That set me to thinking - how do we learn ethics, spirituality and mystical reality; how are best practices and psycho/physical methods like yoga and
passed down from generation to generation, teacher to student?
Religion has been a vehicle for enabling transition from the egotistical to the spiritual; from ignorance to wisdom. Religions have also been a source of blind belief, division, hatred and pain.
Religions have become distorted expressions of the values they adhere to. For example, religions have sponsored torture and war against heretics to save souls. Religions have condoned slavery. True believers have turned a blind eye to tyrants to protect their religious institutions and beliefs.
We do not have go back into history to see this phenomenon. Right now, Hindus persecute Muslims, Muslims persecute Christian's, Jews, and non-believers, including other Muslims. Jews persecute Palestinians. Christians persecute homosexuals and some spew hatred against those who do not believe in the prescribed way, thinking that only true believers will be saved.
Yet, religions teach devotion and wisdom founded on values like love and compassion (at least for fellow believers.) Religious practices help us go beyond intellect to taste open heartedness and joy through ritual, song, prayer, stories and movement.
To make matters more complex, there are secular religions, for example capitalism, nationalism, communism, secularism, and just about anything else that
is added on to. In the project management field, there are religious adherents to Agile. In psychology there are believers in cognitive behavioral and others in object relational approaches.
It seems that anytime there is a good approach to anything someone will make it into a religion and create an either-or attitude regarding it - either you are for it or you are damned. Then they gather true believers who write, talk and rant about it, rejecting anything that threatens the orthodoxy.
Don't Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater
How does one keep from falling into blind belief and either-or thinking while exposing oneself to the felt sense of devotion that opens the heart and to effective methods that contribute to optimal performance, self-awareness and mystical experience?
I'm told the Unitarian Universalists have a clever method. They expose children to multiple religions and have them create their own personal credo to present to the community. The community and its thought leadership guide and critique the credo, but in the end it is the individual that decides.
Adults who are not satisfied with their birth religions have taken a similar approach - exploring different methods and beliefs, borrowing from each and crafting a path for themselves. Others have found the inner teachings of their religions to follow a path led by authentic teachers who seek to free the individual from blind belief so they can best achieve their goals.
"Imagine No Religion"
The Dalai Lama said, "My religion is kindness." He is also quoted as saying that "The very purpose of religion is to control oneself, not to criticize others" and "Love and compassion are the true religions to me. But to develop this, we do not need to believe in any religion."
Imagine! A religious leader saying that there is no need for any religious belief to develop love and compassion.
Open Minded Faith
Open mindedness is the opposite of blind belief. It is being able to question one's most cherished beliefs to test them against experience. If that is not part of one's religion, then what does that say about the religion and its followers?
Open-minded approaches are pretty scary to those convinced that their way is the only way. Even though open-minded assessment is a great test of the effectiveness of beliefs and methods, many people are disturbed by uncertainty.
Open mindedness doesn’t do away with faith. There is a need for faith - confidence that supports the objective testing of a belief. For example, one must have confidence that adhering to a practice or performing a ritual will bring about a desired result over time. Without such faith, one could not effectively perform the practice long enough to see if it works.
So, caveat emptor - buyer beware.
Test beliefs. Are they true? Does following your beliefs get the results you want, whether the results are an ever-increasing felt sense of joy, love and compassion or simply living well? Or, do your beliefs support separateness and division?