My Thoughts: The Divine and Ritual

a list of idea-tools that I may/may not use depending on if they turn out to be useful or true


LIFE & DEATH. THIS WORLD & OTHER WORLD. It is good to focus on this world and what we do in it. For we live here, we see the consequences of our actions here and we have plenty of evidence for this world. However, a focus on the other world can lead to terrible things, and what is after death we have less evidence for, so it should not take precedence over this world. What evidence there is of the other world is partly or wholly also evidence in and of this world anyway. Focus on this life, and this world. It is more important as the door is shut to the other world.


PAST LIVES. We seem to have no knowledge transfer life to life, even the Dalai Lama needs to relearn every time, therefore one could say that purpose of life is not the personal hoarding of knowledge within oneself. But what do we remember? Not much. The ‘island of the strong door’ is rightly the name of the other world beyond life. We must focus on the life we have now, and not be distract by the darkness of our past and future. It is the character of our contribution which lives on after us, not what we have amassed in our memory. Just as the present night is lit by the light of long dead stars.


WHAT IS MOURNING? Loss/Anxiety = the loss of identity + the loss of expectations of the future + the unexpectedness/unpreparedness for the loss. Some say reason has nothing to say here. But it does. Reason within grief is common, it guides; it helps give meaning to the death and channel the energy of the emotions. Often this is seen as the start of a campaign to ‘make sure it never happens again, so that X will not have died in vain’. Often it is said it gives them a ‘reason’ to go. (LINK to be added to a Unitarian sermon)


ACTS OVER BELIEFS. It is more important what you do rather than what you believe. Though beliefs influence actions, it is often implied that the relationship between the two is simple. It isn’t. The way you do religion is important, not which one or if one at all. It is the way you enact, the way you behave, not the flag or the label used. The way one applies ones beliefs/ideas via our values. The Good Samaritan was good because of his acts, even though the others who passed the man by the roadside, were the ones with the right beliefs (they were mainstream and not Samaritans). “By their fruits so shall you know them” (Jesus); by the consequences of their actions, not their proclaimed beliefs.


THE ‘HOLEY’ BOOK? Text=truth (not, too small). World=truth (but too big). But we never get the whole picture as too vast. Sacred texts and the various translations of the text is not infallible, unambiguous and without flaws. For if those mortals who wrote/translated the book, were told to do so by God, and the text is holy and prefect, why does it contain mistakes and contradictions, such as the famous ‘adulterers Bible’ with the misprint ‘Thou shalt commit adultery’. All in the world is messy and complex and affected by context. All books are in the world, part of it and affected in the same way.


THE WORLD AS HOLY BOOK? If one accepts the divine made the universe and the holy books, which is more likely to have been tampered with, a finite book, or an infinite universe. A few sentences, or a vast infinitely repeated patterns across millions of miles and millions of years. A universal truth will appear universally. It is whispered everywhere, which is why it is so often overlooked. It is commonness means it is undervalued by those looking for the ‘special’.


THE NATURAL FALLACY. The quest for the truth in the world can lead to the ‘natural fallacy’. The argument that what occurs in nature is morally right. But nature is vast and full of many diverse contradictions. Nice stuff and nasty stuff occur in nature. Nature is often misquoted or selectively quoted, but it is amoral and not a source of morality. However, it is what is. And it is what we are really having to deal with in life. The choices we make are informed by it, but not fixed by it. We are animals that can, to a limited extent, change our natures, but we cannot ignore them. What we change them to is a much more difficult question.


WHO SPEAKS AS AUTHORITY ON DIVINE TEXT. Their interpretation of the text tells you about them, and what they see in the text. Their interpretation is a layer on top of the text which is itself only a pointer to the meaning of the text.


EXCLUSIVE DEALERSHIP RELIGION. Universal truth will be just that. It will be found everywhere, not from one unique source, one place, one time and one exclusive dealership organisation. A true idea is not valid because of its religious designer label or spiritual packaging, it has validity from being true.


