“Faith” as an Intentionally Cultivated Quality of Character

Wedding Celebration!
Let's explore a concept of “faith” that seems to be missing from most popular discourse. Before we begin, why is this important? For me it's important because when I discuss any idea, I want to fully appreciate the words used to define it. Relying on reflexive cultural vernacular or tropish shorthand to describe a multidimensional experience or concept isn’t just sloppy, it’s disrespectful to consciousness. Why? Because if we fill our headspace with watery, half-formed pablum – whether it's the grandiose distortions of combative political rhetoric, the caustic brevity of texted or tweeted communications, the excremental deceptions of commercialistic manipulation, or any particular ideology’s hifalutin propaganda – that is all we will be able to offer back into the world. We will add nothing but the burden of our consuming and excreting, a regurgitation so shallow it can barely convey self-referential egotism. So why not actively participate in this amazing process called the Universe? Why not give back some paltry morsel of wonder by actually engaging our consciousness, nourishing it with nuance and complexity, and holding back those oversimplified regurgitations? Even though I myself all too often violate the principle of meaningful consciousness, I earnestly yearn for a revivification of discourse and language that stimulates greater depth and breadth of understanding – more gritty and wholesome substance to chew through, savor and carefully ingest. This, then, is my attempt to explore the concept of “faith” in just such a manner. My only caveat: as a consequence of honoring consciousness, this post may require a slower, more concentrated read.

Okay…what is “faith?” Here is how Merriam-Webster defines it:

1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty
b (1) : fidelity to one's promises
__(2) : sincerity of intentions
2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God
__(2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof
__(2) : complete trust
3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs


In countless interactions over the years – and ongoing Internet exchanges – “faith” has almost universally been reduced to some sort of belief. Many Christians often seem to explicitly intend definition 2 a (1), “belief and trust in and loyalty to God,” and implicitly definition 2 a (2), “belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion.” For Atheists, “faith” most often seems to mean 2 b, “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” From perusing debates between Atheists and Christians (on Quora for example) both parties appear to be exhibiting a similar flavor of “faith,” that of definition 3: “something that is believed especially with strong conviction.” However, in my view, none of these approaches to “faith” are the real deal. In the same way that Tang, Cheez Whiz, Crab Sticks, Wonder Bread, Maple-Flavored Syrup and Chicken Nuggets are unhealthy imitations of food, these popular conceptions that infer belief from faith (or rigidly equate the two) are heavily diluted echoes of the genuine article, full of ideological flavorings and non-thought fillers.

Now before we go any further, it seems pertinent to confess my perspectival bias: I am a big fan of the New Testament, have studied Christian scripture for many years, and love digging into the Greek texts for nuggets of wisdom that English translators may have missed (or understated) over the centuries. I also grew up mainly in the U.S., with a brief sojourn in Germany during my late teens, and so I am understandably mired in Western cultural memes. And although I believe it is possible to break free from the prejudices inculcated through these experiences, they have also provided some useful tools and resources. So I'll be relying on those to explore the meaning of “faith.” If this bias leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, please bear with me…there may still be some paltry morsels to be found.

Clearly a lot has been written about “faith,” and over the centuries. We have Thomas Aquinas artfully describing faith as a virtue of the mind; a supernatural cognition that reinforces itself through the knowledge it acquires; a habit of thought “which makes the intellect assent to things that are not apparent.” We have the fideism of Tertullian, Erasmus, Martin Luther, Pascal, Hamann, and possibly Kierkegaard, who actively dissociate faith from reason, insisting that faith can be productively nonrational – or indeed practically superior to theoretical thought – in its passionate convictions. We have William James’ similar exploration of religious belief as a leap in the dark that provides access to a “vital good” - a good otherwise inaccessible without taking this pragmatic risk. We have Bertrand Russell’s fervent skepticism and dismissal of all such risk-taking without sufficient evidence, asserting that all “faith” is purely emotionally based. We have the empiricism of Locke, who finds faith complimentary to reason – as long as that faith is proportionate to evidence, and a broad enough variety of evidence is allowed. We have Hegel’s immediate knowledge of the Absolute, the certainty that “my spirit knows itself, it knows its essence,” which develops from the subjective to higher and higher levels of objective knowledge. We have Eric Fromm’s differentiation of rational faith from irrational faith, which we will explore further later on. We have John Hick’s insistence that faith is a contextualization (“interpretation”) of felt realities in a given cultural milieu; a personal experience of God rather than a reaction to propositional evidence. We have James Fowler’s six psychological stages of faith development, which center around the source, shape, scope and stability of one’s evolving convictions over time. We have the modern tug-of-war between Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christian apologists like John Lennox, where the central knot of inquiry sets blind trust that defies all evidence against evidence-based belief that has sufficient warrant/credibility. This is just a smattering, of course, but still, among many of these explorations of faith, the concept of belief remains extraordinarily central. And this, I think, is a fatal amplification.

To understand why, let’s start with the Greek. The word most consistently translated to “faith” in the New Testament is πίστις (pistis), which is derived from πείθω (Peithó), the Greek goddess of persuasion and seduction. Peithó (called Suada in ancient Rome) was an attendant and possibly daughter to Aphrodite, and among ancient Greek authors was consistently associated with the divine force of love – the persuasion by which the human heart is moved, enchanted, transfixed and ultimately won over. In fact, she is described as “the Lady of the bridal chamber,” “handmaiden of marriage” and “friend of marriage” (Nonnus), not because of sexual desire (this would be Pothos’s domain), but because “wise Peithó” holds the keys “to love’s true sanctities” (Pindar) and guides all forms of love – Erotes – into fruition (Nonnus). Either despite or because of her wiliness, Peithó deserves “holy reverence” for the sweetness and charm she empowers in speech (Aeschylus). And this last from Nonnus’ Dionysiaca:

“And there came running thirsty at midday Aura herself, seeking if anywhere she could find raindrops from Zeus, or some fountain, or the stream of a river pouring from the hills; and Eros cast a mist over her eyelids. But when she saw the deceitful fountain of Bacchos, Peitho dispersed the shadowy cloud from her eyelids, and called out to Aura like a herald of her marriage: ‘Maiden, come this way! Take into your lips the stream of this nuptial fountain, and into your bosom a lover.’ Gladly the maiden saw it, and throwing herself down before the fountain drew in the liquid of Bacchos with open lips. When she had drunk, the girl exclaimed: ‘Naiads, what marvel is this? Whence comes this balmy water? Who made this bubbling drink…Certainly after drinking this I can run no more. No, my feat are heavy, sweet sleep bewitches me, nothing comes from my lips but a soft stammering sound.’ She spoke, and went stumbling on her way. She moved this way and that way with erring motions, her brow shook with throbbing temples, her head leaned and lay on her shoulder, she fell asleep on the ground beside a tall branching tree, and entrusted to the bare earth her maidenhood unguarded.”


To be clear, then, though the goddess Peithó offered the Greeks a doorway into the loves of marriage, her means are not always fair, rational or even truthful. But without submitting to her persuasion and guidance – and indeed the bridal chamber itself – we would never come to understand or even recognize what the many mysteries of love (or the many varieties of Erotes) are about. In this context it is important to recognize that it is our love, our understanding, our response to Peithó’s seduction and persuasion that moves us past an initial choice to a deepening fruition. Is pistis offering us a similar doorway via similar means? As an interesting correlation, perhaps the Gnostic (Valentinian) scriptures allude to such a process in the Bridal Chamber sacrament: for Gnostics, this was where redemption occurred, perhaps because this is where a unity of spirit, light, love and truth could be experientially validated. More abstractly, the sentiment of William James in The Will to Believe offers some parallel experiential variables: “He who refuses to embrace a unique opportunity loses the prize as surely as if he tried and failed;” and later “We cannot escape the issue by remaining skeptical and waiting for more light, because, although we do avoid error in that way if religion be untrue, we lose the good, if it be true, just as certainly as if we positively chose to disbelieve. It is as if a man should hesitate indefinitely to ask a certain woman to marry him because he was not perfectly sure that she would prove an angel after he brought her home. Would he not cut himself off from that particular angel-possibility as decisively as if he went and married someone else?” Here again, marriage is a handy metaphor for James, just as it was for Hafiz:

"I want both of us
To start talking about this great love
As if you, I, and the Sun were all married
And living in a tiny room,

Helping each other to cook,
Do the wash,
Weave and sew,
Care for our beautiful
Animals.

We all leave each morning
To labor on the earth's field.
No one does not lift a great pack.

I want both of us to start singing like two
Travelling minstrels
About this extraordinary existence
We share,

As if
You, I, and God were all married
And living in
A tiny
Room."


And of course New Testament itself alludes to the profound mystery in Ephesians 5:

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church."


To introduce a more personal experience into the mix, I would recall my own baptism at age nineteen. The act itself was a sort of emotional catharsis, a relief that I was finally making a decision after nearly two years on the fence exploring Christian scripture and community. And of course I was expecting something of spiritual significance to occur – this was after all an invitation for holy spirit to take up residence within me. But, although my senses did seem more heightened during the ceremony, there was no heavenly vision, no doves descending, no infusion of blazing gnosis. I initially accepted this because baptism in the Church of Christ was mainly about contrition, humility and acknowledgement of my separation from God were it not for the gracious sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And I did feel these conditions acutely. Nevertheless, I was just the tiniest bit disappointed.

That is, until I went to change my clothes. My baptismal gown was a simple white robe, easily removed as I reached for a towel. The changing room itself had a large mirror on one wall, and as I finished drying off I looked over at the reflection of my naked body. In that instant, a force of insight as abrupt, thunderous and intense as a symphony erupting in a silent hall made itself known: this was not me, this was just flesh; a vessel, but not my primary identity. I felt this truth deeply. I studied the familiar lines, tones and shapes with a mixture of sadness, chagrin and acquiescence. It would be the first of many moments of letting go in my spiritual journey. And then, when my gaze met itself in the mirror, I encountered a hint of something even more alien, harsh and unyielding. I didn’t have words for it at that time, but now I would call it a subsuming suchness; a constructive negation. I was not ready for that encounter – in fact I would not be able to fully endure or integrate it for twenty more years – and so I suppressed it.

The insights about my temporal flesh I could accept, the possible glimpse of annihilative absolutes I could not, but the vehicle that delivered these conceptions was the same baptismal act. A simple intentional ceremony immediately manifested unanticipated, potentially far-reaching consequences. This correlation of personal choice and encompassing outcome – of disciplined volition followed by new insight – repeated itself countless times over the years. And those acts have not always had spiritual inspiration. Sometimes an aha-evoking moment was prompted by lust; sometimes by physical discipline or routine; sometimes by emotional anguish; sometimes by extreme stress; sometimes by deep depression; sometimes by willfully striving for some end and failing; sometimes by an unexpected surge of compassionate affection. By any measure, it seems to me this pattern of consciousness is endemic to human experience and growth, and that intentionality isn’t always predictive. As Rumi reminds us:

“Intellect is good and desirable to the extent it brings you to the King's door. Once you have reached His door, then divorce the intellect! From this time on, the intellect will be to your loss and a brigand. When you reach Him, entrust yourself to Him! You have no business with the how and the wherefore. Know that the intellect's cleverness all belongs to the vestibule. Even if it possesses the knowledge of Plato, it is still outside of the palace.”


But wait! Such choices that lead to new awareness and deepening understanding are still “leaps in the dark,” aren’t they? There can never be adequate preparation or certainty around them, just a hope of outcomes that plots across a continuum of motivations (some rational, some impulsive, some felt, some intuited). And couldn’t these “leaps in the dark” simply be inviting all sorts of post-rationalized justifications, rather than stimulating substantive ahas? Mightn’t all the insight and wisdom we construct be an artificial narrative to help organize our experience? A reflexive will to meaning? If so, then any insistence on objectively conclusive causality – as independent from subjective felt experience or various forms of intuition – will likely create an endless, arduous and fruitless tension. In terms of pistis, must we then return to a fideism where faith and reason are inherently antagonistic? Well I honestly think this tension only arises when we restrict our discussion of faith to the impulse of belief. In fact I think this conflation or association is fundamentally disruptive to comprehending the dynamics of faith’s processes. For the sake of brevity and sanity, let’s depart from that assumption altogether.

How do we do that? For one thing, we can remind ourselves of other modern definitions of faith, and of other translations and usages of pistis over the centuries. Take Merriam-Webster’s primary definition, for example: allegiance to duty or person; fidelity to one’s promises; sincerity of intentions. Setting aside the prescriptive vs. descriptive debates in lexicology, this primary definition of “faith” has nothing to do with belief. Instead, it describes a quality of character, a mode of being and doing, a deliberate intentionality – none of which necessarily needs to be associated with particular beliefs. Erich Fromm touched on this in his writing, describing “rational faith” as “a character trait pervading the whole personality, rather than a specific belief,” insisting also that such faith does not require a specific object. Contrasting it with “irrational faith” (which he viewed as an “emotional submission to authority”), Fromm asserted rational faith to be an essential component nonreligious as well as the religious thought, writing in The Art of Loving: “at every step from the conception of a rational vision to the formulation of a theory, faith is necessary: faith in the vision as a rationally valid aim to pursue, faith in the hypothesis as a likely and plausible proposition, and faith in the final theory, at least until a general consensus about its validity has been reached. This faith is rooted in one’s own experience, in the confidence in one’s power of thought, observation and judgment.” And when we look into pistis in the New Testament and other early literature, we encounter kindred conceptions of faith that are more aspects of character than dependent on belief: faithfulness, trust, trustworthiness, to be entrusted, to put one’s trust in, to give credence to, allegiance, loyalty, confidence and so forth. All of these are choices, volitions, responses and relationships with a consistent underlying theme: a stick-to-it-ive flavor of trust and hope. In fact Christians were described in the early literature as “those who trust” and “those who hope.” But what inspires this quality of hope and trust, if not belief…?

