Philosophy of New Spirituality
For thousands of years, science and religion have dominated human civilization. Within the main stream thinking, science and religion have been considered as forces for the good. Therefore, they have supposedly moved the human race in the “right” direction, even though the directions might be different. Specifically, science has supposedly brought humans a better outer life. While religion, which is generally considered synonymously with spirituality and is the only type of “true” spirituality, has supposedly brought humans a better inner life. But have they? Even today in the 21st century, it is not difficult to see poverty and violence on Earth.
Why is it that if science and religion are such powerful forces for the good, why couldn’t they transform Earth into heaven, or at least eradicate poverty and violence on Earth? Since they have not been able to do it after thousands of years, is there any indication that they are able to do it in the future? Or does the world need something else? Does the world need to move in a different direction? Maybe science and religion have not moved the human race in the “right” direction after all. This essay proposes a new, non-religious spirituality. A spirituality that moves humans in a new direction – a direction that can transform Earth into heaven.
Science essentially deals with the physical phenomena. As humans live with the physical body on the physical Earth, there are many physical phenomena that can inconvenience their daily living. These phenomena are generally referred to as “natural phenomena”, such as floods, droughts, hurricanes, volcanic activities, and earthquakes. Humans generally do not have control over these phenomena. Hence, when these phenomena occur and have inconvenienced their daily living, these phenomena are referred to as “natural disasters”. In an effort to make their daily living better and not to be “randomly” inconvenienced by these natural disasters, they have set out to understand these natural phenomena.
Assuming that these natural phenomena only occur under certain physical conditions, then there must be natural physical laws that govern their occurrences. Science is the discipline which endeavors to find out these physical laws. After these laws are known, engineering is the discipline which applies the scientific knowledge so that the humans’ daily living is less disrupted by the natural phenomena. Over the past thousands of years, undoubtedly, the scientific knowledge has increased by leaps and bounds. As a consequence, the occurrences of many of these natural phenomena can be predicted, and the negative side-effects can be prevented.
While the scientific knowledge is known to humans, it is not shared among all humans. While some humans have benefited from the scientific knowledge and are living really comfortable physical lives, many others are still living precarious lives that are subjected to the side-effects of natural phenomena. As the benefits of the scientific knowledge are not shared, the gap between the haves and have nots has widened to a historical high. Indeed, while the scientific knowledge has advanced, the humaneness has not.
To be able to understand the natural phenomena, scientists spend a lot of time and resources to carry out physical measurements of the phenomena. They then analyze the measured data in order to discover the physical laws. Initially, the laws are hypotheses until they are verified. After the verifications, these laws are considered as “physical facts” or “physical truths”. Scientists generally take a very serious approach to ensure that the physical laws they have discovered are the “real” truths. So, the measurements must be consistent and repeatable. They compare their discoveries with those by other scientists. In the light of new measured data, they may even revise their discoveries.
Generally, in their search for the truth, their approach can be considered open, unbiased, rational and rigorous. It is independent of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, language, social status, political leaning, and spiritual belief. The physical laws that they have established are based on measured data, i.e. they are evidence based. It is therefore not personality based, as the data have been measured by different scientists. Thereafter, they publish their scientific findings in scientific papers, which are subject to peer reviews. For the more established findings, they are published in scientific books. This is why in different scientific books, the information on the same topic are the same. This is also why it is very easy to find out the physical facts; just look them up in the scientific books. By publishing the physical facts in the books, there is no need to repeat the measurements again and again.
However, this only applies to the basic facts. Physical facts that are of commercial or military value are not published. This is how the rich countries have an advantage over the poor countries. For the facts that are published, science advances by moving on and making measurements of other natural phenomena.
Spirituality is often perceived to cover the non-physical aspects of life only. On the other hand, a broader definition of spirituality is one that covers everything, both the physical and the non-physical. Indeed, prior to the advances in science, it is often thought that there are some invisible spiritual forces behind the physical, natural phenomena. Unable to discover the physical mechanisms of these phenomena, and since these phenomena are of such large scales and clearly beyond the power of humans, they are perceived to have been created by some powerful spiritual entitles often referred to as gods. When the natural phenomena turn into natural disasters, the rationale is that humans must have angered the gods. As punishments, humans have been made to suffer as a consequence.
