Why spirituality is a crappy way to escape reality

(This reposted entry was published Friday, April 17th, 2009 at 1:21 am at the old blog site)

This ought to be a one sentence-post: “spirituality is the act of seeking ultimate reality, by definition it does not avoid reality”. There. End of post.

Except not. Because a post like that would be too simple for some people to understand.

I have an icon on the computer I’m typing on which, when clicked, causes the better part of a day’s time to be destroyed, though independent observers have sworn that they have seen me during the purported missing hours, sitting right here, playing a game 🙂  Everyone has his or her escapes. Aside from being fun, they serve a range of useful functions. I’m not against escapes. If someone needs an escape, wants an escape, I hope they find an escape that they find satisfying.

Spirituality is not it.

When talking to spiritual cowboys (and their undisciplined religious comrades in arms) I get the impression that they see their spiritual future something like this: They sign up for a meditation class. They learn to sit in a funny posture and focus on their breath. After a few weeks they become very relaxed when meditating, and they feel good. Then, when they’ve sat around feeling good long enough (maybe a few lifetimes, maybe next week when the UFOs arrive, *shrug*), someday lotus petals will fall from the sky and 108-gizillion Buddha worlds will open up. That’s it. No mess, no fuss, no intrusion of the real world upon their plan, no requirements on their part to involve themselves in that world, just a lot of panting followed by a really cool laser light show.

What they seem to forget is that the scriptures that describe light shows of that sort describe the audience for them as dirty monks living in the forest, eating one meal of leftovers a day, getting their asses bit by mosquitoes as they watched bodhisattvas frolic in the skies. Which, by the way, featured a guy who starved himself half to death and fought off demons. And if quasi-Buddhist fantasy escapes lose their appeal on that account, they’ll find no easier laser light shows in any other spiritual tradition worth its salt. Want Christ on the clouds? The price of admission on that one appears to be much closer to “get crucified by the Romans upside down” than “wear a WWJD wristband and rock out to Amy Grant”.

Here’s the facts:

Spirituality is the hardest activity a person can do.

One can’t do a little bit of it. Anyone trying to do a little bit of spirituality will eventually face a painful crisis. It’s all or nothing. Note that “all” does not mean go get yourself a yellow robe and traipse over to Yosemite to be eaten by a mountain lion if you don’t freeze to death first. It means put your whole heart in it and learn to steel one’s will and seek out the hard things rather than avoid them. They hurt less that way.

Any spirituality that is based upon seeking benefits for oneself is doomed. Only one force is powerful enough to overcome the fear of death, and that is love. As in, love for others. As in, you cannot ignore the fate of the world while seeking your own personal salvation. Doubt me? Try it.

If one wants to see light shows in the skies of one’s own mind, without any real effort, there are drugs for that.

Spirituality is not an escape from reality. It is a plunge into the deepest parts of it.

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