Closing the Circle


This is, I suspect, where the argument quickly breaks down for those who hesitate to look deeper, as it is so easy to fall back on the faith=belief misconception. After all, the majority of interpretations of the word “faith” – in modern contexts as well as the New Testament – do involve a kind of wishful thinking about speculative possibilities. Yet even as Christians acknowledge that belief needs to be active rather than passive (recalling the admonition of James 2: “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder!”), what motivates the activity of faith expressed in good works? It is, I think, the same question as before: what inspires hope and trust? The answer has been consistent within the New Testament and across centuries of theology; to summarize it with an oft-used metaphor: how does a child come to trust its parent? In part it is a confidence born of observed reliability and the power dynamics inherent to a parent-child relationship – this is true; but more than this it is the child’s deeply grokked intuition that they are understood, appreciated and loved. As a five-year-old, when a parent asks us to trust their judgment and instruction, we do so not because we always discern the rightness of their insights, but because they have demonstrated that a substantial focus of their existence is to care for us, nurture us, encourage us, protect us…love us. Because they have gently held us at our lowest and most desperate moments, we trust them to lift us up. In the same way, the Christian’s initial venture into “trusting God” is a consequence of appreciating the loving, gracious sacrifice of Jesus Christ – we are persuaded by this demonstration of God’s depth of love that we can take the risk. Thus our choice to “leap in the dark” is grounded in a trust and hope inspired by God’s compassionate affection for our well-being – not our fear, not blind obedience, not compulsory acceptance or Fromm’s “irrational faith.” It is a consequence of agape, that divine force of love that bears copious fruit in the hearts, minds and deeds of “those who trust.” And if this trust isn’t inspired by love…well, then it probably isn’t authentic faith.

For the Greeks, it was Peithó who opened the door to love’s true sanctities; for Christians, it is pistis that shepherds forth the many expressions of a charitable character. In both cases, there is a dance of human and divine – a Greek goddess for the former, and holy spirit for the latter. In both cases, a divine intervention and inspiration to love is answered by a human heart, mind and will responding in kind. Beyond the initial persuasion to trust and invite love in, the fruits of that decision – an indwelling “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” – amplify themselves in word and deed. And this becomes an active, engaged, disciplined response, deliberately and persistently cultivated by “those who have their powers of discernment trained through constant practice,” and love’s expression becomes more effortless. This is the child’s growing up, learning to operate from a love that extends beyond parental dependency to an ever-enlarging sphere of love-consciousness. This is a journey of persistence, devotion and a single-mindedness of focus. That stick-to-it-iveness again. And while this may still be a co-creative effort, the emphasis of responsibility and accountability shifts to the faithful as they mature.

In a sense, I believe pistis ultimately becomes a stripping away of distractions, a distillation of effort, so that there is nothing else left but the fire – the consciousness of consciousness – which is the highest order of love; the Godhead beyond being-in-itself; the Absolute. And this, in turn, continuously manifests as integrity of mind, heart, spirit, being and will – all working in unison, dancing to the same music, filled and energized by the same flame. For me this is the essence of loving skillfully, of demonstrating coherent faith through compassionate action, of developing spiritual reliability and trustworthiness. The Christian demonstrates their faithfulness by welcoming and maintaining agape’s residence at the core of all sincere intentions, all confidence and credence, all allegiances and loyalties, all trust, and all beliefs. For any belief (or faith, or trust, or fidelity, or commitment) that does not flow from love is empty and pointless – a gong clanging soundlessly in the void. But with sufficient love…well, we can eventually develop the courage to accept that disconcerting enigma in the mirror, and embrace any absolutes reflecting back at us.

This kind of “faith” has an entirely different sense, flavor and feel than the pablum vernacular form so prevalent in modern discourse. This faith is grounded in reciprocal affections and trust, clarified intentions and observable actions. Again, a straightforward way of describing and evaluating this construction is an intentionally cultivated quality of character. And such faith has distinct benefits as well, because its practice (or praxis, if you will) evokes and reinforces those ahas mentioned previously. We might even call these fruits “faith-wisdom” (Pistis Sophia!), which is experientially validated and has obvious pragmatic utility, but more importantly harmonizes our thoughts and actions around the very love that inspires and nurtures us. For this and the more commonly asserted benefits (answered prayers, etc.) again mere belief seems insufficient – there must be a deeper conviction-in-action, bound to a deeper connectedness of being; there must be agape as the ever-present cofactor, the beacon that draws the angels nigh. For what is Divine pneuma if not an expression of purest and highest love?

Lastly, as a useful contrast, I’ll leave you with religious belief that eventually becomes devoid of faith altogether. From Eric Fromm’s The Art of Loving:

“It follows that the belief in power (in the sense of domination) and the use of power are the reverse of faith. To believe in power that exists is identical with disbelief in the growth of potentialities which are as yet unrealized. It is a prediction of the future based solely on the manifest present; but it turns out to be a grave miscalculation, profoundly irrational in its oversight of the human potentialities and human growth. There is no rational faith in power. There is submission to it or, on the part of those who have it, the wish to keep it. While to many power seems to be the most real of all things, the history of man has proved it to be the most unstable of all human achievements. Because of the fact that faith and power are mutually exclusive, all religions and political systems which originally are built on rational faith become corrupt and eventually lose what strength they have, if they rely on power or ally themselves with it.”



T.Collins Logan, 8/28/2016

Does the human psyche actually contain self-destructive impulses and even a death wish?

Hinrich I think this is a very interesting question, and one that has come up for many thinkers over the years. Freud called it Thanatos. Jung attributed self-destructive impulses to things we don’t bring into the light of consciousness - the shadow aspect of ourselves. Modern theory frames self-destructive acts (including deliberate self-harm and suicide) as expressions of psychological and emotional pain which, for the person who is suffering, may seem otherwise inescapable or inexpressible to them; this pain may be the result of psychological illness, an emotional consequence of childhood trauma, a genetic susceptibility to depression or heightened experience of pain - or some other unmitigated clinical condition. From an evolutionary perspective, extreme antisocial behavior is not conducive to group survival, and it would not be inconceivable that a person who recognizes themselves to be an antisocial outlier might become self-destructive or suicidal because all these traits naturally coincide as a result of millennia of group selection; in other words, there may be a fitness advantage for the species when an antisocial phenotype voluntarily removes itself from the group (I haven’t seen any research on this, but it’s an interesting hypothesis!). Lastly, I would not discount a spiritual dimension to these dynamics: if deprivation of sunlight can lead to life-crushing depression, whose to say that deprivation of spiritual connection (be it to ones innermost Self or Soul, to Nature, to the Divine, to the Ground of Being, to the Absolute, to the Tao, etc….) cannot lead to a longing for nonexistence?

My 2 cents.

(From Quora https://www.quora.com/Does-the-human-psyche-actually-contain-self-destructive-impulses-and-even-a-death-wish)

What is mental force? Is it needed physical force to understand or is the mental pronunciation of words which evokes mental energy?

Thanks for the A2A. I expect you are referring to Jeffrey Schwartz’s work on “self-directed neuroplasticity,” along with its broader implications a la quantum mind.

I don’t think anyone knows the answer to your question for certain, though there are a lot of opinions out there. Even as Schwartz acknowledges, this has been a topic of spiritual philosophical traditions for millennia - so there is a lot of material to choose from. Here are some recent books you might consider reading that offer different perspectives as they have percolated up into the present day:

Trance: From Magic to Technology by Dennis R. Wier.

Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything by Ervin Laszlo

Morphic Resonance, by Rupert Sheldrake

Meditations on the Tarot, A Journey into Christian Hermeticism

Personally, I believe we must be very careful and disciplined with our thoughts, as the conjunction of will, spirit and conception can - with or without a deliberate focus - result in manifestations that operate independently (and even in spite of) of our conscious ideation. In other words, whatever the mechanism may be, our thoughts can spawn seemingly independent actors that influence what occurs inside us and around us. This is, I suspect, why so many spiritual traditions encourage a maturing emphasis on ordering thoughts and emotions according to a constructive values hierarchy - and in particular a relinquishment of personal ego - rather than encouraging those thoughts and emotions to run amok in response to mere whim, self-aggrandizement or animalistic impulses. As above, so below; as within, so without.

At the same time, there is always the danger of apophenia and magical thinking when navigating these particular waters, as well as an unconstrained enlargement of ego that often occurs when the heart, mind and spirit are not properly conditioned and prepared.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/What-is-mental-force-Is-it-needed-physical-force-to-understand-or-is-the-mental-pronunciation-of-words-which-evokes-mental-energy)

When someone is being reactive or ignorant because of their ego, how do I bring them into the now or their true self?

Thanks for the A2A. Some good answers here. I would add some additional options…

- Laugh. Just laugh and accept what is.

- If they are a close friend asking for help, share with them what you are observing about their behavior, while validating their perspective and their feelings at the same time. Ask them what they think is really going on, and listen carefully to their answer in a supportive and empathic way. This takes skill and practice, however your job here is to not be attached to the outcome of your efforts, and to avoid trying to control the other person - otherwise you are just being enslaved by your ego.

- If they are a stranger who tries to engage you on some topic, you can simply ask “You seem very attached to this idea. Why is that?” and see how they respond. Listen carefully. If there is openness, you can go deeper (with empathy and without attachment as in #2). If there is no opennes, then you can thank them for engaging you, politely excuse yourself, and walk away.

- Look within yourself for reasons why you are feeling this way, and see if your reaction authentically stems from compassionate concern, or from a need to challenge or correct others.

- Actively meditate for a few days on the best course of action regarding this person.

- Acknowledge contrition within your heart for judging this person, try to see the Light that radiates from the core of their being (and which ultimately will encourage them to heal and grow), and ask for guidance about how to encourage that Light to shine more brightly in them and in yourself.

- Be so completely present and ego-free in your being that you radiate the suchness of each moment, drawing others to be fully present with you.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/When-someone-is-being-reactive-or-ignorant-because-of-their-ego-how-do-I-bring-them-into-the-now-or-their-true-self)

What is the difference between the self and the Self?

Thanks for the A2A Pete. I think I’ve touched on this before: T Collins Logan's answer to What is Self (capitalized)?

However, there is always more to muse upon. So, to be trite:

The “self” asks questions about itself on Quora; the “Self” already fully groks the incompleteness of those answers.

To be less trite:

“self” is often ascribed more primitive or reflexive identity constructs, as operating in a “self”-perpetuating momentum of differentiating “self” from everything else. This “self” also seems to be very attached to itself - and very “self”-protective and egoic formation.

“Self” is often ascribed a more evolved or spiritual identity construct - Divine Spark, Atman-Brahman, Ground of Being…or some other expression of unitive, less differentiated essence. And I think this is probably because this version of Self - though uniquely defined or expressed in different traditions - is a formation of various spiritual practices that many folks can readily intuit. Perhaps most importantly, however, is the idea that as the sense of Self becomes more pronounced, the smaller self attenuates.

For some, a continuation of this particular journey is a realization of No Self (not a “self” or a “Self”). This is a further attrition of egoic constructs - a further unitive non-differentiation. So one person might say that the two - the self and Self - become equivalent in their constructed sense…and that they then both cease to exist in any real way.

For others, No Self is a dark night or empty desert to appreciate and integrate along a path that continues farther still. There is more letting go of differentiation and concepts of differentiation. This is where the One - as a felt experience of undifferentiated unity - envelopes and diffuses previous conceptions (and indeed all conceptions).

And of course that’s not the end, either. Let’s say, for example, that the self is finite, the Self absolute, that No Self relinquishes both “self” and “Self” in emptiness, and that the One anticipates and transcends all of these in unmanifest potential. Yet what if this entire journey is a veil - a deceit of consciousness if you will - and beyond that veil is a pure fire that entirely consumes and obliterates every insight? And what if that fire has consciousness…or rather, what if the fire is a sort of consciousness of consciousness? What if the most penetrating and sustained gnosis of humanity is like…I dunno…a sense of humor for this fire? A kind of joke that makes all such formations and awareness so much giggle-jam on laughter-toast…?

But, in the meantime, there is still wood to chop, water to carry, and agape to refine in the skillfulness of good work. Oh…and of course more meditation, too. And (I feel the laughter welling up as I re-read my post here) a certainty and humility regarding disruptive revisions to our understanding.

My 2 cents.

Why is mysticism found in all religions?

Thanks for the A2A. Many fingers here already pointing to the moon, so I have little to add. Here are some thoughts:

- All religions are grounded in the same mystical experience - the direct apprehension of ineffable and unknowable; the felt experience of a shared ground of being (or a shared ground of consciousness, if you prefer).

- Different (cultural) traditions express that experience in different ways, and this leads to diverging religious systems. But it is the same fundamental experience.

- Esoteric schools or practices within each religious tradition attempt to recapture that initial flame of gnosis/insight/dhawq/aha. And to the extent that they do, their practitioners report conditions of mind, heart, body and spirit that parallel each other to an extraordinary degree.

- Exoteric practices are the “window dressing” on the core mystical experience, But form the enduring structures of many religions. As those systems and institutions (along with their power structures) evolve, the distance from the core mystical/esoteric ground becomes so exaggerated that - all to often - what remains is dogmatic legalism.

I think what adds confusion is the insistence on exclusivity or efficacy of one tradition over another, and this is an expression of spiritual immaturity. Other confusing factors are differences in language and concepts between traditions, which in turn make different practices or beliefs feel foreign to each other. But in my experience and observation, the differences are superficial. In reality, one practice resonates more with one individual than it does for another, perhaps because of culture, or because of each individual’s unique stage in their journey.

My 2 cents.

(From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/Why-is-mysticism-found-in-all-religions)

What should one do if they feel they should keep their Dukkha?

