Because I was well into my adulthood before I began to figure out who I am, it is difficult for me to see where the desire to know about myself could ever be a bad thing. The self-knowledge journey continues and, I hope, will be with me for the rest of my life.
On the other hand, there are those who would probably stereotype me as an effete, self-indulgent dilettante wandering around the ring of shamans and spiritual teachers, decadently immersed in questions rather than answers.
But let’s not forget that our American shopping-driven culture does not spend a lot of time with self-analysis or philosophical-moral pursuits. We are more apt to choose an institutional religion to hang our hats on, a religion that will give our children and ourselves some kind of certain, predictable, moral foundation.
Any autonomous pursuit of our own journey of meaning, seven days a week, is just too fraught with uncertainty for those who would rather have a solid religious text to refer to, a hired minister, a building to go to, and a ritual that gives some kind of solace at the end of the week.
There is certainly something to be said for getting our religion out of the way once a week. And, as Osho so brilliantly pointed out, many of us have come to unconsciously prefer Christianity over Christ, Islam over Muhammed, and Buddhism over Buddha. The sheer fact that religion has become organized over the centuries can be very consoling to those who need some kind of definable structure in their lives. It can also be less work while, at the same time, affording us safety in numbers.
The communal nature of organized religions is a wonderful thing. It can give us a sense of belonging. It can offer a collective response to injustice. It can also influence public policy on behalf of the common good. It can console. It can feed the hungry. It can offer its houses to the disenfranchised. It can grieve. It can protect.
But organized religions can also exclude. They can require specific readings of certain religious texts (apocryphal texts are often banned and unofficial readings of religious texts discouraged, if not forbidden). They can often be overly hierarchical, patriarchal, and rigidly dogmatic. And they can too often refuse to change with the times, reluctant to bring in new rituals and new perceptions.
Self-determined journeys, on the other hand, can certainly be more flexible and open-ended unless they become ego-driven pursuits of self-gratification.
The recent crop of Ayn Rand followers (not her fiction followers) strike me as hard-core objectivists ready to reduce all relationships to quid pro quo transactions. According to Rand, individuals should pursue their own destinies and have no moral obligations to anyone other than on a very tight transactional basis (You fix my plumbing, I give you thirty bucks an hour). Even altruism, to the Rand purists, has to have some kind of collateral benefit to the altruist.
There is something to be said for the Randers out there. At least they are honest and have no other agenda except self-interest, no questions asked. Clean. Clear. Simple (No, I don’t know if Donald Trump still has his copy of The Fountainhead in the trunk of his BMW).
And then there are the Spiritual Evolutionists. This is a relatively new group on the block of spiritual-journey seekers. The SEs are metaphysical optimists who believe that humans are evolving toward a higher state of consciousness. They aren’t exactly like the eighteenth-century Deists who believed that “whatever is, is right.” But it’s a close match.
SEs would feel perfectly at home with the Panglossian notion that “it’s the best of all possible worlds.” After all, if all humans are essentially evolving toward a more transcendent awareness, then the world must be a safe place (I have noticed about the SEs, by the way, that they are very reluctant to talk about poverty, suffering, contagious diseases, the disenfranchised. Oh, and did I forget biological and geographical determinism?)
If you check out all the many global SE conferences, by the way, most of them hang out in some very chic, ecology-friendly places (No ghettos for this group).
And now, for my favorite self-determined group of all—the Osho followers. This is a wry niche group who seem to be open to just about anything except institutional religions and any morality or awareness that doesn’t ally itself with experience.
Osho is the great iconoclast (I am going to use the present tense here to comment on Osho’s teachings, which are still being followed, even though he has been dead for some time). His statements consistently fly in the face of conventional religions. Osho advocates a search for truth based on “experience,” a morality that is spontaneous, not manufactured, and an individual pursuit of one’s own truths that are not given by a religion but come from one’s own internalized awareness and experience.
“Anyone who gives you a belief system is your enemy,” Osho says. “God is not only dead, He was “never born.” These are not words that will ever endear him to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or Hindus
Is he a devil in sheep’s clothing? Is his experience-based spiritual model nothing more than arrogance? Is he just another disgruntled, snarly atheist? Anyone who reads the transcribed words of Osho or watches his utube videos can clearly see that he is a bit of a gadfly. He certainly “brooks no fools,” as the poet would say. But, I believe he is the real deal. Well, most of the time.
About organized religion, science, and philosophy, Osho is quite clear. Religion, or any belief system, according to Osho is a “barrier” to truth. In fact, “the very desire to find the truth disappears.” The notion of God, is a man-made invention, not a “discovery,” and one that is the great distraction as “life is flowing past you,” says Osho. This created concept of God may give someone “consolation,” but Osho believes that consolation is “opium”(there are shades of Nietzsche here), a drug that numbs the ability to truly see and experience reality—the only truth, in Osho’s world, that has any validity.
Osho is equally relentless in his comments about science which he maintains consistently denies the existence of an “inner” life. The scientist’s whole training, according to Osho, “makes him trust only objects which he can dissect, which he can observe, which he can analyze” and “his whole mind is object-oriented.” Subjectivity, the inner experience, in the scientist’s world of objectivity, can never be brought to the table of relevance and remains utterly “not possible.”
Osho defends his perspective here by maintaining that all existence can be defined by “polarity.” The “outer” only exists because of the “inner,” the “unconscious can exist only if there is consciousness.” Life is all about complementarity, for “existence….is polarized by its opposite.” And the methodology for experiencing that inner life—meditation—according to Osho, “cannot work” for the “outer”world of objectivity.
Just when you think Osho might give the scientists some comic slack, he comes down on them like a guillotine, “The scientist goes on finding everything in the world, except himself.”
Denying that he is a philosopher, Osho claims to be a man who lives in the realm of experience. The philosopher “thinks about things.” “My approach,” says Osho, “is a no-mind approach.” Osho’s “way of life,” is all about “seeing” and experiencing, not about intellectual truth, for, like God and religion, thinking “does not allow reality to reach you.” Thinking, says Osho, is “a deviation from reality,” a distraction that “imposes itself upon reality.”
Osho asks that his way of life be called philosia, a love of seeing, of being, of experiencing. It is not a philosophy, which, is a love of truth. That is why a philosopher has never “been able to know the truth.”
Osho has a much more open notion of meditation as a way of experiencing reality than the classic Zen approach. He does not seem to advocate a disciplined ritual of meditation as much as a transparent moment of silence, a kind of coming down from all of our activities just to experience reality without the distractions. But he definitely believes that this will connect us more fully to reality.
There are certainly other journeys out there which claim many niche followers trying to find the right path. But the basic polarity between these journey-schools seems to be between organized religion and the more experience-based schools that do not take the individual out of the picture. The Ayn Rand objectivists may push down on the gas-pedal of individuality too far, the Spiritual Evolutionists may nestle themselves too comfortably in the branches of a higher reality, and the Osho followers may deny the relevance of communalism so powerful in organized religion, but the respect for the individual still seems to remain a core value in these schools.