Being spiritual but not religious is a cop-out

Casual discussion amongst spiritual friends.
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DNS
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Re: Being spiritual but not religious is a cop-out

Post by DNS » Sat Oct 06, 2012 3:34 am

I can understand a lot of people's reservations and perhaps disdain for organized religion. Institutional religions probably deserve a lot of the flak they receive considering the dogmatism, fundamentalism, and sometimes the violence and wars they spawn. However, the syncretic movements could also lead to and even become an institutional religion on their own. There have been some syncretic philosophies that became institutional religions of their own, for example, the Druze, Shinto, Bahai, Sikhism, Voodoo, Santeria, Rastafarianism, etc.

And the spiritual but not religious crowd could just as easily become attached to their views too as the religionists do, although they usually do not until such a view becomes an organized religion such as the above. There was a similar debate to this over at our sister site Dharma Wheel and interestingly both the religionists and those advocating against organized religion appeared to be holding firm to their views (and the thread had to be locked).
http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=40&t=10211" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

I believe the bigger problem of organized religion vs. spiritual is rather the holding dogmatically to one's views. Admittedly this appears to occur more among religionists than the spiritual crowd. The solution would be for the religionists to not take a fundamentalist, dogmatic approach and develop a more tolerant, accepting and flexible view with a non-literal reading of their scriptures.

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Ben
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Re: Being spiritual but not religious is a cop-out

Post by Ben » Sat Oct 06, 2012 4:02 am

Interesting discussion David.
It reminds me of some of the content of "Burma's Mass Lay Meditation Movement", "Strong Roots: liberation teachings of mindfulness in North America", and various articles and book reviews here regarding whether what the Buddha taught was a religion and how closely it resembled what is considered Theravada today in its multifarious manifestations.
kind regards,

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

Mal
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Re: Being spiritual but not religious is a cop-out

Post by Mal » Sat Oct 06, 2012 12:43 pm

Alan Miller wrote:Those in the spiritual-but-not-religious camp are peddling the notion that by being independent - by choosing an "individual relationship" to some concept of "higher power", energy, oneness or something-or-other - they are in a deeper, more profound relationship than one that is coerced via a large institution like a church.
This is in danger of being a straw man argument. Can you point to some examples of leading "spiritual-but-not-religious" people who have this kind of attitude? I can think of some who don't have this "I know better" attitude. For instance, Kabat-Zinn has a commitment to Insight Meditation, is a declared non-Buddhist, and I've never seen him even hint that he has a "deeper, more profound relationship" to Insight Meditation or "reality" than Buddhist monks.
The trouble is that “spiritual but not religious” offers no positive exposition or understanding or explanation of a body of belief or set of principles of any kind.
Kabat-Zinn gives a "positive exposition or understanding or explanation" of Insight meditation.
At the heart of the spiritual but not religious attitude is an unwillingness to take a real position.
"Real" according to who? I take a position of neither belief nor non-belief in rebirth. That, to me, is the most realistic position I can take at this moment, without kidding myself. Some religious Buddhist seem to me to have a dogmatic belief in rebirth, in the same way as Christians believe in the divinity of Christ. Are they being more "real" than the spiritual person waiting to have a personal experience, or to see incontrovertible evidence?
I'm inclined to agree with this guy. The pick-and-choose smorgasbord of spirituality allows one to not take a real position or to choose only those things most palatable, if it is logical or true or not.
Again, a straw man argument. There are spiritual people who hold truth and logic in the highest esteem. There are religious people who ignore truth and logic because it is more palatable to go along with the dogma of their church
Last edited by DNS on Sat Oct 06, 2012 2:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: corrected quote

Mal
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Re: Being spiritual but not religious is a cop-out

Post by Mal » Sat Oct 06, 2012 12:51 pm

David N. Snyder wrote: Following precepts, sila I imagine is on the back-burner or not existent for many on the "spiritual but not religious side." This is not to say they are bad in any way, but according to many Buddhist teachers sila is necessary to make progress.
I'm sure many spiritual people follow the five precepts. If you stretch the prohibition against intoxicants, to allow drinking alcohol within healthy guidelines, or to "non-intoxicating" levels, then that might even be "most".

