In a recent post I expressed my dissatisfaction regarding the seemingly subjective nature of spirituality and announced my resolve to focus on investigating and exploring areas that at least offer the chance of obtaining some clarity into the nature of things. I figured I would turn to science, whose scalpel of reason appears to quite effectively slice away at misconceptions and whose systematic approach focuses on objectively finding answers.Since then I have read a couple of books that have really made me reflect more deeply on my decision to forgo spirituality in its entirety and I'm starting to see that perhaps in my frustration over what seems an unending battle between intellect and heart, and my apparent thirst for some sort of clear direction in which to proceed in my pursuit of truth, that I might have entered into the mindset Ken Wilber would label as "flatland". A tunnel vision way of thinking that focuses completely on that which can be scientifically measured and analyzed.
The two books I have read recently and that really started making me re-think my approach was Andrew Newberg's book, "Why We Believe What We Believe" and Sam Harris' book, "The End of Faith". I would like to mostly focus on what Sam Harris has to say regarding spirituality in the last chapter of his book, so I will only briefly note that in Newberg's book it became clear to me that science can also be laden with a level of subjectivity has well.
"...personal experience is subject to numerous perceptional, emotional, and cognitive distortions that occur at every stage of neural processing. What is finally summoned forth into consciousness turns out to be a very limited and subjective view of the world.
Science tries systematically to utilize subjective experience to measure objective reality, but even scientific views of reality differ. Every hypothesis finds dissenting views, so scientists themselves are challenged to choose who or what to believe. Furthermore a scientist's belief system can influence the outcome of a study as much as a theologian's belief system can influence his or her perception of the world." ~ p. 280
It seems like everywhere I turn subjectivism is glaring me in the face! From science to spirituality. Though, I do think spirituality is given more of a free ticket in allowing the imagination to take flight and encouraging one's mind to lift off of the foundation of reason and into the open skies of ambiguity and subjective speculation which, to me, is no way of going about trying to ascertain any sense of clarity into the nature of the Absolute. So, is it possible to wed reason with spirituality and erect a meaningful yet logical platform in which to proceed on one's journey towards understanding? Sam Harris seems to think so.
In his book Harris points out that spirituality has been a source of transformation for man since our very beginning and that it certainly can provide one with a deep sense of meaning, clarity, inspiration and depth. Spirituality itself is not necessarily the culprit that battles reason and plunges seekers headfirst into delusion, but more so religion. Harris points out that there is an underlying essence that carries much truth and lives at the heart of all religions and spiritual traditions. These truths were most easily recognized and espoused by their mystics but covered up by false layers of dogma and doctrine; religion's sweltering blanket smothering their fragile lights.
"Mysticism is a rational enterprise. Religion is not. The mystic has recognized something about the nature of consciousness prior to thought, and this recognition is susceptible to rational discussion. The mystic has reasons for what he believes and these reasons are empirical. The roiling mystery of the world can be analyzed with concepts (this is science), or it can be experienced free of concepts (this is mysticism)...
A kernel of truth lurks at the heart of religion, because spiritual experience, ethical behavior and strong communities are essential for human happiness... While spiritual experience is clearly a natural propensity of the human mind, we need not believe anything on insufficient evidence to actualize it. Clearly, it must be possible to bring reason, spirituality, and ethics together in our thinking about the world." (p. 221)
Harris points to the rational and systematic approach in empirically studying the nature of consciousness and reality that the philosophies in the East have and how they contain gems of wisdom derived from those who used their consciousness as laboratories. Those who chose not to superimpose fanciful false layers of myth but instead dove straight into experience and extracted precious truths.
" Even the contemporary literature on consciousness, which spans philosophy, cognitive science, psychology, and neuroscience, cannot match the kind of precise, phenomenological studies that can be found throughout Buddhist canon." Harris goes on to say, "Mysticism to be viable , requires explicit instructions, which need suffer no more ambiguity or artifice in their exposition than we find in a manual for operating a lawn mower. Some traditions realized this millennia ago." ( p. 217)
The "manual" like instructions that Harris is referring to are the similar techniques mystics and yogis the world over have discovered in which to allow oneself to enter into the state where "our sense of "self"-of subject/object dualism in perception and cognition-can be made to vanish, while consciousness remains vividly aware of the continuum of experience."( p. 217)
I found Harris' views on spirituality and mysticism refreshing. Overall what I got from the last chapter of his book, The End of Faith, is that spirituality can be approached in a rational manner implementing reason and logic. That any interpretation of what one experiences should be compared by, might we say a "peer review" of sorts, with other conclusions of those who have explored the nature of consciousness themselves. The mystics, those who themselves have traversed the landscape of consciousness, are great examples of sources to draw from for they have provided maps for those who wish to make similar journeys in the form of texts like the Buddhist canons and the Vedas. Even the Western religions offer their own mystics for one to extract insight and direction from-Islam has Sufis like Rumi and no one need look any further than Jesus when looking at Christianity for an example of someone who attained to a self-realized state.
So, in closing, after some introspection, reading and insightful conversations lately I've decided that I would be rejecting the very reason I am attempting to implement in my pursuit of truth and understanding if I turned away from spirituality completely. Instead, I will proceed practicing the disciplines that I have found meaningful and inspirational. However, I will do so with caution as to not be led astray by interpreting any of my experiences with any undo sentimentalism and while simultaneously discovering the wonders of the natural world that have been revealed by science. By developing the widest lens in which to perceive things as they are I will hopefully progress in a fruitful direction that will at some point allow mind and heart to converge in a harmonious consensus. Okay...being completely optimistic. ;)
Your thoughts are always appreciated in the comments section. Thank you!