Question details: If the cause of suffering is desire yet one desires justice (not from spite, but out of an ernest heart), and this desire brings them pain, should they let it go even though their suffering might bring justice to others?


I would agree with Pete Ashly’s approach - in fact I would encourage meditating on his answer for a while to see what arises for you.

When I read your question, for me it translated into this: “Does a boddhisattva suffer while helping liberate others?” What do you think? If they have fully realized emptiness - even within their decision to help liberate others - why would they suffer as a result of craving? And even if they experience personal pain because of their choice to remain, that pain is understood differently, isn’t it? To remain in the world but operate outside the (internal) dynamics of suffering does not mean there is no pain, but that the subjective importance, power and active perpetuation of pain attenuates. In this context, then, the coincidence of justice and pain parallels the coincidence of active compassion in postponing Nirvana.

Then I read what I believe to be your comments regarding “justice” as “having a person know that what they did was wrong while hindering their ability to further commit their crime,” and another regarding intervening in abuse. Is hindering harm not right action? Of course it is, when it arises out of compassion. If you are provided a compassionate means of intervening where there is abuse, is this not right action as well? It is only a question of what degree of resistance you present to the wrongdoer, and the state of your mind and heart while doing so. To understand this and skillfully embody it is, I think, part of the intimate unfolding of ahimsa for any practitioner who subscribes to that precept. There are a number of diverging views about this in the sutras - and indeed among the scriptures of many other traditions as well. Which for many of us illustrates why this is an emergent personal journey.

My 2 cents.

(see https://www.quora.com/What-should-one-do-if-they-feel-they-should-keep-their-Dukkha)

How do we know that the experience of spiritual enlightenment (Satori, "Waking Up") is not itself an illusion?

Why does this matter to you? Is it intellectual curiosity? A longing to grow spiritually? A journey of understanding within a particular tradition? Something else?

I like Sid Kemp’s answer most out of the 48 I have read so far. If breaking free of illusions (or ego, self-construct, etc.) has no observable consequences in how we engage the world, then what is the value of such freedom?

IMO the convictions and post-rationalizations that follow a profound felt/intuited aha experience are just that: sensations, justifications and explanations after-the-fact.

One common trap is finding others who have shared in the experience and reinforcing the constructive illusion as a group. A very comforting trap - especially for teachers (and perhaps Quora users?).

Here is an interesting phenomenon to mediate on in the context of your question: Apophenia

Lastly, in my Integral Lifework practice, spiritual discipline and nourishment is one of thirteen dimensions of being we do well to attend to in an ongoing way. For devout spiritual practitioners it is sometimes easy to forget or neglect the other twelve, but they are equally important to our well-being, growth and development.

But all of this is just so much blah blah blah outside of personal experience. To paraphrase Rumi: “Even if we possess the knowledge of Plato, we are still outside of the Palace.”

My 2 cents.

Is there a relation between human brain's ability to switch to Default Mode and the development of ego stages?

Thanks for the A2A.

I had to laugh when I saw your question because…well this is an extremely complex topic and there seems to be very little agreement among neuroscientists regarding these kinds of correlations. You could, in effect, say “Sure! DMN activation has a direct impact on ego development and stages. Why not?” And you could probably find some research to at least marginally support your view. But in reality…we just don’t know - in fact we don’t even know (for certain) if the DMN actually exists, or just captures a current picture of a certain combination/distribution of brain functions. In other words, it may only be a placeholder for a more complex understanding still waiting in the wings.

That said, here’s my take using what I believe to be a relatively current inclusion of relevant placeholders….

I suspect that ego formation and development relies on equal involvement from several systems and regions of the brain. These probably include the Default Mode Network, the Salience Network, the Central Executive Network, various avenues of inter-hemispheric exchange, MTL structures and their communication with higher level cortical regions/functions, and many more contributive regions, structures and functions. In fact I would further assert that without all of these components interacting smoothly and in healthy harmony with each other, ego formation and development would be difficult - and perhaps not occur predictably, or at all. This balance is so orchestral in nature that emotional trauma or physiological disruption to any of these components could sabotage the expected course of how narrative self relates to ego, how ego relates to the perceived world around it, how egoic impulses are managed and so on. And then there are the more conscious or deliberate modes of ego-transformation, which likely depend on additional variables and involvements.

So I suppose the moral of this answer is: we should be wary of overzealous reductionism.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Prasanth Chandrahasan: There is a background to this question. Unfortunately, when trying to add this as a question detail, I am exceeding Quora’s word limit. Please don’t downvote and collapse because this is important.

Ken Wilber has argued, citing the work of developmental psychologist late Skip Alexander that only meditation can bring about a change in ego development between the ages of 25 to 55. Specifically, any one who meditates regularly for at least five years is shown to jump two levels in an ego development cycle. Wilber refers to Loevinger's stages of ego development and also to several other models as well.

Alexander’s research focused on Transcendental Meditation (TM) which is known to activate the Default Mode in the brain (I am aware of the ambiguity of this term but herein it is referred as per the research papers). So putting these together, one could argue that the brain’s ability to wander around (or be in Default Mode) is actually helpful in ego development.

Sure enough, there is a lot of research in the field all of which are coming from the TM organization (Alexander too). Not that I don’t trust it, just wondering if this is an area of active research and if so, is there any definitive results.


I have read your post Prasanth. I appreciate Ken’s work but he is mistaken in this regard - I think he is probably referencing his own experience, but there are many different ways to encourage development along any trajectory (that is, whether one agrees with Loevinger’s stages or not). Consider, for example, the different non-meditative paths of yoga, any of which could enhance the maturation of ego state. As for research to support this assertion, that is sparse. Additionally, some forms of meditation activate the DMN, but others do not, so that is not a reliable touchstone for comparison. In fact I would return you to my original answer, in that even with meditation, unless there is integration and harmony via all of the components referenced, ego development will not occur. Incidentally, I would offer a slightly different take on ego development that I think exceeds Loevinger’s schema and is inclusive of moral development. You can view that here (just scroll down page to view document): Integral Lifework Developmental Correlations

(see https://www.quora.com/Is-there-a-relation-between-human-brains-ability-to-switch-to-Default-Mode-and-the-development-of-ego-stages)

What are the goals and effects of self inquiry meditation on who am I?

Thanks for the A2A Pete. I had to laugh when I saw this…it’s a big question with a simple experiential answer: try it and you’ll see. So as to be less trite, however, I’ll offer a few nuggets to mull over:

- After seven years of self inquiry Jorge realized there was nothing there. Nothing at all. Self was annihilated and only emptiness filled the place it had once occupied.

- After fifteen years of self inquiry Martha became God; that is, she recognized a complete absence of differentiation between her Self and the Divine. It was a very humbling experience.

- After a lifetime of self inquiry Wu Wei encountered a unitive substrate of being that consumed all independent and personal aspects of identity, so that all that remained was the Tao.

- After twenty-seven lifetimes of self-inquiry, Advika became extremely bored with the practice and began living her life very simply and without artifice, with an endless well of compassion for everyone around her, and with plenty of time to watch children at play.

As for negative effects: self-obsession, attachment to spiritual progress, and a breakdown of survival functions can occur if more constructive intentions are not cultivated from the beginning. Because of this, whenever any form of meditation is taught, I believe students should be encouraged to set this intention in their hearts and minds, and to try to feel it deeply in their bones, before each session: “May this be for the good of All.”

My 2 cents.

(see https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-goals-and-effects-of-self-inquiry-meditation-on-who-am-I)

Is it wise to go ahead of the meditation programs of Headspace app?

Answering the question: "Is it wise to go ahead of the meditation programs of Headspace app?"

Thanks to Amir All for the A2A. I have tried such apps (including Headspace), along with other guided meditation, audio aids (shamanic drumming; audio entrainment, etc.), visual stimulators, biofeedback devices, etc. at different points in my practice over the years. My experience is that, in the very beginning of one’s practice, they can be helpful in the training and conditioning of mind for meditation…but later on (and actually fairly quickly IMO) they become a hinderance and can even become counterproductive. My understanding is that (beyond the initial free guided meditation) Headspace also encourages self-directed exercises in its programs, so that is a good thing I think. It is also my experience when teaching meditation that different people benefit from different techniques - and even the same person may benefit from different meditation techniques over time - so that relying on one technique, set of tools or practice may not be as productive or helpful over time.

As to your question about “going faster,” if you are just beginning that is rarely a good idea. IMO it is helpful to allow the results of meditation to percolate through your mind, heart and body, giving lots of space and time for different aspects of your being to process and integrate them. Patience (and letting go of expected results or outcomes) is an important part of meditative practice. Maintaining balance with other dimensions of our lives is also important. However, I would say that a regularity of at least once a day can be helpful - in fact just as with any self-care or training technique, a consistent and regular discipline is much more important than duration, frequency or speed of progress in my experience and observation.

One final thought is that I am not a big fan of the commercialistic, “consumer” model of meditation training. Which is why I offer most of my books as free downloads (including three that include meditation exercises), and why my audio entrainment CD (for introductory meditation training) is offered at the lowest price my retailers allow me to sell it. There are also many, many free smartphone apps and websites that offer useful meditation training tools, techniques and tips.

My 2 cents.

What are the goals and effects of self inquiry meditation on who am I?

Answering the question: "What are the goals and effects of self inquiry meditation on who am I?"

Thanks for the A2A Pete. I had to laugh when I saw this…it’s a big question with a simple experiential answer: try it and you’ll see. So as to be less trite, however, I’ll offer a few nuggets to mull over:

- After seven years of self inquiry Jorge realized there was nothing there. Nothing at all. Self was annihilated and only emptiness filled the place it had once occupied.\

- After fifteen years of self inquiry Martha became God; that is, she recognized a complete absence of differentiation between her Self and the Divine. It was a very humbling experience.

- After a lifetime of self inquiry Wu Wei encountered a unitive substrate of being that consumed all independent and personal aspects of identity, so that all that remained was the Tao.

- After twenty-seven lifetimes of self-inquiry, Advika became extremely bored with the practice and began living her life very simply and without artifice, with an endless well of compassion for everyone around her, and with plenty of time to watch children at play.

As for negative effects: self-obsession, attachment to spiritual progress, and a breakdown of survival functions can occur if more constructive intentions are not cultivated from the beginning. Because of this, whenever any form of meditation is taught, I believe students should be encouraged to set this intention in their hearts and minds, and to try to feel it deeply in their bones, before each session: “May this be for the good of All.”

My 2 cents.

Do Christians believe chanting the Om mani padme hum sacrilege?

From Do Christians believe chanting the Om mani padme hum sacrilege? Quora A2A

Thanks for the A2A Deanna.

This is not a simple question to answer. Firstly, there are many different branches of Christianity; secondly, there are subtle differences within Buddhism regarding the Mani mantra’s intrinsic mechanisms. Taking these two variables into account, you can juxtapose one Buddhist take on the Mani with one denomination of Christianity and conclude that, yes indeed, reciting this mantra would be considered sacrilege. But then you could immediately juxtapose a different interpretation with a different denomination and conclude that, no, this would not be sacrilegious at all, but highly facilitative.

Let me turn this question around a little, placing it in a different context. Suppose you asked “Do Buddhists believe that reciting the Orthodox Jesus Prayer perpetuates delusion and suffering?” Here again, you will arrive at different conclusions depending one which Buddhists you ask, and what interpretations of the Jesus Prayer are being applied.

Personally, as a mystic whose practice is informed by both Buddhism and Christianity, I have no problem at all reciting either the Jesus Prayer or the Mani mantra. Why? Because I believe that, if a person practices either approach diligently, with the persistent shaping of underlying intent encouraged by each, they will arrive at the same interior space, the same fundamental ground of awareness, and extraordinarily similar ineffable insights. Via either path, a practitioner of either faith tradition will annihilate egoic identifications of self, explode a felt experience of compassionate understanding within their heart, and abruptly find themselves afloat in profoundly deep and swift river of unconditional acceptance, kindness and charity. At that point, any dogmatic differences between the two traditions becomes utterly irrelevant.

However, because of both misunderstanding between traditions, and substantive differences between the cultures within which various schools of spiritual thought have emerged (and are contextualized or interpreted), it is easy to find intellectual, legalistic or traditional grounds for rejecting the practices of other traditions. And of course this even occurs between particular disciplines of Buddhist teaching, and between particular disciplines of Christian teaching. It also occurs between different practitioners of the same teachings in each tradition, when those practitioners are at different stages of practice and maturity. IMO this is human nature.

I also suspect folks in each tradition want to enjoy a certain superiority over other traditions - and this also seems to be human nature. I attended a lecture of a well-known Buddhist monk a few years ago, and felt strong resonance with everything he said….until this statement: “A Catholic Priest once asked me to explain emptiness, but emptiness is for Buddhists. A Christian should have nothing to do with *emptiness*.” Well he was simply mistaken. In the Christian contemplative tradition, there are stages of awareness, insight and being that parallel the Buddhist experiences of emptiness, and they are extremely important in that tradition. Again, though, this may just be evidence of either an uninformed disconnect - or a pride in one’s own tradition - that interferes with folks grokking the suchness of each others’ particularity. Ultimately, when we find ourselves awakening to culminations (peak experiences) of Buddha-nature, luminous mind, the cloud of unknowing, a dark night of the soul, etc. those awakenings are One - without difference, and without even a concept of difference. Only when we begin to discuss, contextualize and integrate such encounters do language and culture demand we differentiate and contrast them.

I hope this was helpful.

How can you be existential and religious and in the same time, what does it mean to be existential?

In answer to Quora question "How can you be existential and religious and in the same time, what does it mean to be existential?"

Thanks for the A2A Alba.

