Whether it be in the arena of competing political ideologies, religious beliefs, esoteric spiritual systems, cultural preferences, economic theories, philosophical conceptions, or mundane matters such as sports teams or beauty contestants, we humans chronically have “a dog in the fight”, struggling to establish and maintain some purported superiority in its class.
Indeed, competition for resources, territory, and social dominance is at the very core of the historic human effort to survive and prevail over other humans. All one need do is browse the daily news to recognize the never-ending manifestations of this prime dynamic, and the inevitable suffering attendant to the human game.
Moreover, with the advent of the internet, people from around the world now can and do gather at specific topical forums to proclaim and promote their opinions and affiliations online. There, we can observe in extended detail the litany of conflicting positions being asserted and defended, or attacked and vilified, in an endless war of words, reflecting the conditioned investments of the various participants in their cherished belief structures, personal views, and intellectual/emotional convictions.
Since this blog is dedicated to illuminating the Conscious Process for human understanding and awakening, I’ll focus the consideration here on a brief investigation into competition at the level of so-called spiritual liberation systems.
Internet forums are where people go to play with views — accumulating them, espousing them, denouncing them, refining them, elevating or deriding them. Regardless of any superficial religious affiliation, most of our play involves some sort of confirmation of our current sense about ourselves, reflected in our view du jour.
People try on views like clothes, then run to see how they look in the cyber mirror. Although they may claim that their purpose is directed at some kind of spiritual edification, in reality, it is just a favorite past-time for humans to play head games with views. Consciousness is fascinated by its modifications, just as ego mind is thrilled to confirm its solidity via exercises of philosophic one-upmanship and conceptual hand jive.
The fact that, historically, a lot of such play has led to religious and political wars, is simply indicative of the level of social maturation of humans on planet Earth. In other words, we as a species are still pretty much at the sandbox level of spiritual development, regardless of whether we consider ourselves Buddhists, Nondualists, Christians, Democrats, or Vegetarians.
One might visit a Buddhist internet forum, for example, and find multiple sectarian conflicts brewing over what constitutes the most efficacious Buddhist path amidst the many variations that have sprung up over the centuries. Passionate arguments for this or that sect typically dominate such message boards.
Beyond the clannish one-upmanship of advocates for one particular “vehicle” (yana) or another within the Buddhist arsenal itself (“I’m more Buddhist than you”), there is commonly another wad of energy expended on establishing the superiority of Buddhism over other systems (such as Hinduism, for example), as a means of arriving at the most complete and authentic state of “enlightenment”.
Alternately, one can visit a Christian online forum and find comparable examples of the same provocative activities, with fervent voices vying over which competing denomination qualifies as the most sublime, pure, and correct holder of the keys to the kingdom, while unanimously condemning, say, the scientific materialists or “new age” heretics. Virtual burnings at the stake have replaced the real life ones, but not much else has changed in that regard.
The above examples, of course, are merely a few out of a mind-numbing plethora of such websites that one could discover by browsing the religion/spirituality categories proliferating on the web. This is not to mention the real-life conflicts where religious fundamentalists, such as the Islamic Jihadists, are currently beheading their rival clans at a furious clip in the Middle East.
Cumulatively, such examples simply reflect the fact that Earth itself is still very much a war planet, beset by a wilderness of conflicting views and egocentric agendas — all based on a fundamental ignorance regarding the true nature of our appearance in this multiverse.
In fact, any identification with name, position, or form is purely a mental fantasy. Nevertheless, we are habituated to fabricating identities based on gender, race, age grouping, career choices, national and religious affiliations, and so forth ad infinitum. In the objective sphere, that might be unavoidable to some extent, and can even be expedient enough for certain utilitarian purposes. More often than not, however, such discrimination will reveal its ugly side, and humans will hurt other humans (not to mention other non-human species), even to the point of genocide.
When we take our provisional identities to be who and what we really are, clinging to them as defining characteristics, we become fixated in an illusion, and so fall prey to the poisonous fruits of such limiting identifications – ignorance, greed, envy, fear, pride, and hatred — all based on a false sense of separation and misunderstanding of our true nature.
