Finding Your Path Without Losing Your Head ~ Part 1 by D. Patrick Miller

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Posted by Deb on July 01, 2000 at 15:52:44 from

Hi all,

D. Patrick is starting a new series of essays about Spirituality and how it's current being practiced that makes a whole lot of sense.

Here's the first part:

The West’s modern“spiritual supermarket” has made the secrets of esoteric
widely available in a culture that is more accustomed
to the customs of exoteric religion.

Exoteric religion — the kind
of weekly church-going and Bible study that many middle-aged
Americans grew up with — provides set answers to the mysteries
of existence, and gives people religious rules and customs to
live by. Esoteric spirituality is primarily concerned with questions,
not answers, and requires a seeker’s direct confrontations
with the mysteries of existence.

Since one of the greatest of those mysteries is the puzzle
of consciousness itself, most esoteric paths include a technique
or discipline (such as meditation) that leads seekers into a
direct confrontation with their own mind. Most exoteric forms
of religion will instead advise followers to pray for guidance
or intensify their study of sacred texts; exercises of consciousness
are seen as irrelevant, self-absorbed, or perhaps even dangerous.

In the realm of morality, exoteric followers are assured that
all they need do is follow the Ten Commandments, the Torah, or
other sets of traditional rules and customs. By contrast, esoteric
paths lead seekers to develop an instinctive morality
that surpasses ordinary religious rules and customs. For instance,
where an exoteric follower may be told that “Thou shalt
not kill” is a rule to be followed without questioning,
the esoteric seeker may be encouraged to contemplate death itself
— or even enter into deathlike states or trances —
in order to deeply experience the nature of mortality and thus
arrive at an instinctive morality on the matter of killing. Esoteric
experience does not necessarily overturn the wisdom of conventional
religious morality, but it does lead the seeker into a deeper
understanding of how traditional moral commandments came about
— and when, if ever, they should be ignored.

Conventional religion
teaches that “Thy will, not my will, be done” (and
“Thy will,” or God’s will, is interpreted by the
church on the believer’s behalf). Esoteric spirituality
leads one toward a state where, as St. Augustine directed, you
can “love and do what you will.” (This is not to be
mistaken with the morality of doing whatever you want,
a common temptation of superficial New Age teachings.) Traditional
Christianity says that a human being is by nature sinful, and
must always subject his or her will to the will of God through
the ministrations of the church. Most esoteric paths dispense
with the notion of sin and instead talk about “ego surrender”
or “ego death,” achieved by the seeker’s own spiritual

Finally, for the exoteric Christian believer, the spiritual
reward of following the religious path occurs mostly in a heavenly
afterlife — although it’s understood that you will
definitely have a better life on earth if you obey the rules
of religion. The rewards of esoteric spirituality are generally
understood to occur during life on earth (although that life
may not be limited to a single incarnation).

People are attracted
to esoteric paths because they seem less regimented and more
interesting than the exoteric religions they are familiar with.
In fact esoteric spirituality presents significant difficulties
and dangers. It’s not easy to go around questioning reality
all the time, and trying to sort out your own morality can be
a very tricky business. That’s why the rules and customs
of exoteric religion exist, in recognition of the fact that most
people need them to live a good life — and most people are
just not suited to the challenges of esotericism. It’s very
easy to “space out” on esoteric ideas, and commit yourself
to concepts & cosmologies that you don’t really understand
or that simply make no sense.

Ironically, from a traditional perspective it is the exoteric
discipline of a particular religion that is supposed to make
one ready for the inner, traditionally secret teachings of that
same path. But in our culture, many people have burned out on
their exoteric religious upbringing — or never had much
of one at all — before encountering powerful esoteric teachings
(from a wide variety of traditions) that they may not be prepared
to integrate. In an interview, philosopher Jacob Needleman once
gave me a vivid image of what can
happen to people who encounter a transformative inner practice
when they’ve never had much of an outer discipline: “If
a spiritual practice is too intense, it ‘blows your mind’
and becomes overly fascinating, or leads you into fantasy. You
could compare the esoteric core of a religion to a very pure,
high-octane fuel. Put it into an old Volkswagen, and the car
will go like hell for a mile before it blows apart.”

One kind of “blowing apart” is self-delusion,
in which you believe that you, your guru, or your spiritual group
have surrendered ego and are doing God’s will when you are
doing nothing of the sort. Many of America’s most notorious
cults — from the People’s Temple to the Branch Davidians
and Heaven’s Gate — literally blew apart or self-destructed
because of such delusions. When you are not hemmed in by religious
rules and customs, you are free to find God on your own —
or to lose your mind in the process. Modern esoteric paths under
the general rubric of the New Age often call themselves “heart-centered”
with the unfortunate implication that rational thought and common
sense can be dispensed with along the path. In fact, an ongoing
and ever more precise balance of heart & mind
is essential to the esoteric seeker. All venerable paths suggest
that the ultimate spiritual wisdom makes no distinction between
heart and mind, compassion and logic, or love and enlightenment.

This column is the first in a series of essays drawn from a
Fearless Books title now in development,

Finding Your Path Without Losing Your head.

In the next column of this series,
I will begin presenting a section of that book entitled “Ten
Questions for Validating Spiritual Paths, Groups, and Teachers.”
This material is intended not only to help readers of this website
achieve and maintain a balance of heart and mind along their
spiritual path, but also to invite comments and questions that
will help further the development of the material itself. Feel
free to respond to this special series of Sense & Spirituality
columns by writing directly to Fearless

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