This question can be answered many different ways, so I'll offer a few thoughts for you to chew over:

1. If a felt experience of existential angst persuades me that existence has no inherent meaning, I might reflexively cling to a shallow religious conviction that injects meaning into that apprehension of meaninglessness as a way to comfort myself. If I recognize what I am doing, I may still be existential in my orientation towards existence, but still cling to shallow religiosity as a coping mechanism.

2. I could also have a mystical experience in which I sense a unitive ground of being that connects all life - indeed all of existence. From this I glean a sense of spiritual unity within myself and inclusive of my surroundings, which seems to align with certain mystical branches of religious experience among various traditions (indeed nearly all traditions have such a branch). However, I may also at the same time feel separated or alienated from any traditional concepts of God or human society, so that much of mainstream "religiosity" really doesn't conform to my experiences or worldview. I may also feel that this unitive mystical state - and the entire interdependence of existence I am witnessing - has intrinsic meaning that is ineffable; in other words, it has no intellectually framable value, and cannot be communicated in words at all. As a consequence, the meaning that I sense or intuit is so inchoate that I can't rely on it to justify my existence to anyone else - or really even to myself without a fair amount of self-questioning doubt. In this sense, I may be both spiritual (or religious in a mystical sense) and existential at the same time.

3. Another variation is that I might discover that the material world really is mostly a pointless, futile creation, inherently prone to perpetual suffering, and that its only meaningful qualities arise from a profound felt experience of compassionate affection that I must consciously choose to pursue. In other words, I might recognize that all of life and existence are indeed utterly futile without the presence of love, and so I commit myself to cultivating and generating that love to imbue my own existence with purpose (and indeed to justify all existence) and to help alleviate the suffering around me. And, since this same perspective can be found among many different religious traditions, I am willing to adopt one of those traditions to help actualize this love-in-action. As I practice this faith, however, I never lose sight of the felt reality that all of this existence is a meaningless farce, illusion or dream.

4. Yet another variation of being both religious and existentialist is to progress through all of the phases of St John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul. I do not mean the watered-down pop-psyche version of this experience, I mean the real deal...all the way to the end. Anyone who has committed themselves to this path understands what it means to be both religious and existentialist at the same time.

5. And actually, I would say that someone who really commits to delve deeply into almost any spiritual tradition, moving beyond dogma and conformance to the most authentic praxis of faith, will begin to sense the intersection of existential perceptions and religious convictions. A profound commitment to spiritual discipline will, IMO, lead almost everyone to a very similar experience of this intersect. I think this is likely why, for example, Thomas Merton, a Trappist Catholic, felt such a strong affinity with Zen Buddhist monks.

Apart from these examples, there are still others that illustrate how existentialism and religion or spirituality coexist, most notably Kierkegaard's elucidation of the (necessary) absurdity of faith when confronting the "infinite qualitative disjunction" of the Divine. In another vein, there is the choice of nihilism, but here also we can find spiritual traditions where being both religious and nihilistic is an acceptable stage of development.

My 2 cents.

On what basis do people argue that the universe is conscious?

In answer to Quora question: "On what basis do people argue that the universe is conscious?"

You asked about a basis. For a mystic that basis is the personal experience of a unitive condition inclusive of subject and object - and indeed all objects -as the result of disciplined mental, emotional and physical practices. Direct experience of this felt reality is profoundly persuasive. However, how we react to or interpret such unitive apperceptions tends to reflect the structural sophistication and moral development within which our own consciousness currently operates. Wilber examines this idea in his discussion of a "pre/trans fallacy." Panpsychism is one response or explanation in a spectrum of responses and explanations to unitive apperception, but is really an abstraction of the core experience. Another response was Gutei raising a single finger. Another is immersion in profound love-consciousness. Another is worshipful gratitude toward the Divine. Thought-without-thought, action-without-action, no-self, Atman Brahman, supramentalisation...this list is varied and endless, but the core experience that inspired these reactions or conditions is the same; it has undifferentiated unity. So to appreciate the "mechanism of consciousness" in seemingly inanimate objects, you would need to commit to a mystical practice that could eventually offer you a directly apprehended answer. Then again, you might interpret your experience differently. But if you constrain your answers to rational arguments, you will tend to become mired in endless loops that can't resolve themselves. It would be equivalent, say, to trying to explain the relationship between manifest and unmanifest, or characteristics of the Ayn Soph, or what Buddhist "emptiness" is, etc. without experiencing these directly.

I hope this was helpful.

Comment from Dimage Sapelkin: "Why don't philosophers speak normal understandable language? You probably said something interesting and meaningful, but I only understood a few words"


Dimage I apologize. Sometimes trying to be precise with words can result in less easy-to-understand language. If I try to simplify what I'm saying, it may also be misunderstood, but I'll give it a try: If I meditate, and have a sudden "aha" moment in which I perceive everything as one - completely the same in its essence or in its relationship to everything else - I may conclude that "everything is conscious," because I cannot separate my own consciousness from my mind's penetration of (or entanglement with?) everything that I perceive. In fact, I may discover that what I believe to be "real consciousness" is actually something very different than my own "monkey mind," and that aspects of this "real consciousness" are in fact present in everything around me. But this experience is extremely personal and subjective...it is challenging to explain it in rational terms. However, as a basis for "universal consciousness," it feels very convincing to the person experiencing it.

Comment from Dimage Sapelkin: "Yep, but if you think about the experience of other people who feel quite the same, you know that they have very different experience from yours. Their consciousness actually doesn't get included with yours while you feel as one with the universe. Isn't that a contradiction to what you are saying?"


From my discussions with others who have shared their mystical experiences with me, and from my readings of those mystics who have tried to write down their experiences, compared them with the experiences of mystics from other traditions, and so on...I would say that we all have encountered some pretty profoundly similar felt realities, and indeed "shared in the same consciousness." Sometimes our sensations and insights seem almost identical, but, I think more importantly, these mystical "ahas" share powerful central characteristics, such as feeling deep compassion for all human beings that endures into our daily lives, and never fades away entirely. Then again, their are many doors to the palace of wisdom, many paths up the mountain, and even if they at first may seem contradictory, they are ultimately reconciled in mystical union. I hope this was helpful.

Comment from Martin Silvertant: "A really excellent answer, and beautifully worded. I don't at all share Sapelkin's sentiment. I understood everything and didn't feel you were being pretentious in your choice of words.

One question though. What are you referring to exactly when you say one can't explain the relationship between the characteristics of the Ayn Soph? Are you implying it's inherently spiritual rather than rational?"


We can discuss or frame this rationally after encountering it in peak experiences, but I would say the experience itself is "transrational;" it integrates many different input streams, and rationality (or more accurately a "hyperrationality" that excludes felt sense, intuition, spiritual cognition, etc. from the mix) can actually get in the way - or at least cause us to stumble. My 2 cents.

What is the most rational evidence, if there is any, of the existence of God?a

In answer to Quora question "What is the most rational evidence, if there is any, of the existence of God?"

Thanks for the A2A David. I am coming late to this party, it appears, since there are already 100+ answers. Usually I like to read through what has already been posted to see if I can add anything new. Alas, there's just too much here for me to do that! However, I find this an interesting topic, so I will take a crack at it. :-)

First we should define some terms - or at least explore them a bit. In order to for this question to have maximum utility, we need to know what is "rational," what is "evidence" and what is "God." For depending on how we frame our language and the question itself, we can end up with a lot of different answers.

For example: Do we mean "rational" in a concrete sequential way, where the vocabulary and syntax of our discourse is limited to rigidly systematized relationships (such as mathematics, computer coding, etc.)? Do we want "evidence" in a strict empiricist sense, confining our evaluation to observations that can be independently replicated and validated by any reasonably competent researcher, using metrics and instruments that are widely accepted in the scientific community? And do we intend "God" to mean an independent, conscious being with the power to create the Universe and everything in it...? Well, if we insist on these definitions, we might be able to address one or two of these requirements in a given argument...maybe...but I think it likely impossible to meet all three.

And this creates a problem in itself, because we've made a classic error in logic: we've framed things so narrowly that it impossible to satisfy all of the criteria. Whether this comes from an overzealousness regarding the scientific method, or a belief bias of some kind, or a lack of experience exploring this particular a topic...who can say? But the result will always be the same IMO: we will limit the quality of any argument so much that it can be easily dismissed.

So what's to be done? Well here's a thought experiment to consider. Imagine you and I are members of two tribes, and that I speak a language that you don't speak - in fact, no one else from your tribe speaks my language either. Others of my tribe speak it, and you can observe me interacting with them in what seems like real communication. But the language itself is just nonsense to you. Okay then, how can I prove to you that my language is actually a language, and not just some made up silliness? Well, one way to do this would be to ask me to ask someone from my tribe, in my language, to go do some detailed physical sequence of actions. If you can then observe that person fulfilling your "translated" request, then you have confirmation that my language is probably real! But what if you ask me to ask them about more personal or subjective things, like what their favorite food might be, or where they've traveled? Well, you can't ever know - not really - whether what I relay back to you is actually what they said, or just something I made up.

Taking this one step further, what if you ask me to ask them about God? What if they babble a long string of excited words you don't understand in response to my asking them, and I turn to you and say, "Well, they actually had dinner with God last night, and God apparently doesn't like lentils." Perhaps you believe I misunderstood your question, so you try repeatedly to nail down the conception of "God" so that you are sure our understanding agrees, and to confirm that my other tribe member comprehends your definition. And this goes on for...I dunno...a few hours, at the end of which you still aren't confident we are all talking about the same thing, because the answers you receive make no sense to you. The idea that "God" is flatulent, or has excellent taste in wine, or likes to sing bawdy songs when drunk, doesn't align with your preconceived notion of what "God" is supposed to be. So...well...you remain incredulous, and perhaps suspicious that I'm just pulling your leg.

And I think this story hints at the nature of the disconnect when trying to explore any mystical, esoteric or spiritual topics on Quora. To paraphrase Rumi: you can't parse spirit with logic; they just aren't the same language. Oh sure, lots of people have tried to close the gap between an ineffable *aha, *intuitive insights and (seemingly) rational philosophical constructs...it's a time-honored Western tradition. But IMO it consistently falls short. As an example, spend a year or so working through all of Hegel's writing on "spirit," summarize your conclusions about his conceptions, and then compare those conclusions to the writings of others about what Hegel means. In my experience, reading a few lines of Hafez will provide more cogent insight into the nature of spiritual love, for example, than a thousand dissertations on the topic. Again, it's about being able to speak the same language - and to speak about the same shared experiences within cultural contexts and operating assumptions that are at least similar in nature.

To put a finer point on this: what if "God" doesn't speak "rational?" What if the only meaningful conversation you can have with spirit is grounded in subjectively felt experience or intuitive gnosis? If that is true, then we might translate the question "What is the most rational evidence, if there is any, of the existence of God?" into spirit-speak as "What type of cotton candy can you melt with your eyes and eat with your heart?"

Now, just in case you think I am being flippant, let me assure you: my confidence in certain spiritual realities easily and readily harmonizes with my rational mind, and I see absolutely no contradictions there. And if I were put on the spot, I would probably answer the OP's question with one word: "Agape." But that might not be satisfactory to someone from a different tribe, who does not speak the language of spirit, and for whom such declarations sound like nonsense. In reality, however, it is simply a variation of the Hard Problem, where instead of consciousness attempting to understand itself, it is spirit attempting to prove and/or interpret its own existence.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Kasey Warner: "Thanks for a great answer, especially as to the semantics. I believe in a spiritual God and have come to an extremely simplistic personal position upon which I'd enjoy your comment if you see fit, in line with the answer you just gave.

In short, I see that we live in a 3 or 4 dimensional (again, a semantics problem whether time is a dimension) world. My God said He was not of this world; by nature, He is of another dimension (interestingly, science is beginning to realize "other" dimensions may well exist) and chooses whether, when, where, and under what conditions He and His dimension will intersect with one or more of our dimensions, thereby allowing our direct experience of Him and affecting our layer beliefs. Limited by the dimensions in our world, of which He is not, we are then incapable of proving His existence in another dimension. It is a matter of belief. I am not sure of your position on God, but wonder whether you see your recognition of "spirit" as an extradimensional matter.

Thanks in advance."


My response to Casey: Interestingly physics is a hobby of mine. I'm not a physicist, and I don't pretend to comprehend mathematics at that level, but I follow developments, discussions and various theories with interest. When a number of writers, physicists and mystics began to focus on what they perceived to be intersects between quantum theory and mysticism years back, I was all ears and avidly absorbed as much as I could. There is some interesting speculation there - particularly in work exploring correlations between very old Hindu concepts and quantum mechanics - but, ultimately, I was disappointed. Why? Because I feel it is a distraction. The way I believe we should engage spiritual realities is not through mathematical proofs or philosophical rationalizations, but through our heart's promptings and our spiritual intuitions. For me it is similar to falling in love: can we prove to ourselves or someone else that we are shaken to our very core with how we feel, or is the feeling itself sufficient justification and validation? When I say "I love you" to someone I care deeply about, should I be required to prove that this is true? In most spiritual traditions, the evidence of faith is love-in-action; the skillful engagement in service to others with compassionate affection. In a sense, then, the greatest "recognition of spirit" is in the quality of empathy and compassion with which we see ourselves and others, and the wisdom with which we conduct those relationships. Are there other dimensions of existence than those we have discovered to date? I'm certain there are. Will science increasingly recognize and explore them over time? Very probably. Is this the most fruitful avenue to spiritual experience and understanding? In my opinion, it is not.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Abhinaya Mary Koshy: "So you believe in God, then?"


