Simplifying Spirituality to the Point of Meaninglessness

The search for easy to remember catch phrases sucks the depth out of the spiritual question. Simplifying just for simplicity’s sake takes the point out of everything.

Not all spirituality is created equal. The paths that we draw on from history were full of nuance, research, deep inquiry, systems, and practices. Buddhism has the four noble truths, the eight-fold path, the three poisons, the five skandhas, samsara, nirvana, dukha, the two truths doctrine, 227 rules for monks, and 331 for nuns. (The Buddha and those who follow him still have a little way to go on the female equality front.)

Jewish mysticism gets equally deep, especially with the Qabbalah. Along with the 10 Sephirot of the tree of life, there are 212 steps from the mundane realm to the heavenly.

Most other ancient traditions have an equal amount of depth.

Contrast this to most modern/new-age traditions and the difference is rather shocking. “Be in the now.” Done. Next? Not all of the modern versions are one trick ponies, but they are mostly not more than two or three loose guidelines.

I am not suggesting that everyone needs to dig to the bottom of any given tradition. There is no need to read every word of every sutra, other than personal interest. However, I think it’s pretty easy to see that, loose guidelines make for loose guidance, and probably a good deal of wasted time. This is especially true when you happen to not be working directly with a teacher, or as part of a group. The more tools you have to work with, the more specific you can be in your work.

Of course, there is a flip side here. As a path evolves, and more nuance is explored, it can lead to a certain kind of restriction that can create blind spots where the explorer fails to look because they think their path has completely covered a given issue. To circle back to the Buddha, the middle way may be the way to go. We can study a path deeply without letting ourselves become convinced that it has covered everything. We can treat our studies lightly, while not taking them so seriously. That leaves is with the freedom to notice any gaps we come across, and the chance to address them.

In the end, I think what we are looking for is a path that does not become a set of blinders without remaining simply a set of rose colored glasses.

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