Am I Spiritual?by Shlomoh
July 24, 2008
Am I spiritual? This is a question that I have often been asked. The answer is problematic since I really have never understood what people mean when they ask the question. I have not been sure what the definition of "spiritual" is. I recently asked someone close to me what she thinks the word means. Her response was that "spiritual" indicates "religious" minus the mythology and the commndments. "spiritual" lacks the concrete terms and definitions usually given by people who call themselves religious.
Ok then. If that's what "spiritual" means; - a rather amophous set of beliefs or feelings resembling "religious" but not so set in stone, then I probably do not qualify as a spiritual person.
If I were spiritual, my spirituality would have to stem from a logical basis. There would have to be sufficient reasons for me to call myself spiritual. The reasons would not even have to be good ones; they'd just have to be logically convincing to me.
While I was a member of a 12 step program, I had to recite an affirmation that I believed in a "higher power". But the 12 Step programs never define what a higher power means - although at its beginings, AA may have associated it with the Christian deity.
When I attended a Reconstructionist temple, i heard that God is The Power that Makes for Righteousness.
Both the 12 Step and the Reconstructionist allusions to some Great Thing moving the universe in a moral order and answerable to human longings have no meaning to me and hence no emotional impact. They may have had a meaning to the founders of these two movements but the average lay person is left in a philosophic limbo if he has to "relate" to undefinable "power", and if the "power" is open to differing definitions among the disciples, then it has no real INTRINSIC meaning. But then, I don't believe that ANYTHING has an intrinsic meaning. The universe has no meaning; neither does anything in it, including myself, have any "real" meaning, eccept for the meaning I give it, and the meaning I usually give to things is the meaning that has been taught to me when I was a child by the adults around me, and those adults had no better idea of the meaning of things than I do. [Well maybe Einstein did, but I didn't know him personally.]
Perhaps then, a spiritual person is one who somehow relates to the Power as a Spirit which somehow affects humanity. Perhaps one calls it a spirit because it is nonmaterial. But then I don't know how something nonmaterial can interact with the material [physical] universe. I will return to the idea of a relationship between a nonmaterial Power and the physical world of reality below.
If the universe in which I live is non-contingent, based on no logical thing, then what role can a greater power, something greater than myself, a sublime Spirit, have in my life? Even if there existed such an amorphous "thing" or "spirit", what could I request of it that I could be certain it would grant me?
The two disciplines which I mentioned above might tell me that the "Power-Spirit" can give me inner strength or perhaps guide me morally, or some such idea.
Here is my question? Would it be possible for me to derive inner strength or moral attitudes and behavior from a source other than the Sublime Spirit, or do I derive it ONLY from the Spirit?
If I can at least SOMETIMES find my own inner strngth and moral sense within myself, then the Sublime Spirit is superfluous in my life.
But let us say that there are people in the world who are somehow "spiritually" weaker than I. Maybe they need to call upon the Power even if I don't.
But then they'd have to be lucky enough to realize that there even IS a Power they can call on for something that I don't need to. And how would they come to the realization that this Power exists? Someone would probably have to tell them about it. Not everyone is intelligent enough to figure things out for herself.
Ok. From the above, it appears that a person has to be informed of the Spirit or Power and then the person has to feel the personal need to have the Spirit meet his needs. Now whether you are a 12 Stepper, a Reconstructionist Jew, a Buddhist, a Hindu, or a Hari Krishna, your inner strength and your moral imperatives will be defined by the group to which you belong. There is no UNIVERSAL doctrine that I know of which tells you how to relate to the Spirit and what to ask of it. generally a group or charismatic leader will inform you of those things. Or you will read about them in a book. But the book comes down to the same thing as a group or leader. It TELLS YOU HOW TO BE SPIRITUAL. The leader or the group or the book leads you in the direction of what we commonly call religion, and usually it stops short of giving you anything like the Ten Commandments or the Sermon On The Mount or the Koran. But the more structured the group [Hindu. Hari Krishna], the more it will lead you, not only into spirituality, but into religion. At what point then will you stop being merely spiritual and become religious? Who knows? I don't. I pretty well understand what a religious person is. I have been around religious people most of my adult life. Their beliefs and practices are very highly structured and have a well defined system.
I am still unsure of what a spiritual person is. But I think that a spiritual person is similar to a religious person with his expectations and beliefs less well defined than those of the latter. So I will proceed with the idea that the spiritual person believes in a Personality with whom he can somehow communicate and Who somehow can guide him in important aspects of his life. This Power can only be defined as greater than man, hence it is a deity of some sort - because what else can it be? It is not necessarily the God of the Bible but it is still what some nonspiritual people would call God, - God without all the ridiculous demands and petulant behavior that we all know and love. It is God who will help you out without asking you to kill the homosexual and adultress; it is It that will give you strength and direction and still allow you to enjoy a Big Mac. OK. I got it. Spirituality is low carb, fat free, no salt religion. It is religion-light!
Yet at the heart of spirituality is a Something [or Someone] that is beyond man, greater than man, a SUPERNATURAL Power from which man can derive empowerment. It is supernatural in the sense that it is beyond exact natural definition and beyond perception by methods and instruments by which we usually measure material properties. As I indicated above, it is nonmaterial, just as God is nonmaterial. So now I return to the "problem" of the material world being in contact with the nonmaterial Essence.
