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Spirituality & Happiness
Posted: 09 June 2008 12:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]  
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Elise - 06 June 2008 11:22 PM

What is Spirituality & How do we become Happy?

I was interested to read Harris’ ideas about spirituality and happiness in the End of Faith. However, I think there is more to be said. While having experiences which divest one of the ‘self’ and take one to different levels of consciousness/unconsciousness is well and good, I think there are more important things (for me, at least).

For example, I concieve of spirituality as a group of emotional and intellectual needs that people have. They include the need to find meaning in life, to develop one’s ethical self, to discover sources of wonder and awe, and to discover activities that one loves…

These are some important sources of my own happiness:

My discovery of philosophy has awoken the love of learning that I previously thought dead, and provided me with a quest of intellectual and ethical self-improvement.

The quest to become a more compassionate, more reasonable and thus more ethical person through study, reflection and practice is a source of pride and happiness to me. The possibility of making the world a better place for others to live in is daunting task (sometimes I feel despair and powerlessness), but it also fills me with inspiration, excitement and a sense of great potential.

Meanwhile, activities such as reading, socialising and painting seem to provide much of my happiness and contentment.

I don’t understand why losing the self through drugs or meditation is so significant. I hope that others on this forum can either explain to me why they think losing the self is especially important for happiness, or alternatively confirm that they, like me, are more interested in sources of happines such as I have described.

Loss of self is not the goal of spiritual practices (referring here to things like meditation, etc., not religion).  Rather the idea is the philosophical one of knowing oneself and through that knowledge attaining non-attachment to being oneself.  You might find the books of Idries Shah of value, especially since you indicate an interest in learning.  The sufi goal is captured in two words: fana and baqua.  The first means something like “extinction of the ordinary self and its attachments” while the second means “return to the world to live in service.”

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Posted: 09 June 2008 07:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]  
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Jefe - 09 June 2008 11:17 AM

I’m not sure why seeking happiness requires a generic and fuzzy descriptor like “spirituality”.

I do see a need for a word that encompasses all the subject aspects of the human experience, that puts up a wall to prevent various religions from attempting to redefine the non-human part of the physical universe. Postulating the existence of gods or other supernatural beings is a scientifically and intellectually irresponsible way to achieve happiness. The starting point for achieving happiness is to accept the universe as it is, instead of imagining the universe to be some other way.

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Posted: 09 June 2008 08:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]  
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Jefe - 09 June 2008 11:58 AM

Similarly I think the term ‘Spiritual’ falls into this category.  It doesn’t say anything specific or descriptive about the demographic that might appropriate it as a self-descriptive term.

It says something, but its not very clear what it says. One positive aspect of the fuzziness of the term is that it allows for a feeling of group solidarity in groups that may not be all that similar.

I don’t see the word as having any demographic meaning. Instead, I see it as implying that religion or spirit belief has some ownership of the pursuit of happiness. Our language doesn’t have a word for the pursuit of happiness in a secular or naturalistic context.

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Posted: 09 June 2008 09:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]  
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I understand what Jefe is saying. The word “spiritual” seems to have supernatural or religious connotations. Perhaps we could stick to terms that are more descriptive of exactly what we are talking about.

For example: I am trying to improve my accountability by helping others. I am seeking a way to avoid judging myself and others while trying to constantly improve myself. I am enjoying this moment rather than ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. I am trying to not accept the beliefs that others have about me. I am trying to enjoy part of my life in a mental rather than a material way.

Perhaps somebody could coin a new term.

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Posted: 09 June 2008 01:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]  
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How about-‘fullfillment’ instead of spirituality?

It doesn’t sound as supernatural anyway.

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Posted: 09 June 2008 04:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]  
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Interesting. I was thinking that non-believers could take back ‘spirituality’ and make it their own, rather like homosexuals have taken the word ‘queer’ (once used to insult them) and made it their own.

But coining a new word is a possibility, too. It’s just that it might take longer for everyone to learn this new word, than it would for people to realise that ‘spirituality’ doesn’t necessarily mean ghosts, unicorns, god etc.

I too, agree that the best way to go about it is by learning more about the real universe, not by positing magical entities and clinging to them.