AUTHORISER BECOMES THE AUTHORITY. Authority and obedience is bad for many reasons. But one is that people are imperfect. But Truth is said to be perfect so we must follow it. However, those associated with it, the interpreters, whether they choose to or not have that expectation of perfection rub off on them by association. So the imperfect interpreter easily becomes the lauded unquestionable authority. And anyway, who has the authority to identify what is the ultimate authority or truth. If someone claims to be that authority, then are they putting themselves above it in validating it?


RELIGIONS ARE LIKE SHOES. One size does not fit all, because our souls are different.


OUR SOULS AND ARSEHOLES. Be careful on the spiritual path where our souls can be trodden on by arseholes.


THE DIVINE AS A CRYSTAL. The ultimate mystery of the divine is like a many faceted crystal. A view into it from any face reveals a unique vast incomprehensible complex. But we can only look through one face at a time. So all views are partial views. None can be the whole. All beliefs are metaphors.


SPIRITUAL TRIANGULATION. All of the religions are different views of the divine, each is a different perspective, but by visiting different ones we may more clearly see where they are pointing, as with triangulation. Within a single spiritual tradition it is easy to mistake a culturally specific idea for a universal truth. We are all bound by culture, and everything we do is shaped or perceived, by and through it. We need another view to aid us, to give us perspective, literally.


RELIGION AS LITERATURE. Those who refuse to look beyond the worldview of their own religion (particularly of a single book) are like fans of a single novel or genre. Not reading wider literature, they impoverish themselves, their understanding and the world.


INVISIBLE DIVINE. The divine is like the invisible man. We clothe the void, we can’t see it unclothed, but what we use to clothe it changes what of it we see. We are hear echoes of ourselves in the vast void of the mystery of existence.


WE ALL THINK GOD AGREES WITH US. Research has shown that this is the case. (LINK to be added.) We place the divine within and not without us. We equate God with self then criticisms of God are taken deeply personally. We clothe the void/mystery in our own image and with out own views.


GODS AS PARENTS. Does our relationship with our parents shape our relationship with the divine?


RELIGION IS SOCIAL AND ANTI-SOCIAL. Science shows that we are social animals, and this sociability is the source of our morals. Religion provides a comfort by building groups and extending altruism to others. But this same function which extends self identity to the group leads to a sense of distance from others not of the group and thus conflict. (Paraphrased from Jonathan Sacks, Chief Orthodox Rabbi of Britain on ‘Something Understood’ BBC Radio 4 21st February 2010.) A problem of ritual is the tension between social effect of group in tension with personal development. We use it to lose a sense of self in the group, but it increases sense of otherness from those outside of group. It increases the human universal of insider/outsider behaviour, which is not helpful to spiritual development. Spiritual growth is aiming to connect with others in the widest sense, all people, life and ethereal beings. It aims to transcend boundaries. The more you are bounded to your group the less you can link with those outside. If it is where you place your identity, then how can you connect with what you define as definitely not like you? There is also tension with those who should be like you, in group and are not ‘behaving right’ as seen by you. The group ritual work should be the first step, connect with them, then connect with others beyond. It is a means, not an objective. (See to Tower of Spiritual Practice) When a strong attachment is formed to a group/method, it holds you and others back. It needs to be held lightly as the Way in the Tao Teh Ching. So do not hug the spiritual path, or you will just end up eating dirt and blocking the way for others. Move along it, don’t own it or set up toll booths, gates, passport control. (See to Identity and Violence) Effort and emotional investment hardens belief whether the belief is right or not. It reduces flexibility to new ideas and situations. (LINK to be added to ritual theory Marshall 2002.)


WORKING ON YOURSELF ALONE. Work on the self is best done alone. Walking in the wilderness as many seekers and teachers have done.Social standing can inhibit your understanding.However,‘Going off on your own teaches you about you on your own. You are different with other people.’ John MacIntyre. The monastic day has joint worship and work, but also private study and contemplation. We are social animals. So we must spend sometime alone to reflect on our actions in the social world, and then return to it.



THE OCCULT; SECRET OR OBSCURING? Occult means ‘secret’, therefore something not to be shared or worn as a fashion accessory. But does it actually help in self-development, or is it just a load of smoke and mirrors? Obscuring rather than enlightening? Cluttering the path, rather than clearing the way? Why is the ‘occult’ secret? That knowledge which is hidden. Why? Too dangerous? Not for the unworthy? Or does it only really help you develop in the absence of the temptation to let ego in by showing off that knowledge?