My response to Abhinaya: Thanks for asking, but "belief" has very little to do with how I feel about spiritual matters. I think having an atheistic clinical psychologist as a father made me both skeptical and cynical about anything otherworldly. That said, a lifetime of intense challenges, profound experiences, exposure to different philosophies and faith traditions, meditative discipline, recurring insights and life-changing gnosis has led me to conclude (sometimes tentatively, but persistently) that I do have a spiritual dimension, and that there is spiritual knowledge, whether I choose to recognize these or not, and whether I choose to adopt some traditional label for them or not. For me, spiritual perception-cognition is as real to me as any other of my senses. I strongly suspect that science will catch up with this fact some day - likely using more neutral and clinical language - and it won't be the debate it seems to be now. But, at the same time, my cultivation of spiritual perception-cognition has helped me realize that religious institutions are often the greatest antagonists of authentic spirituality. So when someone asks "Do you believe in God?" in an online discussion, I of course wonder what, exactly, they are describing with that term, and am perpetually nervous about getting bogged down in someone else's version of reality. On the other hand, I have interacted with people of many different faiths who completely "get" my experiences and insights simply because they have been there too; and whether this is just a comforting mass-delusion isn't really relevant to the prosocial consequences and moral maturation it evokes. Well, perhaps it is relevant for some, but not for me. But the concept of "God" in an online forum is so context-dependent as to be an almost useless semantic container (without days of back-and-forth). In any case, to fully appreciate my perspective, you would probably have to read a good number of my books and articles - but that's not a fair expectation. Nevertheless, that's the only way you'll arrive at a definitive answer to your question. :-0

Are religious and non-religious people inherently different when it comes to morality?

In answer to Quora question "Are religious and non-religious people inherently different when it comes to morality?"

Question details: "Most of us know it's wrong to steal or kill, but if a person believes there's a supernatural entity keeping an eye on him, would he try harder to resist the urge to do either?"


Thank you for the A2A. I believe you may be asking the wrong question. Perhaps you see spirituality as "belief in a supernatural entity" that keeps an eye on people. I think there probably are "religious" people who operate this way, but personally I think that orientation is pretty immature. It's a 5-year-old's view of an authoritarian "God." I think the more interesting question is: does spirituality itself inform morality in some unique way that a person who resists their own spirituality can't access? But that is not what you asked. So I would say that prosocial impulses are, and always have been, a genetically programmed result of group selection and evolutionary fitness. Which means that human beings as a species have access to the same "conscience," regardless of spiritual insights or religious affiliation. What religion has historically provided is a formalized, institutionalized, often dogmatic form of moral education and social enforcement. And I'm sure that has benefited some people who for some reason have limited access to their own moral compass - but, in general, no more than any other social constraints would. Perhaps, for some, fear of the "Boogeyman in the closet" (i.e. a Devil or other evil force) or deferential respect for a benevolent Deity may have some impact on personal discipline, so that moral commitments and guidelines are adhered to more enthusiastically. It's also true that someone's religious devotion - their love and faith - could encourage a more conscious intentionality that aligns with moral beliefs. But this same devotion could also be arrived at by, for example, a secular humanist who feels compassion for other people, and so aspires to a higher standard of moral conduct, and actively invites others to hold them accountable to that standard. So, in this sense, a "religion" can be invented by almost anyone to systematize and reinforce their values. But I would say that profound spiritual experiences, deeply felt spiritual connections, and an intimate relationship with spiritual intelligence all contribute to a clearer and more refined values hierarchy, so that someone who relies upon these dimensions of being not only can hear their conscience more clearly, but attain insights that evolve their moral perspective beyond social expectation or religious dogma, and mature their mind and heart in the light of skillful compassion.

My 2 cents.

How can I live mindful life?

Quora answer to "How can I live mindful life?"

Thank you for the A2A. Here are some humble suggestions regarding mindfulness:

Carefully pay attention to everything within and without as you experience it - that is, to every dimension of your being, and every dimension of existence - without judgement or attachment. Just observe and take note. Every day. Every moment. Be aware, and let go. Over time, be awake in such a way that your vigilance itself is not driven by ego. Realize that your mindfulness is no different from all the other phenomena you are observing. Also see if you can recognize how compassion, humility, empathy, and generosity could become your dearest friends along this journey, providing the fuel of purpose and context for your mindfulness. Then, as your mindfulness deepens, recognize in your heart-of-hearts how temporary and fleeing all of this is. Are these all constructs that have no real existence except in relationship to each other? Rest in the knowing that arises in answer to that question. Finally, when freedom itself is an unspeakable (but fully felt) and empty uniformity, let go of that as well. That is also a construct. As you come to apprehend the unity of all things, make a decision: will you help others experience this liberation...? How will you answer when they ask "How can I live a mindful life?"

My 2 cents.

Suggested Guidelines for Spiritual Teachers & Leaders

Years ago I discovered that one of my most cherished spiritual teachers, Jiddu Krishnamurti, had secretly slept with his loyal assistant’s wife for many years before admitting the affair and destroying that marriage. This wasn’t the first time I’d been disappointed by someone whose moral character I had admired, but it was certainly one of the more jarring and upsetting moments. So I began to examine the lives of many spiritual teachers throughout recent history, and found that many – too many – had demonstrated extraordinarily poor judgment in their relationships with others, in how they handled money, and in how they conducted themselves in private. The list is long, but suffice it to say that it involves all spiritual traditions across many different cultures. What I thought was most intriguing was that the instances of immoral misconduct among spiritual teachers and leaders seem to parallel what we find among politicians. This led me to suppose that either those who self-select for leadership may be more prone to the faulty ego structures and ethical foibles that seem to plague them, or that positions of power tend to induce these problems over time.

I then took a careful look at the spiritual leaders and teachers who have seemed to remain unscathed – not from occasional missteps, but from any lengthy histories of secretive and nefarious behaviors. And, over time, I began to cobble together some of the principles that guided many of them, which they either explicitly stated or could be derived from accounts of their lives from students, disciples and friends. Below is that list, a set of proposed guidelines that anyone who is a spiritual teacher or leader – or who is considering embarking on such a journey – might do well to meditate upon and pray over. If someone can think of anything else they believe could be a valuable contribution, please feel free to send them my way at [email protected].


Suggested Guidelines for Spiritual Teachers & Leaders

1) Do you believe you have a serious psychological or behavioral issue that could sabotage your work? Then avoid becoming a spiritual teacher or leader unless you disclose such things to everyone – openly and regularly – as a qualifier for your practice and teaching.

2) In the same vein, be vigilantly transparent about your personal history, challenging experiences, failures, and ongoing practice.

3) Do you believe you are immune to psychological or behavioral issues that could sabotage your work? Then consider not becoming a spiritual teacher or leader at all – or be prepared to have your beliefs radically revised.

4) Make sure to develop all aspects of your being, rather than focusing just on spiritual development, as these other dimensions support spiritual growth…and vice versa. (This is a central tenet of Integral Lifework)

5) Whenever possible, conduct meetings, instruction and therapeutic sessions in an open, public environment – if possible outside in a natural space, or in a space that is open to the outdoors or can view it (rather than inside a room with no windows).

6) Along the same lines, avoid spending time alone in a secluded place with someone who could become a romantic or sexual partner, unless that intent and its consequences are openly shared with your community.

7) Make sure your teaching methods, interactions with students, and collaborative efforts are all openly discussed, and that you encourage sharing and discourage secrecy.

8-) Exercise integrity around money (low overhead, transparency, tithing, non-profit status, simple living, etc.), and enter business relationships with those who do the same.

9) Avoid speaking ill of anyone – especially those encouraging transformative work – no matter how different or challenging their views or methods; this applies equally to other spiritual traditions.

10) Promote ideals in a non-ideal world – understand the necessity of working within a system that may advocate an inversion of spiritual values, without compromising your core principles.

11) Follow ethical guidelines similar to those found at the AAMFT (http://aamft.org/iMIS15/AAMFT/Content/Legal_Ethics/Code_of_Ethics.aspx) or APA (http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.aspx).

12) Don't start believing what people say about you (positive or negative) or allowing this to affect your work.

13) Be devoted to a Greater Work (personal and societal healing, growth and transformation that benefits the good of All) rather than any individual person or specific approach...and encourage others to do the same.

14) Cultivate genuine humility, empowering others rather than yourself.

What is the real power of pranayama and meditation?

In answer to Quora question: "What is the real power of pranayama and meditation?"

Thanks for the A2A.

First of all, not all meditation includes the breath-control elements of pranayama, and not all pranayama practices have the same effect as other forms of meditation. Results of any of these approaches also vary from person to person. So to discuss "the real power" of something, we will need to be more specific.

For me personally, conscious breathing techniques have been an important part of my meditation practice since the very beginning. They have tended to hasten or deepen alternate states of consciousness and provide more reliable access to alternate perception-cognition. Most people who have employed such techniques will warn of the risks, however, so I will do the same: if you practice breath-control, it is wisest to do so under supervision of someone with experience in a given technique, and who understands the risks - which can be severe.

As for "meditation" in general (and this can mean many different things), the main benefits will be an intensified awareness of things like spiritual insight (*gnosis*), witness consciousness, somatic memory, ego constructs, repressed material from early life, emptiness, the interconnectedness of all-being, etc. In other words, with disciplined practice we will eventually encounter many different aspects of our ground-of-being, our interiority, or of the Universe itself, and in more transparent and vibrant ways than we have before. Does this equate "power?" If you equate knowledge or insight and power, then perhaps this would be your answer.

For me, if I were to distill all of my experiences with meditation and breathing techniques into a single theme, it would be the intense connection with love. That is the "real power" of these practices: to encounter the roots and branches of an abiding love-consciousness, and experience the inexorable inner movement that cements one's life work as the operationalization of such ineffable Light in skillfully compassionate and generous actions (*agape*).

My 2 cents.

Have you ever felt extremely ignorant?

In answer to Quora question: "Have you ever felt extremely ignorant?"

Question details: Recently, through meditation, I have realized that I'm ignorant. A strong sense of unknowing, cluelessness, regarding existence, what or who I am. Whenever I attempt to conjure, or find out what's happening, it looks like, and possibly is, a desperate attempt to hold on.
Have you experienced this?


Thank you for the A2A Deiter.

Yes, I have experienced this many times, in many variations which felt discretely different, but which all pointed to my profound ignorance regarding some specific area, or regarding many levels of understanding at once, regarding my conceptions of self, or even regarding my mundane, reflexive assumptions about reality. At first these encounters were extremely disorienting, and I resisted them out of discomfort and fear - pushing back, denying, holding on to my previous conceptions. Over time, however, I began to relax more and more into the depth and breadth of letting go. Once I had practiced this letting go to an increasing degree and over many months, releasing all the narratives I had been clinging to so desperately became easier and more natural, and eventually something changed in me; something clicked into place that has persisted ever since. It is, I think, a new kind of sensing and knowing that has been gradually replacing all those previous conceptions with new patterns, modes and qualities of information: a new context, a new identity, a new values structure, a new way of being, new interdependencies, etc...but this, too, is a process. And, even as I sense an implicate order in this new arrangement of knowledge, I also see that it is just as fragile and fleeting as my previous conceptions; it just feels quite different, and helps me apprehend certain things more directly, without so much noise. This is all rather tenuous and difficult to describe, but if your process prods you forward in a similar fashion, then perhaps it will be fruitful for you. I would also share that the one characteristic that persists into each new horizon of knowing is compassion - for others, for myself, for the natural world and all the creatures in it...for existence as I comprehend it. I would describe this as an unfolding, enlarging and intensifying love-consciousness. I believe this is an indication that the new "patterns, modes and qualities" I am experiencing are helpful and healthy across multiple dimensions of being. However, this, too, may just be another "myth of the given," a comforting rationalization that I will one day also have to let go....

My 2 cents.

How can I hasten my spiritual development?

In answer to Quora question: "How can I hasten my spiritual development?"

Thank you for the A2A and clarification. Here is how I would answer:

1. You can accelerate spiritual experiences and exposure to higher orders of perception and being - through meditation, mystical activation, studying the scriptures of various faith traditions, praying without ceasing, etc.

2. You can accelerate the development of supportive structures for spiritual *gnosis*, so that it can penetrate consciousness more thoroughly and be operationalized in reliable ways - through nourishing and nurturing every other dimension of your being (social enrichment, physical health, learning knowledge and skills, intimate friendships, healing any childhood trauma, attenuating stress, etc.).

3. You can accelerate the compassionate reflexes of love-consciousness - through practicing generosity, humility, empathy, active listening, non-attachment, service to others, etc.

4. You can refine your intentionality, so that you are committed to pursuing all of these things for the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration - for the good of all, and without any egoic reward.

5. You cannot, however, accelerate spiritual development. Doing all these things will provide more awareness and discipline around that development, but it will not hasten it. Your experience of spiritual unfolding will be just that, and nothing more. In spiritual matters, we are seldom as far along as we hope to be, but we can often be farther along that we fully realize.

My 2 cents.

Why do you think spirituality and/or awakening is real?

In answer to Quora question: "Why do you think spirituality and/or awakening is real?"

Thanks for the A2A.

Simply put: from personal experience. Sure, reading scriptures from many different religions has been a helpful way to frame or contextualize my spiritual experiences...and to guide me into new horizons of spiritually being...but without those fundamental experiences of "spirit," I don't know that I would have been drawn to those scriptures or have had them resonate so strongly for me. Of course, there could be alternate explanations for some of these experiences, as neurology is trying to elaborate for us, but not for many others. Also, I must recognize that I have certain sensitivities and patterns of perception and cognition that some of my atheistic friends do not have - and this has meant that I accept spiritual explanations for certain events in my life, where they do not. These sensitivities are also why I describe myself as a "mystic" instead of as a "spiritual person" or as "religious," because descriptions of mystical gnosis throughout literature across many cultures is the closest thing to what I have experienced - just as agape is the best definition I have encountered for the consequences of that gnosis arising in my thoughts, feelings and actions. A poem from Hafiz or Teresa of Avila shapes words around the ineffable movements of my soul. Also, in a way, I would tend not to use the word "think" regarding these conclusions, but rather "intuit" or "sense" or "know" in a multidimensional way.