Atheists for Happiness! Yay!

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Posted: 09 June 2008 04:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]  
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How about Eudamonia ?

It means ‘flourishing’ and is bound up with the philosophical question of how to live ‘the good life’.

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Posted: 09 June 2008 09:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]  
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Elise - 09 June 2008 08:33 PM

How about Eudamonia ?

It means ‘flourishing’ and is bound up with the philosophical question of how to live ‘the good life’.

It’s a cool word, but it sounds like a combo of “You da man!” and “ammonia.”

“You d’ammonia!”

“Na ah! You d’ammonia!”

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Posted: 10 June 2008 10:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]  
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Jefe - 10 June 2008 11:03 AM

I don’t really have any objection to an attempt to take-back the term spiritual, but I think its fuzziness will simply lead to misunderstandings.

True. I agree that a new term is needed.

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Posted: 10 June 2008 12:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]  
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Carstonio - 10 June 2008 02:06 PM
Jefe - 10 June 2008 11:03 AM

I don’t really have any objection to an attempt to take-back the term spiritual, but I think its fuzziness will simply lead to misunderstandings.

True. I agree that a new term is needed.

Would it help if we put two and two together in order to see clearly what the old ‘spiritual’ boys were getting at?

Jesus:  “The Kingdom is at hand.  Seek first the Kingdom, and all else will be yours as well.”

Zen Master:  “The ancients were always mindful of THIS MATTER.  Whether deep in the mountain vallleys or in the bustling villages and towns, they never turned their backs on it for an instant.  Whatever scenes and circumstances they encountered, amidst sound and form, in the course of movement and action, they invariably turned around and focused back on their own true selves.  The practice of all the adepts since time immemorial who completely penetrated through was none other than this.”  (end quotes)

So, if it isn’t spiritual, what is THIS MATTER, THIS KINGDOM?

Take the example of a rabbit.  How does a rabbit achieve the Kingdom?  Does he need a spiritual rabbit to tell him how to live?  How to be happy?  I say that the Kingdom of the rabbit is his own true self.  If he turns his back on it for an instant nothing is going to be right.  Is he going to achieve happiness if he can fly like a bird?  Climb trees like a squirrel?

So, in modern lingo, what is the word for a rabbit finding his way back to being a rabbit, instead of, say, being a Christian rabbit, or a Zen rabbit?  I’m working on it.  I agree with the ‘yu dammonia’ decision.  I’m not so sure about Elise’s ‘Atheists for Happiness’ direction, though at first it has a nice ring to it.  Somehow it adds something extraneous to ‘just being a rabbit’.  Maybe it’s like the Saturday Night Live character who can’t enjoy a pleasant moment with his date without saying, “Happy?” 

(Zen quote from the book, ‘Zen Letters - Teachings of Yuanwu’ Translated by J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary)

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Posted: 10 June 2008 12:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]  
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Unsmoked, what did Jesus meant by “The Kingdom” and “all else”? I suspect that these would not resemble the “true self” concept in your Zen quote.

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Posted: 12 June 2008 02:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]  
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Carstonio - 10 June 2008 04:52 PM

Unsmoked, what did Jesus mean by “The Kingdom” and “all else”? I suspect that these would not resemble the “true self” concept in your Zen quote.

Carstonio, if we go along with the story of Jesus in the wilderness, either as fact or fiction, it seems he had some kind of ‘satori’ experience.  ‘The spirit of the dove descended on him.’

I need to look this up again to make sure I’m getting it right, but I think he started teaching after that - speaking with some authority.  “The Kingdom is at hand, seek first the Kingdom.”  I think most Christians imagine that the Kingdom of God comes later, something they will experience after they die if they accept Jesus as their savior, etc.  I would argue that Jesus was talking about something possible in this life, in this world, and so line it up with what the Zen masters are pointing at - a ‘priceless jewel’, an ‘inexhaustible treasure’.

Around the year 1110, Zen master Yuanwu writes to a friend:

“. . . That is why the buddhas and ancestral teachers gave instructions and pointed directly to this reality.  They always directed sentient beings to comprehend for themselves their own inherent, fundamental, perfect, wondrously illuminated true mind and to dispense with all the false thoughts and schemes and knowledge and views associated with sensory afflictions and troubles.