Both Judaism and Christianity evolved to the point where their adherents realized that there was such a problem, - the material/nonmaterial dichotomy. Although man, as a representative of the material universe, may talk to a Supreme nonmaterial Being, how does that Being receive man's words [or thoughts,] and how does the Being respond to man? While Christianity burdened Christians with this issue, and thereby confused them, Judaism kept the issue out of the mainstream and just allowed the lay person to speak his heart out to God and assume that somehow God would hear and respond.
The KABBALAH raised the issue first [after it received an infusion from Greek philosophy]. The universe is physical and although it was created by a nonmaterial Being, it is separated from its Creator by it's very physicality. The Creator is OTHER than His creation in every possible way except when anthropomorphism is invoked, and even then, the anthropomorphistic references are understood to be symbolic, not actual. The ancient rabbis came to realize that when we say that God sees, hears, thinks, feels, knows, that these are all human attributes and perhpas they somehow approximate similar celestial attributes. Nevertheless, God can only be said to see and hear symbolically. As far as we know, He has no visual or auditory organs.
The KABBALAH then postulated that there can be no substantive contact between physical man and nonmaterial God. God is transcendent. He is COMPLETELY OTHER. That means He is HOLY and we are not. The "real" HOLY aspect of God that is unknowable, unspeakable, out of man's reach, is EYN SOF, the Limitless One. There is no limit to him. He is without limits because he is outside of space and time. WE, on the other hand, are VERY limited, and so we can never come near Him. And yet, those who are religious or spiritual, acknowledge that the Being exists somewhere, somehow, and they address Him who cannot be directly addressed. How? EYN SOF allows us to know Him [It} through emanations which He "sends out". The emanations in turn send out emanations, and these secondary emanations send out tertiary emanations and so forth. With each degree, the emanations become less nonmaterial and more nearly physical or at least perceptable. Finally they take the form of Elohim, the knowable and reachable part of God. We still cannot see the face of Elohom but at times we can glimpse His back [the alleged wonders that He performs in the world].
And what about Christianity. Christianity was preached to gentiles who never knew Elohim. It's chief deity was the Christ. The Christ was a familiar figure to gentiles of the Greek world. He was the Hebrew Attis, Adonis, and Osiris who died for man and rose to save man from damnation. But the founder of Christianity made him the son of Elohim called the FATHER. The Father is unreachable in Christianity, and has always played a minor role.
In fact, Christian scipture makes it clear that "no one comes to the Father except through the Son, Christ." What have we here? A Greek gentile reflex of EYN SOF and the final emanation, Christ. Christ was at first nonmaterial. He was a thought [LOGOS] in the "mind" of the unknowable and unreachaable Father. It is only because he became material; because "he was made flesh" that man can know the God part of him and thereby through him contact the nonmaterial God. The nonmaterial God cannot be addressed or beseeched accept in the name of Christ. Without the name of Christ, the Father is deaf to man's words.
What has all this to do with spirituality?
Our familiar religions tell us that we can call upon God for what we need so long as we follow a strict set of structured rules and mode of thought.
Without these rules, we cannot obtain what we need from God. We are helpless and alone in the void of creation.
People who talk about spirituality omit two important things. They claim that we do not have to follow any set of rules or thought in order to be in touch with the Power. They also do not state categorically that we cannot find within ourselves that which we would ask of the Power. The Power is only one avenue of achieving what we want. We are free to go within ourselves as well as "out there." If we choose to relate to the Power, we will somehow follow an ethical road in life. The Power will give us a less strict set of rules; only they will be called something other than "rules", perhaps "examples" or "models" or "patterns" which lead to a greater or higher life.
This is what I understand it means to be spiritual.
So then I am back to my original question which is the thesis of this essay. Am I spiritual?
I must answer an unqualified NO. I am not spritual for the same reasons that I am not religious in the commonly understood sense of the word.
It is that I believe that man has within himself all that he needs to attain fullfillment of his greater self. He merely has to discover it.
In my long life, I have read much and thought much and learned much. I have been enrolled in disciplines which taught me aphorisms and new modes of thinking and looking at the world. But with all that I have learned, I finally come back to the greatest thing that I have ever heard; it comes out of my own Jewish heritage. How can I attain to a greater me?
Once a gentile came to the famous Rabbi HIllel and teasing him, the gentile said, "Rabbi, I will convert to your religion if you can tell me the whole of TORAH while I stand on one leg."
Rabbi Hillel gently responded. "I will teach you the entire TORAH while you stand on one leg. That which is hatefull to you, do not do it to another.
THAT is the ENTIRE TORAH. All the rest is commentary. Come. I will teach you the commentary."
A friend recently asked me if I believe in something greater than myself. I said yes, I do. I believe in the Jewish People. That is a power greater than myself.
A rabbi once said to me, "Christians cannot envision God without making Him flesh and blood like themselves. So they told themselves that the Crucified One is the physical incarnation of God on earth and to him they should turn. And to drive the point home, they filled their places of worship with physical representations of him in the form of statues that the worshippers might look at and bow down to. That is Christianity in its most catholic [universal] form. But I will tell you this", he said. "We Jews also believe that God is manifested on earth through a physical incarnation. The KABBALAH teaches us that the Jewish People is the physical incarnation of God on earth. Those who want to kill the Jews want to kill God."
That is my spirituality, being part of a Peoplehood that is few in numbers but limitless in time and space. What need do I have of gods in the sky?
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