This is the third of a 4-part series which explains, in each part, one of four deceptive distractions to a core purpose of spiritual practice: cultivating, with applied practices, wisdom and a character that is more capable of flourishing. That is, addressing fear, anger, and greed; compassion for all beings and an inner happiness not dependent on external circumstance. Last time we covered the distraction of the ego (link to part 2 here). This time we cover the third distraction: Academics.
Humanity has been seeking wisdom, in all of its cultures over the entire globe, for thousands of years. The wealth of wisdom and teachings available today is truly vast. There will always be more to learn, and even if it were possible to read it all, we would find that the entirety of human thought and wisdom is but a tiny island in a vast ocean of what is yet to be understood.
Again, learning more is an important component of a good life and a spiritual practice. But there is something very important to understand: even if we were to read every text of, for example, Buddhism, we would still not really understand Buddhism. Spirituality is about human happiness and well-being, and this is inherently a subjective experience. It’s practices are designed to affect that subjective experience. Therefore, only through first-person applied practice of the teachings over time, can we ever really investigate and understand that to which shallow human language is referring.
The Western approach of accumulating data and analyzing it intellectually from the third-person perspective before giving assent is completely inadequate to making progress along these spiritual paths. Just as our spirituality must refrain from making claims about reality, leaving that space to objective investigation – we must also acknowledge the space for subjective investigation and where it’s proper realm exists.
When we get into bantering about academic philosophic principles and works, name-dropping various thinkers and writers and so on, we can trick ourselves into thinking that we are engaged in spiritual practice. Yet, without practice, all of this academic knowledge, writing, and discussion is mere vanity.
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(Those who choose to become members of the Society have access to our member archives, which includes a more in-depth version of this complete series.)
The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.
Thanks to B.T. Newberg and Rick Heller for their thoughts and input on both this article and the more in-depth piece in our member archives.