DISCERNMENT OVER KNOWLEDGE. Having knowledge, skills, intuition, reasoning or rituals is all very good but the key is discernment for knowing when and how to use them, if at all.




DON’T LIE TO YOURSELF. Challenge yourself, justify to yourself, for we all lie to ourselves. Catch yourself doing it. For it can be a very painful mistake when you don’t.


BEYOND THE IMAGE AND WORD. The spiritually advanced people go beyond to silent communing prayer, Mother Teresa just listened to God, and she said he listens too. Tibetan Buddhist meditation takes them through images, and then beyond them. When reflecting on a still pool one gets glimpses of the beyond if one focuses below the surface.


TOWERS OF SPIRITUAL PRACTICE. Each person has a method of spiritual practice. For some it is simple, for others it is elaborate. It is like a tower that aids us in reaching up towards the divine. Some put a lot of work into their towers, and we get very attached to what we put effort into. Others may come to admire our work, and so do we. And then we might get competitive with the towers of others. And then one is looking down at others below, looking down and admiring ourselves and our work, but no longer looking at the sky. The tower of spiritual practice is a method, an aid, but we have to let go of it to actually reach the sky. Too heavy a tower will merely hold you down. But we can’t all float up from the ground to connect, we all need a bit of tower to get us going. Thus spiritual practice is both a help and a hinderance.


RITUAL AND PERFORMANCE. Should we worry if spiritual development becomes performance? One seems to requires the reduction of ego and the other seems to the feed it.


FISHING ON THE LAKE OF MYSTERY. The mystery of life is like a lake. We float in boats on the surface fishing for what we can in the depths. But who has the best technique? The veteran know how to avoid overturning their boats, where the novice may get lost in the fog. But the novice may see the shoal of fishes where the veteran never looks out of habit. Novice and veteran can both learn from each other. Spirituality should be about transcendence, connecting with the universal and not being bound by the specific authority or the anti-authority of self.


HOW TO CONNECT WITH THE TRANSCENDENT? Which is the best way, via the mind or the body? By looking out there, or looking inside? If both these are actually mixed then how do we tell the difference? Do we need to know from whence it comes to accept it?


KNOW YOURSELF BY HOW YOU KNOW THE WORLD. What we say about the world and other people reflects how we are ourselves. Therefore one way to self knowledge is to look at all our opinions as a mirror.


WHICH PATH, THE ROUGH OR THE SMOOTH? For your spiritual development which path do you choose, that which challenges or that which comforts? Or to put it another way, that which you find easy to use, or that which is difficult to master and so apply? Maybe we need both some of the time. Maybe rough is rough because it doesn’t work, and smooth is smooth because it does? But maybe the rough more quickly wears away our sharp edges.


TRADITION OR INVENTION. Is tradition improvisation gone stale? Is improvisation rootless rambling? Present action is a product of all pasts, whether intended or not. The question should be, does it work, not is it right.


4 ELEMENTS IN RITUAL. Air, fire, earth and water (the elements of the Western Mystery Tradition used in pagan ritual) are not absolutely true in a scientific sense, but they are part of the experience of existence from a human scale and point of view; gases, energy, solids and liquids. And as part of the human experience they have emotional and psychological meaning as well. They form a natural part of the ritual framework that creates a human-cosmos, mid-scale between the infinites of cosmos and atom, and a combined model of both the inner and outer worlds as experienced at the human scale.


CAN’T SEE THE MEANING FOR THE METAPHOR. TV Soap Stars get abuse for the characters they portray. The viewers know they are actors but emotion over rides their reason, confusing reality. Also fans of anything can be fanatical and tribal. Both such qualities, being out of touch with reality and being tribal are used as criticisms of religion and spiritual practice. But as can be seen from these examples, they obviously exist beyond religion within human nature. These behaviours will manifest in one way or another, whatever the prevailing culture. It is just form and the consequences of this manifestation that matter.