Mysticism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Does everyone go through spiritual awakening?

In answer to Quora question: "Does everyone go through spiritual awakening, or is it only a select few?"

Thank you for the A2A Morgan. This is a difficult question, and I think it depends on what you mean by "spiritual awakening;" as you can see from the answers already offered that this means different things to different people. But, if we agree to define that awakening as an acute awareness of a spiritual dimension of Self, and its intimate connection to the Universe and the Divine, here are what I believe to be some strong possibilities:

1) For every conscious being, opportunities for this awakening occur repeatedly, becoming more and more insistent and intense - both in a given lifetime and over the course of many lifetimes.

2) It is possible for someone to willfully reject this awakening over and over again, though I think it becomes more difficult and more hazardous the longer this willful rejection is perpetuated.

3) It is possible for someone to lack the facility from birth to have a spiritual awakening in their lives, and also not be able to acquire or develop that facility. We might think of this as an "autism of the spirit," which might occur as frequently as other autism spectrum disorders.

4) It is possible for someone, as a result of their environment - and emotional injuries and traumas of childhood in particular - to have a crippled or muted facility for spiritual awakening, and that unless they act with awareness, discipline, patience and endurance to heal those injuries and traumas, they will continue to have a persisting deficit in that facility.

5) It is possible for some people to go through multiple "spiritual awakenings" without interpreting or appreciating them as especially significant, or adjusting their worldview, values or behavior in reaction to those awakenings. In fact, they may either forget about them entirely, or take them for granted, or consider them an ordinary part of life.

In the end, what do these possibilities indicate, in answer to your question? I think they indicate that, although everyone will have multiple opportunities to become more spiritually awake, it is in fact relatively few who will both fully engage that opportunity, and continually operationalize their awakenings in new modes of being. For waking from sleep in the morning does not constitute living - we must also rise from our bed and go out into the world to make our way; in the same way, spiritual awakening does not constitute a spiritual life - we must actively honor our new spiritual understanding and perception in all of our choices, relationships and interactions, moving ever forward to the next horizon of being. When we allow our spiritual dimension to inform who we are and how we live, the strength and depth of that dimension continues to grow.

My 2 cents.

What is Self (capitalized)?

In answer to Quora question: "What is Self (capitalized)?"

It depends on who is using the term. "Self" can mean:

- True Self (psychoanalytical term - "authentic Self" or "realized Self")

- True Self (spiritual Self)

- Supramental Self (Aurobindo)

-Whole/Individuated Self (Jung's archetype of fully integrated Self)

-Innermost Self

-Higher Self

-Angelic Self

-Selfless/Surrendered Self

-Unitive/Undifferentiated Self

-"Complete Self" or "Self of Light" (Sufism)

-Essence of Being

-Atman-Brahman

-Witness Consciousness (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism)

-Pure Presence/Awareness

-Buddha nature

-Divine Spark (Kabbalah)

-Ground of Being (Perennial philosophy)

-Divine Self

-The Perfect/Mature (Christianity)

-"Christ in Me"

-Soul Light

-The One

These are all contrasted with "self" as individual identity; egoic self; dream display self; false self; artificial persona; transitive self; narrative self, etc. However, it is important not to conflate all of these definitions of "Self" (as happens sometimes, particularly in New Age thinking here in the West); some are similar, others are not. Again, we must qualify the source and understand the Self through the prism of each particular tradition. Another caveat is that I've also probably forgotten to include some definitions of "Self," so there's that. :-)

My 2 cents.

What are the views of Jesus Christ on non-Attachment?

In answer to Quora questino: "What are the views of Jesus Christ on non-Attachment?"

Interesting question, and thanks for the A2A.

In Christianity, non-attachment is explicitly encouraged by New Testament texts as a spiritual discipline. It is also implicit in much of the instruction there as a consequence of devotion to God and the fruits of the spirit, and it is routinely experienced by those devoted to a mature expression of the path. To live agape, which is the aim of those who follow Christ, is to have compassionate affection for everyone, without conditions, expectations or attachments. Why is this so important? Because the gracious love of God is likewise a gift that cannot be earned.

As for Jesus’ teachings regarding non-attachment:

Matthew 6:2-4 ““Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.”

Matthew 6:19-25: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

Matthew 16:24-26: Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

Matthew 23:25-26 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.”

Luke 6:32-36 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

Luke 12:15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Luke 14:33 “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

Luke 18:18-22 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

And, later in the New Testament, we find similar sentiments:

2 Corinthians 4:18 “As we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

Colossians 3:2 “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

1 John 2:15-17: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions - is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

My 2 cents.

Is God a psychological crutch?

From answer to Quora question: "Is God a psychological crutch?"

Thanks for the A2A Joel.

I would begin to answer your question in this way:

1) Is marriage a psychological or emotional crutch? Why do people feel the need to express commitment to each other in a ceremony or by signing legal documents? Does this indicate they have weak minds or fickle hearts?

2) Is having children an emotional crutch? Why do people reproduce when clearly the Earth has far too many people in it already? Are people just stupid, are they needily creating "little selves" to affirm their own ego, or are they just slaves to a biological urge that makes them feel better about their life's purpose?

3) Is friendship an emotional crutch? Do people make friends because they are afraid to be alone? Why do they seek out friends when they can get a job, buy a house, drive a car, etc. without them?

4) Is ideology an intellectual crutch? Do people adhere to various beliefs, philosophies or ideologies because they can't think for themselves? Are objectivists, libertarians, anarcho-capitalists or neocons people with incredibly weak minds, who need to be spoon-fed every thought and value they are allowed to have?

5) Is compassion a social, emotional and psychological crutch? Why is compassion venerated by so many people when it isn't required to be successful in business, gain wealth, or attain power and influence in society? Is it just an opiate to medicate away ambition in the weak-willed, so that they truly exceptional will have less competition?

6) Is "rationality" a crutch of the highest order? A huge body of research indicates that what we believe is "rational" is actually just "rationalization;" emotional reasoning that justifies our beliefs and choices. So when someone insists that they are being "rational," is this just a way of excusing themselves from responsibility for their emotional impulses?

7) Is Quora a psychological and social crutch? Do people ask and answer questions on Quora because they have no social life and are intellectually incapable of researching and evaluating data on a given topic? Does Quora just provide the illusion of engagement, education and edification, and distract participants from true emotional, social and intellectual growth?

Hopefully you appreciate where I am going with this line of inquiry. EVERY human tendency or behavior can be viewed as a crutch in some way. Therefore to argue for or against "God being a psychological crutch" inevitably leads to straw man arguments and other logical fallacies (see List of fallacies). This is inescapable when engaging in such grandiose generalizations, without evaluating each specific person in each specific context. Thus we can only responsibly ask things like "How did Timmy's belief in God impact his decision-making with respect to having sex with Tina during their high school senior camping trip?" or something equally targeted and confined.

My 2 cents.

What exactly are souls?

In answer to Quora question: "What exactly are souls?"

Thank you for the A2A.

My personal belief is that the soul is a cohesive, embodied, active intersection of our most fundamental dimensions of being. Those dimensions include manifest Divinity, spiritual consciousness and shared spiritual understanding, transpersonal experience, transcendent non-egoic Self, and unmanifest Divinity. The soul is where the finite, fleeting and conditional intersects with the Infinite, Constant and Absolute - a bridge between existence and non-existence, past and future, perfect unity and incompleteness, emptiness and suchness, manifest and unmanifest, self and other. This intersection is dynamic and exists outside of time and space (or it could be described as between things - interstitial), but its operation produces a field of energy that can be perceived and experienced in this physical life; an aspect of this is often interpreted as Light of a particular quality and intensity. How is this possible? I believe it is because our soul's field permeates and influences all other dimensions of being (somatic, perceptual, intellectual, emotional, relational and so on) and indeed the operations of those dimensions can influence our soul's Light - its field's energies, intensities, patterns, propagation and frequencies - as well. In terms of identity, the more we identify with soul, the less we identify with ego and its myriad personas; in fact I would say that to live our soul is to become unmitigated agape, and consequently to experience each moment in full unity with all that is seen and unseen. Does the soul persist - beyond death, into multiple lives, etc.? The soul field's patterns almost certainly persist to influence new iterations and interactions beyond the grave, but what about the soul field itself? I'm not sure, especially since my conception of soul is actively generated (spontaneously and continually) by the intersections I've described. In other words, something persists for a time - and perhaps a discussion of "spirit" would be helpful here - and something persists eternally in the oceans of being and non-being, but the the more highly energized aspects of soul that seem individuated from that ocean are, I suspect, more temporary and fleeting.

At the same time, all of these words I've written fall short of peak experiences - those aha moment that are our personal apprehension of soul - but perhaps they point in a useful direction.

I hope this was helpful.

Are spiritual development and the gaining of wisdom the same thing?

In answer to Quora question: "Are spiritual development and the gaining of wisdom the same thing?"

Thanks for the A2A Joel.

Consider this graphic:

Discernment - from Essential Mysticism

Notice that the various input streams do include what can be considered spiritual elements, but the streams are not exclusively spiritual. They include information from other dimensions of being. So in order for wisdom to be applied - to be pragmatic, skillful and discerning - it must be integrated and balanced with other avenues of insight and other metrics of evaluation. In my opinion, this principle and practice should be part of any holistic spiritual training and development, but that is not always the case.

Along these lines, I would encourage you to read this essay: A Mystic's Call to Action. I would enjoy hearing what you think about it.

My 2 cents.

What is a mystic?

Answer to Quora question: "What is a mystic?"

For me a mystic is someone who has directly experienced the multifaceted but unconditional unity of all things, who listens a bit more deeply to a felt sense of wonder in response to that apprehension, who is alert to the gracious synchronicities of life and mind, who allows intuitive insights to bubble up into conscious thought and opens up to their truths, who relinquishes ego and elaborate constructs of self in favor of a more unitive identity and its consequences of compassionate affection, who lets go of the imperatives of doing and knowing in favor of an unfolding harmony of being, and who celebrates and honors a spiritually universal dimension.

My 2 cents.

Is it really possible for humans to be without ego for prolonged periods of time?

Answer to Quora question: "Is it really possible for humans to be without ego for prolonged periods of time?"

I think it depends. The forceful I/Me/Mine impulse, and the self-identification that accompanies it, seem to be an important part of our psychosocial development. Before we develop ego, we are like a raw, vulnerable nerve, without boundaries or an ability to fulfill basic needs. Ego helps us establish that initial sense of "self," and energizes our will and ability to nourish that self in fundamental ways. If this natural course of ego-development can occur amid loving relationships, and without interruption from trauma or abuse, then we also tend to have a natural opportunity to relax our ego as we mature. Over time, the strong identification with a self-protective, self-assertive ego will begin to attenuate on its own, and we can allow ourselves to identify with a larger and larger circumference of being where the I/Me/Mine is less important. In fact, in the normal course of growing up, we may experience periods where "egoless" function spontaneously unfolds as the result of empathy, compassion and charitable concern for others. Again, though, this seems more probable if we haven't experienced trauma or abuse.

Regarding spiritual training, there is an interesting irony: without ego's promptings, it seems unlikely than many people would pursue a persisting attenuation of ego - or appreciate it as a component of spiritual practice. So ego can continue to play a role even after egoless experiences. In other words, it is still ego that encourages thoughts like "hey, being ego-free seems pretty helpful in this path I've chosen...I think I should keep trying to let my ego go!" So, over time, there can be a constant dance of ego-inspiration with refinement of egoless being. In addition, even after prolonged periods that seem to be ego-free, ego can still assert itself in times of stress, distress, confusion or existential need. In terms of survival, ego seems to be an important and unconsciously reflexive component of our interior toolkit. Sure, ego can be sidestepped, ignored, relinquished or diffused through all sorts of processes, but in nearly everyone ("enlightened" or not) ego can reassert itself under specific conditions.

Along those lines, I think if you look at how various spiritual traditions encourage an attenuation and deemphasis of ego, one of the striking consistencies is the removal of certain triggers from our environment. Encouraging celibacy and sexual self-control, for example, or focusing personal practices on charitable actions and relinquishment of material attachments, or committing to strict interior and exterior disciplines and the guidance of a mentor, or revising and controlling dietary habits, or even conformance to religious groupthink or dogma - all of these things are intended to break down ego's grasp on our psyche. And I think this highlights an important principle: it is possible to create an environment and habits that helps us relinquish our egoic impulses and maintain that freedom over time.

So all of these things seem to contribute to our ability to "be without ego." Our personal experiences, our freedom from trauma and crisis, our capacity for empathy and compassion, the characteristics of our immediate environment, our relationships, our training and discipline, our cultural habits - our entire "support system" if you will - all of these can influence our likelihood and ability to sustain ego-free being. In fact I suspect it is these other factors, rather than immersion in peak spiritual experiences or psychological detachment from ego, that are key for most people.

My 2 cents.

Can spiritual experiences be described in non-religious terms?

From Quora discussion "Can spiritual experiences be described in non-religious terms?"