Hence, completely powerless over these natural disasters, humans have developed practices and rituals that are designed to appease gods. Some of these practices are still on-going today. However, as science has advanced by leaps and bounds, many of these natural disasters can now be explained at the physical level. As such and to a large extent, the negative side-effects of these natural disasters can also be prevented.
On the other hand, there are still physical phenomena that cannot be explained by science. For these phenomena, they appear to be governed by some natural spiritual laws. Since these laws are spiritual and non-physical, they cannot be discovered by science. Hence, these laws are beyond science, and this is where spirituality exerts a significant influence.
Old spirituality is organized religions. They have produced religious books which are supposedly to contain the spiritual knowledge which extends to the spiritual world, in particular the afterlife. Unlike the scientific knowledge in scientific books which are produced through an open, unbiased, rational and rigorous approach, the spiritual knowledge in religious books has taken a hierarchical authoritative approach. It is no coincidence that several highly revered religious books claim that they are the “Word of God”. This is a convenient claim since God being the highest authority in the hierarchy, nobody in the lower hierarchy can really dispute the contents. Indeed, for those who criticize the holy books, they are considered blasphemous. However, no matter how authoritative these books are, they are unlike scientific books in that some of the contents are not verifiable. Hence, the approach is neither open, unbiased, rational nor rigorous. It depends on “who said” rather than “what is said”. This is why there are many differences in the religious books. Also, due to their unscientific approach, the differences can never be reconciled.
Despite the unscientific approach, organized religions have actively shared their spiritual knowledge with the world. They have even shared the knowledge as though they are spiritual truths; some say theirs are the only truths. This is why some people think of religion as the only spirituality. For ordinary humans who are interested in the spiritual truths and the spiritual world, they have generally turned to these religious books to find the answers. Since there are no scientific proofs to these answers, for those who have accepted the answers, they have to take them in good faith. This is why faith is so important in religions.
For those who have accepted a particular religion, they become followers of that religion. As a follower, due to peer pressure and other reasons, it is difficult to be critical of that religion. This is because religious organizations are essentially geared up to recruit followers and followers only. Indeed, the survival of these organizations are dependent on having followers, and operate like businesses. So, they have to sell, but what can they sell? Without anything really concrete to sell, they sell their spiritual knowledge as truths, which is of course an excellent marketing strategy. In order to enhance their businesses and to extend their influence, they portray themselves as forces for the good. So, they do charities. While they help the less fortunate, but do they really solve the fundamental problems? Also, for the good that the religious organizations are doing, could they be done outside religion by non-religious organizations?
Irrespective of how the religious organizations operate and for whatever reasons, the content of the religious books have affected millions and millions of human lives and have also influenced the social and legal practices of many societies, which includes the supposedly secular societies. For the past thousands of years, religions have undoubtedly dominated the world. Religions are supposedly good for the world, but it is not difficult to see that not all the religious influences are good. Indeed, even with such dominance for thousands of years, many people are still living in poverty and violence in the world today. What is more depressing is that for these people, there is no end in sight. Can religions really bring peace, love, joy and harmony to the world or is it time to consider a new spirituality?
Other Types of Spiritualities
Due to the closed, biased, irrational and questionable approach taken by religions and also the negative outcomes of religions, many people have chosen to look for other sources of inspiration. Some have chosen to be completely non-spiritual as atheists. Some have chosen to be agnostics who explore spirituality inside and outside of religions. Some have chosen to be spiritual but not religious, and practice spirituality such as new age or new thought or simply refer to as new spirituality. Irrespective of which type of spirituality or non-spirituality these people choose to practice, unlike the followers of religions, these people generally think critically and independently.
New Philosophical Approach to Spirituality
Since even after thousands of years, the old spirituality has not brought peace, love, joy and harmony to the world, is it time to consider a new spirituality? If it is, what will it look like? Is it new age or new thought or a completely different new spirituality? Or is it a new spiritual teaching coming from a new master? For all the religious and non-religious spiritualities, generally the focus is on spiritual truths. Indeed, for most if not all the spiritualities, this is their selling point. However, unlike scientific truths, it is difficult if not impossible to verify these spiritual truths. Hence, is this a good direction to pursue spirituality or is there another direction?
