It is an interesting facet of human nature that we often wish to seek out some kind of higher purpose. This may be through the practice of an internal art such as Taiji or Yoga, through study of self-books written by modern Guru’s or through aligning ourselves with one of the many religions which exist across the world. It seems that ordinary life, though temporarily pleasing in many ways, simply is not enough for a great many people who wish to find out what the ‘real’ meaning of life is. Perhaps we could argue that the passion many people have for turning to science for answers is a manifestation of the same need. The new religion of science is now probing the cosmos for answers as to what exactly makes us exist and its followers are equally as passionate as any church-goer.
It is interesting for me to see how these different paths unfold for people across the world. In the last decade I have travelled through 25 or so countries on several different continents. In each of these places a different ‘system’ as it were is giving people a chance to search for the answers they are looking for in a different way. I have spent time in Christian countries, Buddhist countries, Muslim countries, Hindu countries and many countries where science ruled. In each of these places I have had the chance to see how these systems guided people and how absolutely sure the people there were that they alone had the ‘right’ answers. All other systems were completely wrong, even if they did not say it aloud for political correctness reasons I am pretty sure they felt it deep inside. It is a strange trait of human beings that this concept of being ‘right’ gives us great comfort as it lifts us above our fellow human beings in some way.
In many of the countries I have been in I have seen how problems between the different religions existing there has led to violence. Churches fight against mosques and blood has run as each faction’s god seems to have told their followers to kill the other gods followers. On a worldwide scale this has obviously been going on for centuries and different gods seem to be telling their followers to attack different groups upon a whim including, at different times, non-believers, other religions, witches, homosexuals, other races and potential terrorists. What strange beings gods are that they order people to do such things when they have the power, apparently, to wipe us out with a great flood whenever they want to any way.
To me a religion is just a spiritual system. It is a path which was originally developed to help people grow. They are forms of Qi Gong to me with a whole load of fluff attached to them. If we actually look at the lives of people like Buddha or Jesus it is clear to see that they were highly advanced internal practitioners. Through deep insight and diligent practice they had reached such a level of divine awareness that they naturally had a great affect upon those around them. Let us be clear though, Buddha was not a Buddhist and Jesus was not a Christian; these concepts did not exist at that time. They were individuals who stepped out of conventional religious thought at the time and developed a way to teach people to advance themselves through self-analysis and compassion. Some might argue that Buddhism is not a religion but I would say that it is as it has monks, priests and a hierarchal structure. As soon as any spiritual group develops these and reaches any great size it has become a religion. I believe that politically Buddhism tries to state that it is a philosophy rather than a religion so that it can distance itself from the atrocities committed on a daily basis worldwide by the other religions; a division I find completely understandable.
There is nothing wrong with any religion at their heart if we are to look at the original teachings which founded them. To be honest they are all pretty similar, it is only once people added layer after layer of their own interpretation and developed hierarchies that they become kind of nonsensical. The external worship and ritual become more important than the original message of oneness and compassion and straight away problems developed. Now the ‘ tale was wagging the dog’ so to speak and their function was forgotten. It is my strong belief that anybody can find the spiritual answers they seek through a system or religion but they must understand when to step away from convention as the founders of the religions did in the first place. The system can only take you so far before you get lost in the mire of ritual; they should be treated as methods which can open the door for you but then, once the fundamentals have been learnt, a person must seek their own answers. The problem is that people following religions are trying to be a good Christian, a Buddhist or a Hindu. What are they doing? These people should be striving to be Christ, Buddha or Krishna. These were people on earth who attained spiritual liberation from the constructs of their worldly form through their practices (unless you take the son of god thing literally of course). They did not have grand churches, temples or golden statues of themselves to worship. They had a simple method of liberating themselves which they developed and followed in order to attain the states they did. Existing religions were not their way, although they were all pointed in the right direction by the religions existing round them at that time.
What is wrong with aiming to be Christ or Buddha? By all accounts there were pretty decent people. It seems to me that the systems which developed around them after their death have only served to divide people from those states by adding lots of unnecessary crap. Crap which causes division and strife between groups.
Daoism is no different. In the first instance there was a guy (or possibly a group) who discussed a way in which to elevate the consciousness through simple living, non-conventional thought and meditation. As time went on more and more nonsense developed from this and now in Daoism there are gods, temples, monks, ritual etc. Daoism fell into the same trap as Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism etc. People are lost in the rituals once more and cannot find their way to the true message. The rituals can serve a purpose, at the beginning. That is all. Once there is no need for them they should be dropped and the essence of the system sought out. It should be sought out through simplicity. Even science is no different. Scientific thought can lead you so far but the great discoveries of science were all made by those who dropped conventional thought and stepped outside of the system. First labeled as ‘crackpots’ they became scientific geniuses, the prophets of the science of religion.
So why don’t people step away from external ritual into the simplicity of their systems? I think that there are several reasons. Firstly it is comforting to stay within the rituals, to move away from them is to enter a land of uncertainty and lose the ‘comfort blanket’ of external belief. Secondly those in charge often have a vested interest in keeping you within ritual because this means that those leading the rituals are still required; the go between that allows you communicate with god through them is still in control. Thirdly I believe that it is because the vast amount of religious people don’t actually have full faith in their religion anyway. If people actually believed deep-down inside of themselves with no doubt whatsoever that their religion was true then they would not need the ritual; they would find their own way to god. If people fully believed their own religion to be real at their core they would not need to kill others to prove it. If you tell me that the sky is green I will not kill you. I will not get angry as I have no doubt that the sky is not green. You can keep saying it until you are blue in the face but it will not bother me, I will simply think you are crazy. Clearly you are not speaking the truth. But, if somebody tells a religious fanatic that their god is not real then there is a good chance that they will become defensive and angry, even if it is not shown on the outside, keep probing, it will show itself. Why is this? Are they not as certain of their belief as the sky is blue? Nope. They have doubt. You will usually find that people expend the most energy defending something that they are actually unsure of themselves. You have touched upon that little glimmer of doubt that sits right there within them that prevents them from knowing wholeheartedly that they are actually 100% correct and other people are just crazy.
So why the doubt? Simple; ritual. Many people engaging with religions are so lost in the ritualistic actions which are a part of their system that they have never actually experienced god or higher purpose. The ritual has kept them away from actually going inside, the deep, quiet place many religions strive to lead you towards as this is where your god will be found. In the profound emptiness which will allow you to experience the very nature of existence. Once this experience has been had, there is no doubt; you have touched upon the seed of creation, the spark of ‘god’ which exists within your soul. Those few who have reached this stage are often said to have been ‘spoken to by god’ and deemed saints. They have taken the first step towards becoming Christ, Buddha or any of the other spiritual prophets of the ancient times. When this happens there is no need for ritual, external religious behavior, visits to churches to confess you sins or anything else like this. You have found your own way to spiritual growth, a way which is deeply personal to you and yet at the same time universal across all colors, creeds and indeed religions.
To me, this is one of the greatest meanings hidden within the instruction of ‘learn and then forget’ attributed to Laozi. Find your way through convention and then be prepared to step out of it when it is no longer needed, for the only way is no way.