As the great Chinese Zen Master Linji Yixuan noted over 1200 years ago: “If you take the robe that a person is wearing to be the person’s true identity, then though endless aeons may pass, you will become proficient in robes only and will remain forever circling round in the threefold world, transmigrating in the realm of birth and death.”
Moreover, the real irony of the whole matter is not generally appreciated until our vision is clarified when we drop off the human form at death. For just about everyone, it comes as quite a shock. There, we see indisputably that even the highest human conceptions of enlightenment that we so enthusiastically clung to and perhaps even fought over while incarnated in the 3-D illusion are at best naïvely simplistic, and that all of our fabricated divisions were pure foolishness. How could we have been so blind, we might wonder, when it is now so clear and obvious that all that really mattered was love.
Nevertheless, the way in which the human brain processes information will simply not allow for full comprehension of that which is beyond the range of its immediate consciousness, which itself is a form of amnesia. Consequently, human beings cannot experience an accurate vision of the greater reality until they have fully detached from the animal bio-vehicle, although there are certainly enough hints floating around in consciousness itself that separation equals suffering, and that there is more to this human adventure than being right by making others wrong.
Just as the toddler’s toys of childhood lose their luster to an adult, so too do the fixed positions about spirituality that may have once seemed so meaningful and important while we acted out our roles on the earthly stage pale to insignificance when revealed in the clearer, brighter light that we encounter beyond this dense vibrational frequency.
Just so, should we then regard all human religions and spiritual systems as fraudulent and fit to be discarded, or is there still something worthwhile about them? As mentioned earlier in this essay, such affiliations may contribute to society as “expedient means”, serving social functions such as the creation of cooperative communities, for example.
Moreover, to the degree that they help their adherents in differentiating right from wrong behaviors, encouraging lives of integrity and compassion, and replacing the toxins of greed, envy, and hatred with loving kindness and selfless generosity, then to that extent they can certainly be of substantial value. Additionally, by pointing to that which transcends materiality, they provide a more expansive perspective from which to appreciate existence in this universe.
Because humans are a varied lot, different elements of religious/spiritual emphasis may apply to different individuals and cultures, depending on their level of developmental adaptation. It’s not that one system is necessarily better than all the others – that’s an ego trip, and cause for endless strife and division. Those who have seen how things really work in the bigger picture recognize that there is a different door for each person, and moreover, that door is none other than oneself. Nor does any door open into some final state or condition, but if anything, each door opens into limitless realms of infinite expansion.
Competition among the sects and systems, however, only undermines their value, creating the opposite results from what they were originally designed to provide – a source of inspiration in a confusing and challenging realm, and a comfort to those who suffer the alienating harshness of this temporal world.
To use another analogy provided by Buddha, they can serve as a raft employed to cross the waters to the other side, but once on the other side, the raft can be discarded. Rafts come in all sizes and shapes, but none of them ultimately amount to anything more than that – a temporary means of conveyance beyond this low level war planet, with a built-in obsolescence.
There is one reliable rule of thumb that does prove useful in regarding the multitude of religious strategies, schemes, and belief systems that humans devise: if it leads to fear, conflict, and division, it can be avoided from the outset. Alternately, if it leads to kindness, humility, and a sense of shared humanity, or oneness, it can serve as a skillful means.
In any case, with only vague access to the “bigger picture” while incarnate, humans are the least qualified to judge each other’s paths. Claiming otherwise is not only arrogant, but also serves to defeat the intent of any genuine wisdom system in the first place – that is, to lift humans beyond their animal nature and guide them to the recognition of their shared divinity.
“All the various types of teachings and spiritual paths are related to the different capacities of understanding that different individuals have. There does not exist, from an absolute point of view, any teaching that is more perfect or effective than another. A teaching’s value lies solely in the inner awakening which an individual can arrive at through it. If a person benefits from a given teaching, for that person that teaching is the supreme path, because it is suited to his or her nature and capacities. There is no sense in trying to judge it as more or less elevated in relation to other paths to realization.”
~ Chögyal Namkhai Norbu