How about philosophy? How about thinking of spirituality as a philosophy? Reason it so that it helps us in our lives. No more following a teaching because it is said by a spiritual master. No more following a teaching because it is said to be the truth. How about we become independent and decide what to believe and what not to believe? How about we keep better control of our lives by controlling our spiritual beliefs? How about we use a new approach to spirituality – the philosophical approach?
Traditionally, spirituality has been quite dogmatic, especially in religions where the authoritative approach has been used. This approach gives little leeway for the followers to open up. On the other hand, a philosophical approach is completely open as it is open to reasoning. There is no fixed text you must read. There are no fixed rituals you must practice. There is no one place or one group you must go to. You are free to choose what to believe and what not to believe. This is indeed true “free will”. This is a major departure from the physical world where there are so many constraints that it is impossible to practice free will. For example, you may choose to believe that there is no gravity on Earth. Unless you have some supernatural power, despite your belief, your body is still constrained and subjected to the gravitational force. On the other hand, you are completely free to choose your spiritual beliefs, and this is the gift of God.
This new type of spirituality is anchored on your purpose in life. The practice is to choose the spiritual beliefs that can help you to achieve your purpose. It is not based on a holy book or what a master said or even on truth. Let us take a practical example to see how this works. Let us take a watch (haha, watch this space). A watch can be set so that it tells the “true” time or the “correct” time. At the same time (pun intended), the watch can be set a few minutes faster than the true time. So, the watch now tells the “untrue” time or the “incorrect” time. Can this watch help our lives? How about we use this watch to help us to get to an appointment on time? What if we believe the untrue time on the watch is the true time? Does this help? If it helps us to get to an appointment on time, maybe we can choose to believe the untrue time is the true time. So, does a belief have to be true to be helpful, or can an untrue belief actually be helpful? Can this be the panacea for all the world’s problems?
Let us now use the philosophical approach to explore spiritual beliefs. Let us take the most fundamental spiritual belief – we are souls. Does it help us if we believe we are souls? Does it help us if we believe intrinsically we are not the bodies? What if we believe we are the souls and souls live forever? What if we believe the souls can live without any needs? So, what happens when the bodies die? Do we die when the bodies die if we believe we are not the bodies? Can we continue to live on when the bodies die if we believe we are the souls and the souls live forever? If this is our belief, do you have to feel sad when the bodies die? If our purpose is to feel at peace and not be fearful when the bodies die, does it help to believe we are the souls? Does it matter if the souls don’t exist? Does it matter if the belief is false? Can this belief, irrespective of whether it is true or untrue, help us to live and die in peace?
Let us take another spiritual belief – reincarnation. Can this belief help us in our lives? Let us turn to the practical world. Let us say we live in a house and we believe that after we go out, we’ll come back to the same house. We also believe that whatever condition we leave the house, when we come back it will be in the same condition. If we leave the house in a mess, when we come back, the mess will still be there. If this is our belief and we like to come back to a clean house, what do we do? What if we extend the belief to the body? What if we believe after we die and left the world, we’ll reincarnate and come back to the same world. So, if we leave the world in a mess, we’ll have to live with the mess when we come back in another body. Would we be more mindful to what we do to the world? Does reincarnation have to be true? Does it matter if it is not true and we never come back? If our purpose in life is to take better care of the world, does believing in reincarnation help?
Let us take the belief “we are all one”. This belief says while physically, we are separate; spiritually, we are all one. This is to say at the soul level, we believe that we are all part of one soul. Does this belief help us in any way? Would we treat other humans more kindly if we believe we are one soul? Can we kill other humans if we believe when we kill them, we kill ourselves because there is only one of us? Would this help to eradicate violence around the world? Can we cheat other humans if we believe when we cheat them, we cheat ourselves because there is only one of us? In fact, are we more likely to look for win-win solutions like “I only win if you also win because we are all one”? Are we more likely to ease other people’s pain like “Your pain is my pain because we are all one”? Would this help to eradicate poverty around the world? Does the belief we are one soul have to be true? Does it matter if it is not true and we are not one soul? If our purpose in life is to treat others more humanely, does believing in “we are all one” help?
In summary, based on philosophical and rational reasoning, we can select the beliefs that can help us. If it is our purpose to bring peace, love, joy and harmony to the world, can this approach help? Can this new philosophical approach to spirituality help to transform Earth into heaven?