Perhaps this is a good time to explain the distinction between what I mean by the words “religion” and “spirituality.” The two are related, but not identical. I’m also going to start from the position, which I believe, that religion has utility and is not something that should be dismissed and rejected in toto; for that reason I’m not going to equate it with dogmatism, priestly hierarchies, or mind-control, regarding these as diseases of religion rather than aspects of the healthy organism.
Spirituality is a state of mind, an attitude, a state of reverence and openness to wonder and so to the god sense. One may find this state of mind in a great many ways. Einstein spoke of spirituality quite often, but was not a religious man; his background was Jewish of course, but he was far from an observant Jew, nor did he practice any other religion by conversion. Yet he had a deep reverence towards the cosmos, and the god sense manifested for him as inspirations about the nature of reality which he wedded to mathematics and rigorous thinking to achieve scientific theories. People have had spiritual experiences outside religious contexts quite often. They arise when immersing oneself in nature, or in an alien culture; they can spring from sex and romantic love, from psychedelic drugs, from music; they can burst forth from philosophy, from science, from art. They can also arise in a religious context, of course, but their origin lies outside religion often enough that we cannot render the two into one.
Religion is a set of practices based in myth. The myths are metaphors about the nature of the cosmos and our own place in it and our own identity as conscious entities. The practices include ritual, behavioral disciplines, and mental exercises intended either to awaken the god sense or to live in accordance with accepted principles. While spirituality is a state of mind or state of consciousness, religion is a behavior or set of behaviors. The two are connected insofar as religion seeks to achieve (or, when twisted and perverted, to suppress) spirituality, but they are not the same thing. One may be spiritual without being religious. One may also be religious without being spiritual. Unfortunately, most religious people are exactly that.
I implied in the last post that crafting religion on the scale that’s needed requires a god sense that is awakened in all or most people. We can’t afford to rely on the teachings of a few prophets, people with awakened god sense telling the rest of us what to do. We must all become prophets. We must awaken the god sense in as many people as possible.
I’m not going to go into all of the methods and exercises employed in religious and occult traditions for the purpose of awakening the god sense in any depth here; those methods include prayer, meditation, chanting and mantra, breath control, movement, dance, sex, drugs, austerities, and on and on and on. One can find plenty of information about these exercises elsewhere and there’s no need to cover this old ground yet again. What I do want to talk about is the common denominator of all of them, the key that each method sometimes holds to the lock of consciousness — but not always. Because none of them always works, but there is a common factor involved whenever any of them does.
One of Jesus’ pithy sayings that Christians usually misunderstand, as they tend to misunderstand their faith’s ostensible founder most of the time, is this: In order to experience the Kingdom of Heaven (which was his term for the awakened god sense), one must be reborn and become as a little child again. There lies the key. I don’t think anyone else has ever said it quite that well.
What does it mean to be “as a little child”?
It means to be open and curious, hungry for learning, always exploring, taking in information ravenously. The antidote to the god sense is a closed-minded, cynical or dogmatic attitude, an attitude that one knows everything and has seen it all, a closing of one’s doors to the universe.
If we could remember our earliest childhood, I suspect we would find the god sense wide awake in all of us from birth until years later. It’s something we are born with — and something that usually shuts down in adolescence, when people struggle to be “adult” on the belief that adults know everything (which somehow coexists with the belief that those particular adults in charge of one’s upbringing know nothing), and so struggle to project the appearance of knowing it all. And yet even in adolescence the god sense contrives quite often to reappear, by way of awakened sexuality and the tendency to fall in love.
All of the methods taught in religions for awakening the god sense work when they push the mind out of its accustomed patterns of thought and into a state of openness. But many of them hold a danger: they can themselves become habitual and when that happens they lose their utility as far as awakening is concerned (though they still may be useful as mental disciplines in some cases, in service to the other purpose of religion).
The god sense is actually not difficult to awaken. It tends to be awake. It takes effort to close it down, but there are many aspects to our lives and society that apply that effort, or move us to do so. Rigid adherence to a system of belief is one of those barriers to the god sense. Doctrinaire religions are antithetical to spirituality, but so are doctrinaire politics and doctrinaire philosophy — doctrinaire anything, in fact. And so, while the methods of awakening employed in religious teaching can often be helpful, the most important thing we can do in terms of awakening the god sense is to not do something: not to be certain one already knows. It’s that uncertainty, that hunger to know and understand, that Jesus spoke of when he said one needs to be as a little child.