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Re: Being spiritual but not religious is a cop-out

Post by pegembara » Sat Oct 06, 2012 1:48 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:
Religious: following a specific institutional religion in one of its forms, i.e., Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, etc.
Looking at Bahiya's example [http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .irel.html] he was not even a practising Buddhist before he attained nibbana although he was obviously spiritual. He had was intense urgency and humility with willingness to accept the Buddha's instructions. He did not "follow" the Vinaya before that but that doesn't mean he "broke" them.
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.

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Re: Being spiritual but not religious is a cop-out

Post by Buckwheat » Sat Oct 06, 2012 4:02 pm

Aren't all labels a cop-out from understanding the true nuance of this complex world in which we live?
Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.

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Re: Being spiritual but not religious is a cop-out

Post by DNS » Sat Oct 06, 2012 4:44 pm

pegembara wrote: Looking at Bahiya's example he was not even a practising Buddhist before he attained nibbana although he was obviously spiritual. He had was intense urgency and humility with willingness to accept the Buddha's instructions. He did not "follow" the Vinaya before that but that doesn't mean he "broke" them.
:thumbsup: Bahiya was cool. According to the Commentaries, he was developing paramitas for many lives leading up to that moment. Speaking only for myself, I am no Bahiya :tongue: and need more than a few minutes to attain enlightenment.

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Re: Being spiritual but not religious is a cop-out

Post by convivium » Sat Oct 06, 2012 8:53 pm

not doing the practices common to all religions is more of a cop-out. humanity doesn't need to be divided by religious views. of course, it helps to dig one hole to get to water instead of 30 small ones.
Just keep breathing in and out like this. Don't be interested in anything else. It doesn't matter even if someone is standing on their head with their ass in the air. Don't pay it any attention. Just stay with the in-breath and the out-breath. Concentrate your awareness on the breath. Just keep doing it. http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Just_Do_It_1_2.php

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Re: Being spiritual but not religious is a cop-out

Post by zavk » Sat Oct 13, 2012 1:25 am

Hi all

Part of my current research (I'm working academically in the area of cultural research) involves the investigation of the ethical, social, and political implications of contemporary understandings and approaches to spirituality and to explore the extent to which 'spirituality' may be thought and mobilised differently. I have much to say, so I will divide my response into two posts.

As I'm sure most would agree, 'spirituality' today has become something like a brand label for certain views and styles of conduct which are marketed with the rhetoric of 'self-awareness', 'find your inner True Self', 'empowerment', 'change your life', 'find happiness', and so forth. 'Spirituality' has even been adopted to encourage employees to find meaning and self-fulfilment in work—this may not necessarily be a bad thing, but it is questionable if it serves to reduce the difficulties faced in the workplace to a problem of personal failing, one's 'own fault', and deflects attention from how the difficulties may be generated by the exploitative nature of an institution or broader political economic arrangements.

My view is that there is nothing inherently 'wrong' or 'bad' about the notion of spirituality. Limiting ourselves to the history of European civilization, the practice of attending to one's conduct to effect certain transformations on the self and meet certain goals has a long history tracing back to the Ancient Greek predecessors of the Western tradition, who although spoke of pneuma or 'spirit' (it also has connotations of 'breath'), understood it differently from how Christianity would articulate it. But even within Christianity, the concept of 'spirit' was by no means self-evident or fixed. Rather, the meanings and uses of 'spirit' or 'spiritual' shifted and changed along with the broader historical developments of European civilisation, evolving from a means to distinguish between ways of interpreting sacred texts, to a way of demarcating the territorial rights of the king and the Church (hence, the terms Lords Temporal and Lords Spiritual). Throughout these historical periods, the word 'spiritual' did not posit a strict body/soul split. 'Spiritual' was not used in any definitive manner to refer to inner dimensions of the self until Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) distinguished between everyday bodily exercises and spiritual exercises involving interiorised contemplative practices of the soul.