From my essay "Spirituality for Skeptics:"

"If we step back for a moment from acknowledging the transpersonal or self-transcendent as spiritual, what are some of the characteristics of a “spiritual experience?” Here is a short list of some of the terms I’ve heard people use in the course of my teaching and Integral Lifework coaching:

- Uplifting gratitude, thanksgiving, joy or bliss
- An observed stream of synchronicity - a series of meaningful coincidences
- An intuitive aha, insight, deep knowing or revelation
- Self-knowledge that evokes surprise, shock, disquiet or fear
- A sixth sense awareness, déjà vu, or distinctly felt presence
- Intense feelings of love, compassion or empathic connection
- Emotional release, freedom of conscience, a letting go, forgiveness, acceptance
- A profound sense of wonder and awe
- An abiding trust, confidence or faith
- Inner stillness, expansiveness, nowness, quietude

Clearly, many of these experiences are not unique to spiritually-oriented people. In fact, almost anyone could experience these patterns without accrediting them to a spiritual cause. We may accept or dismiss them at face value, as predictable reactions to a perpetually mysterious, wonder-filled Universe. The friend who concluded he doesn’t have “the religion gene” can still feel awe and exhilaration when he catches a good wave at the beach or when he beholds a beautiful waterfall in the desert. My father, a deeply skeptical man, can still feel elated and grateful when he masters a whitewater river in an open canoe, skis a difficult line through dense forest, or finds a hundred-dollar bill in his driveway. A writer acquaintance of mine who vehemently rejects all romanticism and magical thinking can still soar with joy, surprise and revelation as she writes or reads a well-written story. And so on. Anyone, no matter how steeped in their native skepticism, can experience emotional release, non-rational confidence, synchronicity, wonder and bliss."

Do Spirits Serve Us?

From the Quora discussion "How do the spirits serve you?"

Thanks for the A2A. This is a fairly complicated question to answer, IMO. So first I'd like to reframe it a bit....

Would you ask a Christian, "Hey, so how does God serve you when you pray?" Wouldn't that be a little presumptuous? And wouldn't it be better to ask something along the lines of: "What do you feel is actually happening when you pray? What is the mechanism? Who or what do you believe you are communicating with? Do you feel there is some sort of connection occurring? And how does it work for you...?"

In the same way, it might be a more appropriate question to ask of someone who practices magick, shamanic rituals, divination, Wicca, or who contacts the spirit world as a medium: "What do you believe is actually happening when you engage in these practices?"

If you asked the question in this way, I think you will likely receive both higher quality answers, and also very diverse answers. This is because folks who engage in these practices have many different beliefs, and even within the same tradition or mode of practice you will find a wide array of takes on what is "actually happening" during these rituals and disciplines. You could, I suspect, spend a lifetime collecting responses to such a question, and have a very tough time generalizing about the answers. Even if you restrict the question to "people who practice witchcraft" as you have, you will encounter variation, contrasts and sometimes what appear to be complete contradictions in the answers you receive.

So I will offer a few thoughts out of my own experiences, observations and beliefs, as just one tiny, insignificant data point in your inquiry.

It has been my experience that people who try to control events, people, outcomes and so forth through "supernatural" means are generally pretty immature and ultimately counterproductive in their approaches. This applies equally to people who pray to a deity for intervention, or who invoke power through a ritual, hoping for the same. Attempting to persuade or command the Universe, natural forces, or spiritual entities and energies to bend to our individual will is exceptionally childish. Why? Because it either presumes that we little humans, with our tiny brains, simian impulses and limited lifespans, have the slightest inkling of what the wisest course is in a given situation - or, perhaps even more appalling, that we are entitled to have a say in how things unfold. So to command the service of spirits, natural forces, gods or anyone for that matter is really just evidence of excessive narcissism, megalomania, anthropocentrism, or a mental illness operating in an apophenic delusion. As such, this kind of "testing the limits of personal power" is normal for little children...but you would expect adults to do away with childish things. Even when disguised as things like synchronicity, the power of positive thinking, or "The Secret," this egocentric impulse is still pretty immature.

So what is the point of interacting with the "spiritual world," if such a realm exists? For me personally, my life experiences have demonstrated to my satisfaction that there are entities, modes of perception and consciousness, structures, and patterns of energy that operate outside of what conventional science has as of yet measured or defined. I say "as of yet" because I'm confident that what we now call "paranormal" or "supernatural" will be scientifically understood...eventually. Perhaps these are quantum events that are quite ordinary, or evidence of multiple realities/universes, or realms of energy that function on different principles than our own, and yet still intersect with our perception and consciousness. But again, what is the point of interacting with a world of "spirit" (if we choose to name it this way) at all? Well...what is the point of interacting with anyone or anything? Why do we make certain friends, or explore certain places, or seek out advice from certain "earthly" authorities in our life? We do these things out of a sense of adventure, a desire to connect and share with others, out of love and excitement for life itself, and to perhaps receive guidance that will aid us in choosing the wisest course for ourselves and those we care about.

And, frankly, I think these are the same impulses that inspire and sustain connections with the spirit world. To seek friendship, new experiences, insight, sound advice and so on. And if we do have a "spiritual" dimension to our being - a part of ourselves that operates and expresses itself via spiritual energies - then wouldn't it make sense that that spiritual Self is hungry for spiritual nourishment? That this aspect of our being desires interactions with others in a spiritual way, and indeed to consciously connect with spirit as deeply and regularly as possible? Most people who pray or meditate with a group will report a deepening of their experience, and begin to rely on it as a profoundly nourishing and supportive practice. So whether this connection is "real" or not is kind of irrelevant, because those who are participating have the felt experience that it is real. Even if it is a "placebo" effect, it has for centuries demonstrated pronounced benefit for a majority of the people involved. In the same way, another person might feel an intense connection with Nature when they meditate in the wilderness, and another person might feel united with the Divine when they are in prolonged solitary meditation or prayer. Are all of these experiences an illusion, or is something actually happening here...?

Well, in conclusion, let me put it to you this way: when two people are "in love," is anything actually happening between them, or are they just deluded? I think if you believe that such deeply felt passion is just individual and biochemical, and that each person is just projecting their own fantasy of what "love" is on the other person, and has no real connection with that person, then it will be difficult to believe that people have any real connection with the spiritual realm either. But if you are willing to entertain that two people who are in love are sharing an authentic, deepening connection, and are intermingling their being, psyche or energies in some way, then it will be easier to entertain the idea that people can have "real connection" with spirits or the spirit realm.

I suppose there is just one more thing I would offer, and that is what guides me in my own spiritual interactions. I am mainly concerned with discerning the wisest course for my own thoughts, choices and actions, so that I might contribute in some small way to the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration. I rely on this intention to filter and focus my connections and relationships, so that I am acting (and thinking, and choosing) in harmony with a greater good. I hold this up as both a guiding light and a shield, as an invitation and invocation for any spirit (or person, or energy, or structure) for whom such intention resonates, and a ward or persuasion to anything or anyone who isn't yet operating according to what I would call (for lack of a better term) "a loving frequency of light."

I hope this was helpful.

How Different religions define "need"

From the Quora discussion "What defines the concept of "need" in various spiritual and religious traditions?"

Thanks for the A2A Jeff.

An interesting question that has me doubling back on my own thoughts a bit. Hmmm. Well here is my take....

- There is "meeting the needs of others" (Bud, Chr, Isl, Hin, Jud, etc.) in the sense of service to them in multiple contexts - compassion towards everyone in society, as a loving duty to one's community of faith, as a responsibility to one's family, as an obligation to do what is prosocially just and right, and so on. This often refers to material generosity, or to basic physical needs (food, shelter, clothing, etc.), but also counsel, emotional comfort, encouragement, patience, forgiveness, affection and other supportive actions. So psychosocial "needs" as well. Whether it is called compassion or charity or service or dāna or agape or tzedakah or whatever, the relatively consistent idea seems to be to relinquish acquisitiveness, self-protective egotism and indifference in favor of an outpouring of caring via whatever material, emotional and spiritual resources are available to the giver (and most notably in the form of wise actions that are discerning as to the type of support that should be provided).

- There are also needs that would be defined as "things that are required to achieve spiritual objectives." So, for example, a Christian "needs" to confess their sins and be baptized; a Buddhist "needs" to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha; a Muslim "needs" to perform the Hajj at least once; a Hindu "needs" to practice the Pancha Nitya Karmas. These are of course just examples from different traditions, and are not intended to be equivalent in import, but hopefully you see the point I am trying to make.

So there are physical, emotional, spiritual and social "needs" here, all involved with both subsistence and transcendence, and all suggestive or demonstrative of a love that is both interpersonal and transpersonal. In the language of nearly all of the traditions I have studied, the central "need" behind all of this is to practice an unrestrained and unconditional love that recognizes, celebrates and serves that noble, sacred something in all beings - be it Ruh, Buddha nature, Divine spark, atman/Brahman, spirit of Christ, potential for enlightenment...or what have you. And of course that need is mirrored on the receiving side as well - the need to be loved. So there is really only one need that infuses and informs all others, and while the causation of that need is ineffable, its expression - its evidence in intentions, feelings, words, actions and other reification - results in shared qualities of praxis across nearly all major religions. So, it seems to me, there is much more commonality than contrast in those essential characteristics.

My 2 cents, and in any case a worthwhile mulling opportunity. Thanks.

What Does "Spirituality" Mean?

From the Quora post "What are some of the things people mean with the concept of spirituality?"

Hi Jeff - thanks for the A2A.

It has been my experience that "people generally" have very different takes on the word "spirituality," and so much so that it is very challenging to generalize about the term. I myself have something specific in mind when I use it, but is that understanding shared by others? From teaching classes on mysticism where the participants held diverse beliefs (some were Hermeticists, others Atheists, Secular Humanists, Christians, Wiccans, etc.) I would say it is possible to find common ground for a shared definition...but in order to do so, that definition tends to become ever-so-slightly diluted with each iteration of broader inclusion. That is, it tends to become a bit more superficial as it strives to be more inclusive. So really, you would need to consult with folks from each of these belief systems to fully appreciate what they specifically mean by "spirituality."

Of course there are folks like Ken Wilber who have sought a "transcend-and-include," integralizing definition for spirituality (see Integral Spirituality). But even Wilber confesses to "aggressive simplification" that "will either help for totally confuse." He himself has a personal practice that has resulted in specific experiences, which he interprets as "spiritual," and uses consensus language along with others who have had similar experiences, which understandably leads to mutual affirmation. But as with any belief system, all of this is self-referential, highly conditional and discursively intersubjective - any term that defines an experience is not that experience, even if it is perceived to be shared, and particularly if the experience itself is often described as "ineffable." Thus even Wilber's valiant effort at integral post-metaphysics is just "one more take on spirituality."

There are also folks who have sought to reconcile quantum physics or other scientific theories with what have traditionally been described as "spiritual" realities (among various belief systems). It's a long list, but among them we find Pauli, Heisenberg, Eddington, Bohm, Laszlo, Sheldrake, LeShan, etc. (Nick Herbert's book Quantum Reality may be useful here.) Of course there are just as many scientists who have argued against any such correlations or reconciliations, Einstein and Planck among them. Again...just one more take.

So is it possible to effectively generalize without losing our footing altogether in this particular area? I suspect it likely that personal experience is the key - that is, experiential immersion in that ineffable mystery that seems to contribute to a shared understanding of spirituality across many belief systems. As a Perennialist mystic I certainly have a bias regarding this common ground; I believe it exists and that I - along with many others - have encountered it through various "spiritual" disciplines. Then again, what if this consensus-reality is just a form of consensus-apophenic-delusion (C.A.D.)? As the Apostle Paul expressed it: "If we have only hoped for Christ in this life, then we are more pitiful than all men." I would think the same pity extends to anyone whose beliefs are founded on C.A.D., and perhaps especially if the delusion is an enculturated one and not carefully tested and examined.

Which leads me to my final thoughts on the matter: I believe it is worth testing, examining, weighing, introspecting and debating any definition of "spirituality" along with the experiences that inform, reinforce and express that definition, and to engage in such evaluation qualitatively. Does this experience of so-called "spirituality" enhance the quality of life, character and sociality both individually and collectively? Do its experiential outcomes efficaciously contribute to the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration? Do its prosocial benefits endure? I think these are the sorts of metrics we should use to examine the place of "spirituality," regardless of how it is defined. Then again, even these conversations necessitate a common values hierarchy and shared language around moral development...so we arrive full circle back at the initial diversity of spiritual experience: what is each individual's understanding of spirituality (and correlating morality, values, beliefs, etc.), and how do they correlate/contrast/intersect with everyone else's?

I hope this was helpful.

Obstacles to Spiritual Liberation

In Response to Quora Question: "What is the single biggest obstacle to spiritual liberation?"

I think there are countless barriers, many of which have already been alluded to in the comments here. I have also observed that different ones will present in different ways for different people at different times...the emphasis and influence of each one constantly shifting.

In any case, one obstacle that has not yet been mentioned is language itself. As our exploration of a spiritual aspect of being evolves, words like "liberation" and "spiritual" will likely take on different meanings (or no meaning at all). So as we delve more deeply into this dimension, we may find that words, concepts, descriptions, etc. interfere with our fully accessing "spiritual" experience.

Here are some other barriers that may often arise in a journey of what I find helpful to define as deepening gnosis or "spiritual knowing:"

- Operating without the guiding intentionality of loving kindness towards self and others, and a desire for the greatest good for the greatest number.

- Confusing things like tribal conformance or codependence for artful compassion; having a poor model for what agape looks like.

- Neglecting to support and nourish all other dimensions of being throughout the process (i.e. mind, heart, body, community, purpose, legacy, sexuality, etc.) as we engage in spiritual disciplines.

- Allowing any one of these dimensions to dominate our attention or distract us from our primary focus; in other words, an inability to manage and harmonize these aspects of self.

- Mistaking our previous epiphanies or experiences, public commitments, routine habits, the observations of others, our standing in a spiritual community, the teachings of any religious tradition, exoteric practices or anything else for the rigorous, challenging inner work of engaging spirit every day.

- Reflexive resistance to letting go of certain thoughts, emotions, sensations, etc., instead of cultivating letting go itself as a reflex.

- A preoccupation with measuring spiritual progress or accomplishment.

