Sunday, November 20, 2005

Spiritual Architecture

Spiritual Architecture

The biggest obstacle faced by anyone along the spiritual path is the intellectual ego. A person who is religious can easily learn to become outwardly charitable in his conduct but as he progresses spiritually, he begins to acquire a certain pride in his spiritual knowledge; he begins to think of himself as morally and intellectually superior to other people. And this becomes the biggest obstacle to his further progress.

The ego works in many devious ways. At its most basic form, it manifests itself as physical and emotional selfishness. It wants to acquire more and more for itself. But as a person learns to become more selfless through religious practices (at least on the material level), the ego then attempts to find a new vehicle for perpetrating itself.

So it creates a new ego-center, a mental form or identity, which it slowly strenghtens until the person becomes completely identified with it. "I am a religious person", he tells himself. And suddenly those who do not choose the path he took are seen as "lesser beings"--lost souls who have to be led to the right path.

This person, driven by his new ego vehicle, begins to find "pleasure" in criticizing other people who do not conform to his view of life. He embarks on a crusade against the supposed evils of the world. He elevates himself to a position of self-importance and takes it as his mission to save the world. He thinks he is right and others are wrong.

We must always be aware that the religious path is one that has to be tread very carefully because it can be a very slippery one indeed. Once a person gains certain spiritual insights, he begins to think he has achieved the ultimate. I've likened it to the experience of first love. The world suddenly reveals itself in dazzling beauty and clarity. He does not believe he could be wrong, or others could also be right, simply because it feels so damn right inside.

Throughout history, many religions in the world have bred such individuals. These individuals are more attached to the external forms of their religion because it gives them a strong sense of identity--something that the ego loves. The ego will do anything to defend its identity, even to the extent of killing others.

Every individual will have moments ini his life when he awakens to the spiritual calling. Some encounter such moments during times of crisis; others are driven by a deep yearning from inside which they cannot explain. And when that happens, the old ego realizes that it faces annihilation; so it creates and latches on to a new intellectual or mental identity. An old label is cast off only for a new one to be acquired. And the person progresses no more because his consciousness is now restricted by his new "religious" identity.

All organized religions are "best practices" or "frameworks" that have worked well at certain times and places in history to guide people along the spiritual path. They are like the scaffoldings that need to be in place for the construction of a building to be possible. But we must always remember not to confuse the scaffolding with the building.

Ultimately, when the building is done, it does not really matter what type of scaffolding was used in its construction. We will then realize that, all this while, we have been constructing the same building, the same house or worship, the same divine temple, because all of us, either consciously or unconsciously, have been guided from within, by the same spiritual architecture.

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