“. . . The ancients called this ‘the inexhaustible treasury’ and also ‘the wish-granting jewel’ and also ‘the indestructible precious sword’.  You must have deep roots of faith and believe that this is not gotten from anyone else . . . This is the scenery of your own fundamental ground, your own original face.”  (end quotes)

Zen masters take issue with Jesus (or the stories about Jesus)on a number of important points, and I can well understand your raising this question.  I feel confident, though, that Jesus’ ‘Kingdom’, and the Zen ‘inexhaustible treasury’ are one and the same thing.  We all have it now, but for most of us it is ‘covered over with clouds’.  (conditioned thinking)

Thoreau commented, “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.”  (clear away the clouds).

Yuanwu again:

“The subtle wondrous Path of the buddhas and enlightened teachers is nowhere else but in the fundamental basis of each and every person.  It is really not apart from the fundamentally pure, wondrously illuminated, uncontrived, unconcerened mind.

“If you hav sincerely devoted yourself to it for a long time, yet are still not able to become really genuine, it is because you have been trying to approach it via your intellectual nature and its many machinations.

“. . . If you put your conditioned intellect to rest for a long time, suddenly it will be like the bottom falling out of a bucket - then you will naturally be happy and at peace.”

Yuanwu quoted from the book, ‘Zen Letters - Teachings of Yuanwu’ - translated by J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary

[ Edited: 12 June 2008 02:11 PM by unsmoked]
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Posted: 12 June 2008 02:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]  
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unsmoked - 12 June 2008 06:08 PM
Carstonio - 10 June 2008 04:52 PM

Unsmoked, what did Jesus mean by “The Kingdom” and “all else”? I suspect that these would not resemble the “true self” concept in your Zen quote.

Carstonio, if we go along with the story of Jesus in the wilderness, either as fact or fiction, it seems he had some kind of ‘satori’ experience.  ‘The spirit of the dove descended on him.’

I need to look this up again to make sure I’m getting it right, but I think he started teaching after that - speaking with some authority.  “The Kingdom is at hand, seek first the Kingdom.”  I think most Christians imagine that the Kingdom of God comes later, something they will experience after they die if they accept Jesus as their savior, etc.  I would argue that Jesus was talking about something possible in this life, in this world, and so line it up with what the Zen masters are pointing at - a ‘priceless jewel’, an ‘inexhaustible treasure’.

Jesus most definitely was speaking about something possible in this life. The “kingdom” experience would extend into the next age/realm, but it would begin here. He referred to it in Matthew 13 as a “pearl of great price” or a priceless buried treasure. The miracles that he performed were manifestations of the kingdom’s presence in him, and he intended for people to believe that the kingdom was accessible for them.

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Posted: 12 June 2008 03:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]  
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Bruce Burleson - 12 June 2008 06:17 PM

The miracles that he performed were manifestations of the kingdom’s presence in him, and he intended for people to believe that the kingdom was accessible for them.

Zen master Yuanwi comments:

“Even so, there are adepts who will not forgive them for these displays.  How much less would they forgive getting involved with marvels and delving into mysteries, discoursing upon the true nature of mind, and having a sweaty shirt stuck to their skin and being unable to strip it off!  That would appear even more broken down and decrepit.”

Bruce, it’s important to notice that people get blinded and thrown off the track by miracles.  The Zen masters had no patience with shenanigans like that.  In the Zen stories, if a master saw a saint walking over the waves he’d stick out his tonge and make a raspberry.

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Posted: 12 June 2008 03:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]  
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unsmoked - 12 June 2008 07:46 PM

Bruce, it’s important to notice that people get blinded and thrown off the track by miracles.  The Zen masters had no patience with shenanigans like that.  In the Zen stories, if a master saw a saint walking over the waves he’d stick out his tonge and make a raspberry.

Jesus’ miracles were not shenanigans. They were all intended to meet human need, not to give ostentatious displays. And they were all manifestations of the power of the kingdom, which Jesus said could be accessed by people.

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