As I mentioned already, I think there are countless barriers, but these few seem to be both common and pernicious. A more subtle obstacle, and one I have been working to remedy in myself for most of my adult life, is the tendency to navigate new information and experiences in an unconscious way. Specifically, I believe the most beneficial state of being is neutral, fluid and nonreactive, where all new events and encounters are held gently, openly and without prejudice. At first, this requires much effort. Over time, it becomes more effortless. But the impulse to either dismiss or integrate something new without conscious, compassionate consideration persists; there seems no end to a necessary vigilance, just as there is no end to growth and transformation.

Lastly, I wanted to touch on fear, since it was mentioned as an obstacle. I believe fear, like many strong emotions, can challenge us to change our mode of thinking, our reflexive habits, etc; that is, to spur us on toward certain stages or forms of "liberation." It can also ground us more firmly in unhealthy modes and habits, and undermine any sense of growth, healing, harmony or freedom. But either outcome is a result of our choice: our response to the fear. So it isn't fear (or guilt, or shame, or grief, or anger, etc.) that itself is an obstacle, it is the lack of skillfulness with which we respond to such a powerful emotion that creates barriers for us.

I hope this was helpful.

On Spiritual Teachers

In Response to Quora Question: "Is it possible to walk a spiritual path without having direct access to a teacher?"

This is a very interesting thread of comments to me, so I would like to add my 2 cents.

I think the greatest variable in answering a question like this for yourself is appreciating what it is that you most require in this moment, and this has already been alluded to by others here. It sounds as though you already have a practice and a path, and in the traditions you mentioned, there is frequent encouragement to receive training, support and guidance from others who are also committed to those traditions. Personally I do not believe any one person is more enlightened than any other (and I do realize this may sometimes be at odds with lay perceptions in the traditions you mentioned), for I believe we are all part of the same continuum, and all have the same access to spiritual understanding; each of us has already "arrived" as it were, and are blessed to a portion of consciousness that is able to explore this reality - if only we choose to do so. Sure, at a given moment in a particular context, one person may seem wiser and more insightful about how to approach a particular challenge than another person. They may appear to inhabit a place we feel we are still aiming for. But put that same person in a completely different context, and they might really struggle. And I suspect it is because of this fact (at least in part) that most traditions encourage entering into community with other believers; it isn't necessarily because that it is the only way to remain committed or to grow - but it certainly helps a lot, and, of equal importance, it provides us with the opportunity to support and encourage others. Our spiritual aspirations need not feel like a lonely vigil all of the time, and when we combine our light with others, there is often an amplification effect for everyone. Just look at the discussion you yourself have sparked here!

Having said this, I would also like to offer insight that contradicts some of what has been shared here. Based on my own journey, on my observations of others, and on the teachings of many traditions, there is almost always a time when a teacher is necessary, there is almost always a time when a teacher becomes a hindrance, there is almost always a time when we must take on the mantle of teacher ourselves, and there is almost always a time when we must relinquish that mantle. Hence my initial comment of "appreciating what you most require in this moment." Now what constitutes a "teacher" can have a lot of variability. It may be a spiritual presence in your mind and heart that is perceived as coming from outside yourself, or it may be a person you look up to, or it may become available to you in the form of divination, or it may be spiritual writings that you become more and more intimate with, or it may issue from the stillness within you as a kind of knowing (when you meditate, etc.). Ultimately, however, there will come a time when that relationship changes - either because you are entering a new phase of your journey, or because your "teacher" is entering a new phase in their journey. In other words, the teacher-student relationship is always a dynamic one, even to the point where it might become reversed. And this is the crux of the matter as I see it: a skillful and wise teacher will recognize this to be the case. Anyone who tries to place the teacher-student relationship in a static box, where the teacher is always far beyond you, has misunderstood the nature of the spiritual teachings in their tradition. Many may disagree with me on this, to be sure, because the power structures inherent to human institutions tend to resist the freedoms granted us by spirit; but "liberation," though it may indeed require discipline, humility and self-control, should never become a ball-and-chain.

To close, I'd like to recount two of my favorite lines from Hindu and Buddhist texts - to fully appreciate these one must of course read and understand all of the text that surrounds them, but these words convey an arrival of sorts; a culmination of all that has gone before:

"But what is the use of knowing all of this, Arjuna? Just remember that I am, and that I support the entire cosmos with only a fragment of my being." The Bhagavad Gita

"All structures, simply as structures, are themselves essentially enlightenment." Mother of the Buddhas: Meditation on the Prajnaparamita Sutra" (Lex Hixon)

I hope this was helpful.

Regarding the Perennial Philosophy

In Response to Quora Question: "What do you think of the Perennial Philosophy as a way of understanding religion?"

I think Perrenialism is a very useful idea to consider...but there are two potent caveats that I also think moderate its usefulness. The first, which is more of an esoteric consideration, is that we cannot fully understand or appreciate someone else's spiritual interiority - and, along the same lines, we can be further hampered in our interpretation of someone else's spiritual experience (even if it seems to resonate with our own) by our cultural differences, differences in language, differences in context, intellectual development, emotional sophistication, moral maturity, spiritual development, and so on. In other words, what we might assume is "the same experience" may actually be completely different in meaningful ways. The second, which is more of an exoteric consideration, is that we should be careful to avoid a sort of haphazard syncretism or overeager unification of all rituals, dogmas, relationships, institutions or other features of religious traditions that may seem to orbit around similar themes, but are really rooted in very different histories and often fundamentally divergent worldviews.

With that said, I would assert that there are common spiritual structures within all human beings, and that when those structures are accessed in certain ways, they will shift a person's perceptions, emotions, insights and self-awareness into a new space. Is that space identical in every person? No, probably not - and the governing intentionality and level of self-discipline used to access that space will also impact how it is experienced. Add to this that the cultural and personal contexts within which spiritual structures are encountered will have an enormous impact on how those structures are interpreted, valued and operationalized, and the outcomes will inevitably be as diverse as humanity itself. Which I think explains why there are so many different spiritual traditions, practices and belief formulations. But that core contact - that encounter with the ineffable depths of spiritual knowing (what I would describe as gnosis) - is, I believe, the common root for the esoteric origins and evolutions of most (if not all) forms of spirituality.

There are ways to simplify this discussion. For example, one fairly straightforward approach is to compare the mystical schools (via their representatives and the writings of each school's mystics) across many different religions. So Sufism with Christian contemplatives with Zen Buddhism with Kabbalah with Gnosticism with Advaita Vendanta and so on. I say straightforward...but of course this could be a lifetime's work...yet the point is that the mystical disciplines, experiences and outcomes among these different religions are shockingly similar - even though the framework of beliefs and traditions surrounding them is quite different. One hypothesis is that if we were to go back even further, to the shamanic practices that predate formalized religion, we would find even more striking similarities.

There are those who would point out that the differences between religious beliefs and practices are more important than the commonalities...but again I would say this is confined mainly to exoteric features that accumulated over time, rather than the esoteric origins. But for me, personally, the deeper I have delved into even these detailed differences, the more resonance I have found between them. That is why I am much more comfortable identifying myself simply as "a practicing mystic," than naming one tradition as the source of all my beliefs.

So this is how I tend to use "Perennialism" within my own framework, and how I think it is intersubjectively understood (with lots of variations, to be sure) among the many proponents of the philosophia perennis. I hope it was helpful.

Spiritual Basis for Right Action

In Response to Quora Question: "Spiritually speaking, what is it that forms a true or right basis/motivation for action?"

Thanks for the A2A invitation.

It seems as though your question is speaking to intention, so I will answer from that perspective. There are three components to what I would describe as beneficial or constructive intentionality. These are a) the cultivation of an indwelling compassionate affection (love-consciousness) that advocates for the greatest good, for the greatest number, the greatest amount of time; b) the ongoing deepening of discernment, which integrates multiple inputs streams to calculate efficacy for all actions intended to support such loving intentions; and c) an underlying and abiding trust that these conditions, intentions and actions harmonize with constructive forces that are larger than our individual consciousness. All of these contribute to what we might call "a moral frame for skillfulness."

However, the question that often arises here is that one's individual ego and/or animalistic impulses can still be involved in all of these components - compulsive "desire" can still intrude into any formula for refining a more love-centric, constructive basis for actions. Indeed it seems that love expresses itself through us in many ways, and sometimes in unskillful, constricting or even destructive ways (the "binding or conflict producing" outcomes you allude to, for example).

So it would seem this is our journey: to move beyond egocentric or animalistic patterns into a more unfettered, unmitigated experience of compassionate affection. And this is what many spiritual traditions seek to encourage through various forms of worship, contemplation, meditation or other disciplined spiritual practice. As we commit to a path that resonates with our personal predilections and strengths, we will begin to experience a greater fluidity of love-in-action as a result of letting go of an egoistic self-concept and its separateness. In the meantime, as we inevitably vacillate in our commitment to that process (and even our confidence in its efficacy), there will be imperfect expressions of our love-in-action. That is, alas, just part of the human condition.

There is much more to this discussion, of course, but I hope this provides a helpful finger pointing at the moon.

On Choosing Meditation Techniques

In Response to Quora Question: "What are the types of meditation and how do I know which one suits me best?"

What a great question. Here are some general principles that have helped me and many meditation students over the years:

1) I have not observed there to be one method of meditation that is superior to any other. This is true even for the same person over time, where different approaches will likely be required to explore different flavors of meditative experience, practices that happen to be most beneficial at a given time.

2) In my book Essential Mysticism (downloadable for free here: Essential Mysticism : T.Collins Logan : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive) the following general categories of meditation are identified:

- Subtractive Meditation

- Ecstatic Induction

- Symbolic and Synchronistic Ritual

- The Perfection of Love

What is particularly fascinating, however, is that the more types of meditation I have practiced and researched, the more it has become clear that many will touch on more than one of these categories - and sometimes touch on all of them.

3) In addition to the category of meditation you decide to explore, it is essential, IMO, that you cultivate a specific flavor of intention at the same time. I call this "the golden intention," and it simply is desiring what is the greatest good for the greatest number - including ourselves of course - as an outcome for any meditative effort. Without this prerequisite discipline, meditation may not be fruitful...and in fact it may be harmful. It also turns out that this is a great test for the quality of a meditative practice itself, for if meditation is well-designed and our practice is well-executed, then this intentionality will blossom and grow within us.

4) Along the same lines, truly efficacious meditation is meant to develop, focus and strengthen the heart, the mind, the body, the will and the spirit. If you find that only one area is being developed, it may be time to try another approach.

5) And lastly, it is extremely beneficial to find a group with whom to practice. Meditation can indeed be learned as a solitary practice, but most people find that meditating together with others amplifies the experience, and helps keep them focused and on-track.

As to which one suits you best, you will know it when you find it, because you will begin to experience more peace, more clarity, more insight, more certainty, more compassion, more skillfulness and so on. These are the proof of the pudding, as it were. Just remember that you may find this pudding in many different forms of practice, and the pudding may require some new ingredients (new practices, new focus, etc.) over time.

I hope this was helpful.

On Transcendence Cravings

In Response to the Quora Question: "Why does the human mind crave transcendence?"

Thanks for the A2A.

First, it seems as though it would be most beneficial to ask V.S. Ramachandran what he meant by that phrase in the context that he spoke it. That said, here are a few ideas (many of which have been bantered about for centuries) that may resonate with the generalized current of those particular words....

1) We want relief from suffering, and we assume (rightly or wrongly) that "transcendence" will aid us in that relief.

2) We intuit an aspect of our being that seems much vaster than the sum of our perception-cognition, and we reflexively want to deepen that awareness and connection.

4) We have the felt experience that we have been separated from a unitive state of existence, and we want to return to that unitive state.

5) We have been touched by the flame of Divine Love, and it has inspired us to be entirely consumed in that fire.

6) We have had ineffable and remarkable peak experiences that have challenged our previous sense of self, offering a very different identity and orientation to the Universe and all the forms of consciousness within it, so that we "know" (in the gnostic sense) that our previous conceptions are inadequate or even false, and wish to reclaim the perspective we glimpsed in those peak experiences so that we may operate with integrity.

7) We are unsatisfied with the perceived limitations of our existence, and fervently wish to believe there is "something more."

8.) If our imagination has no boundaries and our ability to learn is likewise ongoing, but we recognize that our current understanding is finite and incomplete, then the resulting tension can only be resolved through broadening our experience and expanding our understanding.

Now we could still ask why any of these tendencies or experiences occur and, upon answering this "why," we could drill down further to a deeper, more fundamental "why," and keep doing this...perhaps endlessly. Some of the underlying explanations for "why" we have this seemingly natural tendency (again bantered about for centuries) might include the following:

1) A fragment of the Divine Spark resides in us and naturally yearns to be reunited with the Divine.

2) The potential for liberation underlies all existence, and although our minds tend to keep distracting us from it, we can still apprehend hints of that liberation and a possibility that we just need to remove a few obstacles in order to enter this alternate, more transparently accurate mind stream.

3) In our own willfulness and ignorance we have turned away from the Light through which all things came into being, but the Light patiently awaits our return if we can embrace its gracious lovingkindness.

4) The individual self is an illusion.

5) We have forgotten who we really are, why we are here, and the nature of all spiritual existence...but the Universe keeps prompting us to remember.

6) In the process of Creation, matter was alienated from spirit, but since we humans consist of both, we are constantly trying to reconcile the two.

7) There is an ongoing evolution of spirit and matter - or of an unmanifest continually manifesting itself - and we are part of that evolution.

8.) The inquisitive seat of our consciousness has evolved to improve the survival fitness of our species, and its yearning fora greater, more complete knowledge and understanding has consistently improved that fitness.

I feel like I'm forgetting something...some angle on this question that I've encountered before...so if I remember it later I will add it in the comments to my answer here.

I hope this was helpful and please feel free to follow up.