This distinction was an important precursor to the emergence in the 17th century of the French word spiritualité (from which the English one derives), which was coined to describe the devout or contemplative life in general. One key figure to articulate this was Madame Guyon, who in the wake of the Reformation, evoked spirituality to defend personal experience of the divine against the ecclesiastical authority of the Church (she was imprisoned by the Church). But the term 'spirituality' would not become widely used till around the late-nineteenth century, a historical period described as the 'Victorian crisis of belief'. This was also when Buddhist knowledge began to become accessible to a wide audience in the West, a time when the Buddhisms of Asia were undergoing a revivalism--we could note, for instance, how the Western notion of spirituality influenced, by way of colonialism and Christian missionisation, the development of Protestant Buddhism in Ceylon, which contributed to the modernisation of the Theravada tradition and set the conditions for greater lay engagement with Buddhist writings and meditation practices formerly restricted to monastics. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why we have been able to receive the gift of the Three Jewels to pursue the Eightfold Path in detraditionalised and demythologised ways independently outside institutional contexts.
Last edited by zavk on Sat Oct 13, 2012 1:42 am, edited 2 times in total.
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Being spiritual but not religious is a cop-out

Post by zavk » Sat Oct 13, 2012 1:29 am

So, to an extent, the emergent 'Western Buddhism' that we are participating in today has developed alongside the modern notion of 'spirituality'. There is arguably some degree of inter-involvement in the development of 'spirituality' (albeit a very slippery and ambiguous one) and contemporary Buddhist formations, both having to negotiate the cultural influence of modern psychology--their inter-involvement set the conditions for the spiritual explorations of the counter cultural 1950s and 1960s, the New Age movement, and more broadly, the MInd, Body, Soul or Self-help genre. All these developments are shaped by the political and economic imperatives of the day, namely, capitalism, or since the 1980s, neoliberal capitalism.

What I'm trying to illustrate with this very schematic historical overview, is how 'spirituality' always takes shape against the backdrop of historical struggles for power and cultural legitimacy. So, to link this to the comments by the article in the OP, it is not entirely invalid or unreasonable to suggest that some contemporary forms of spirituality may reflect a 'copping out' insofar as 'the spiritual' has today been appropriated--rebranded--by capitalist imperatives. Yet, there is no essential unity to or historical necessity for such approaches to spirituality. In light of how 'the spiritual' has historically been a site for political struggle and social change, and given that in our so-called secular age most people are no longer willing to allow morality to be determined by religious or authoritative political systems, I would personally not be too quick to dismiss those who choose to pursue a 'spiritual' life, for spirituality (broadly conceived as the ways in which a person work on the self to guide and transfigure their style of conduct) could offer the means to cultivate what Goenka and the Dalai Lama call, an art of living.

Of course like many here, I am skeptical and wary of the 'lifestyles' promoted under the brand of 'spirituality'. But given how broad 'spirituality' is—given that the ethical and political implications of 'the spiritual' are contingent upon the historical environment and are always subject to change—I don't think the criticism of 'cop out' ought to be generalised to all who choose to pursue a 'spiritual life'. Paul Heelas, a noted sociologist of religion in the UK who had previously written several influential books on the individualistic and capitalist impulse of the New Age movement, recently published a book which presents ethnographic research to suggest that there are communities in the UK who are engaging with spirituality, even if it entails New Age or self-help ideas, to cultivate an ethic of life, an ethos of care and engagement to cultivate greater ethical-sensitivity and responsibility towards the challenges facing their personal lives, society and the contemporary world. I don't think it'd be fair to call this a 'cop out'.

:anjali: :smile:
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Being spiritual but not religious is a cop-out

Post by Ben » Sat Oct 13, 2012 1:55 am

Thank you, Ed.
As always - very informed and engaging.
I am also reminded of the dovetailing of the spiritual and the political in relations of mutual legitimacy that occur in traditional Theravadin countries.
As per the Sangha, laity and the post-coup Governments of Myanmar. And how it was the role of the Government of the day to purify the Sangha, and thus, directly influence notions of practice and authentic spirituality.
And if we look a bit deeper, those relations are ancient sociological, spiritual and political institutions.
(Burma's Mass Lay Meditation Movement).
Which, I know you are aware of.
with metta,

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

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Re: Being spiritual but not religious is a cop-out

Post by DNS » Sat Oct 13, 2012 4:28 am

zavk wrote:So, to an extent, the emergent 'Western Buddhism' that we are participating in today has developed alongside the modern notion of 'spirituality'.
Good analysis, thanks. I think you are right; to a large extent we may not be where many of us are in terms of our current philosophies and/or practice without the unity and development of institutional Buddhism alongside modern notions of spirituality.

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