyone certainly, for me it just seems that structured religion tends to close itself off to a sense of the spirit too frequently, basing many of its teachings on fear rather than love. I believe each of us as individuals discover our own path to the divine, to our concept of God, and whatever that form takes for each of us is to be honored and respected. For some that may mean formalized religious tradition and for others it may mean something else. Living with reverance and appreciation for the sacred every day is something I strive for, with love and compassion always at the heart of my spiritual practice. We are each of us bound together in our humanity and in our connection to God, and I seek out that which is the divine light in every person I meet. Thank you again for this most inspiring discussion. It is a blessing.

Borut said...

Borut said...
Don, thanks for your comments and further ‘questions’.
I wouldn’t want to live in a world without a purpose.:) Although, on a daily basis, this does happen to me all the time.:)
Re-establishing a connecting link with intent could be equated, in religious terms, with being a servant of God, relinquishing personal will for the purpose of finding universal will, or one’s own true self. Like: He who finds himself finds his God.

I like the idea that spirit and matter are not (that) separate as we are inclined to believe. According to some, materiality should be seen as successive layers of refined matter finally reaching something which has always been considered as separate, but which may in fact not be so – the spirit/energy/the abstract. A matter subject to verification based on personal experience. At the moment I can just dream about that.:)

In a brief interchange with Tikkis on my Alchemy of Happiness we’ve touched the question of belief, book knowledge and understanding. It seems to me that before we are able to BE, to really Exists, a bridge, or a number of bridges must be crossed between our ordinary being and the cosmic level of being immediately above us. The bridge could be said to be the method - a ‘system’ of beliefs in the broadest sense, including practice, capable of raising a particular person or a number of persons to a higher level. If you follow a genuine teacher(a perceiver of the needs of a moment), there’s no need for any other belief. If you don’t follow a teacher, what else can you follow but a belief(?):)

5:32 PM

Don Iannone said...

Thanks Seawave. I agree with your observations about churches and organized religions. I also seek a personal relationship with the Divine, and like you see that as a matter of the heart.

Thanks Borut...By the way, I transfered your last post to here so others could read it. I appreciate your additional comments. I like what you said here: "He who finds himself finds his God." Beautifully said. I will check out your Alchemy of Happiness to learn more.

gautami tripathy said...

Spirituality for me means to be able to get it all out...may it be positive or may it be negative. Listening to music is one great spiritual experience. Interaction with children is another deep experience...

Religion as such is not spiritual aspect for me. Believing in the goodness of humanity is!

Don Iannone said...

Gautami...thanks for sharing. Wonderful ways to allow your spirit to manifest. Do you meditate? Blessings.

Mike said...

Hi Don,

> would you say that you are an Idealist
> in a philosophical sense, and if so,
> how do you see matter in the universal
> equation?

Hmmm... I looked up "Idealism" at wikipedia, to get a strict definition to work from, and here's what it said: "Idealism is an approach to philosophical enquiry which asserts that direct and immediate knowledge can only be had of ideas or mental pictures. Objects that are the basis of these ideas can only be known indirectly or mediately."

I wouldn't necessarily say that I'm an Idealist, nor am I a Materialist. Wikipedia goes on to say that Idealism vs. Materialism approximates the differing views that the substance of the world is, at base, mental or physical. From this viewpoint, I don't take either philosophical position. I think matter just is. Where matter came from exactly, I don't know. How consciousness developed in us, whether that's a function of increasing neurological capacity or whether there is a metaphysical basis that infuses matter with consciousness, I don't know. I guess I take a more pragmatic approach. I sometimes muse philosophically, but I really view that more as a mental exercise than anything that can really reveal truth. Buddhism provides a cosmology behind consciousness that I feel has value. Whether it has ultimate truth, I can only have faith that it does. But I admit I don't really know.

Sorry for the disconnectedness of this answer, but it's something I struggle a bit with. I enjoy philosophical thinking, and I am still in the process of discovering its value to me.

Don Iannone said...

Mike...thanks. I suspect you err to the side of consciousness being primary. I suspect that. I believe that. Consciousness was the original essence of the universe and not matter. The universe from the beginning is alive and consciousness. Mike, all this turns Darwin and evolution on their head.

Mike said...

Actually, Don, I don't think I err on EITHER side being primary. I don't think either is primary. I don't think there is a primary.

Everything exists based on causes on conditions. The Big Bang, which started the generation of mass in our known universe, had a cause (as an aside, there's a really neat cosmology article in the July/August issue of Natural History on this topic). Everything since then has had a cause. I think life began evolving on our planet once the first replicators formed (based on the influx of energy and the existence of the elements). I think evolution had no directing force behind it. Eventually, once animals started developing brains, forms of consciousness were born. The more complex the brain became, the more complex consciousness became, leaving us where we are today.

Buddhism has a story in the Long Discourses that basically explains how each world evolves (this is a process that happens over and over infinitely, according to Buddhist cosmology). In that story, beings existed in the deva (demi-god) world, and once matter formed, the devas were attracted to it, which eventually led to their attachment, and their fall into the lower realms. So in Buddhist thought, consciousness is primary. I disagree. I think it all just is.

I think consciousness has causes and conditions. I think matter has causes and conditions. I think matter and consciousness are interdependent, just like everything else in the world. Neither one need be primary.

A materialist thinks that consciousness is based in matter. An idealist thinks that matter is based in consciousness. I think that both are the product of a complex of causes and conditions and are themselves interdependent.

(this thread was a great idea, BTW!)

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