Do you Need Structure to Facilitate your Spiritual Life?

One of the reasons people join a religion is because the structures of that religion help them make time to contemplate the spiritual dimension of life. Christians head off to church every Sunday, for instance. Many people who aren’t Christians or who don’t belong to a specific church believe in God, but without the ritual of church and listening to a priest give a sermon, they may never take the time to think outside of their worldly existence. And most people do need something to remind them to at least aim to be a good person. It’s easier for the worries of life to take us over if we don’t take time to meditate or contemplate or pray or just sit and enjoy some mental space or peace and quiet.

So what do those of us who don’t want a religion do?

The downside of religion

Most of the readers here have discovered how corruption can infest even a religion that purports to teach wisdom and compassion. We’ve seen how Tibetan Buddhist beliefs on the student teacher relationship can result in abuse. This is a result of holding onto beliefs created for another place and time, beliefs that have a questionable basis to start with, and that certainly have no place in the modern world.

Most of us probably thought that Buddhism was better than the other religions, but as we’ve seen, just like all religions, when Buddhism is taken in a rigid way, it stops people thinking critically, logically or even sensibly. The danger of following stupid beliefs isn’t just for individuals, it can be seen on the level of society in the way our politician’s religion affects how they run the country.

“From an analysis of their theology and the political company they keep, it is evident that neo-Pentecostal churches are content to leave global ecological issues up to God. They believe that God loves humans and, ultimately, humans can do what they like with natural resources, because God will take care of the global climate.”

Mairead Shanahan ‘Australian neo-Pentecostal perspectives on anthropogenic climate change.’

When held by people in power, the consequences of this kind of belief has negative ramifications for the whole planet. Though Australia is presently feeling extreme effects from global warming, our prime minister, Scott Morrison, rather than using it to bring in the kind of strict emission reduction measures the world needs, does nothing to lower our emissions further because he believes that God will take care of it. Duh!

This is just one example of how religion can have a negative effect on society, all while those who follow it believe that they are the chosen ones, the ones who have it all worked out, the ones who will be saved, the ones on the right path and so on.

Why bother with religion at all?

Most religions seem to have some teachings that encourage people to be kind and ethical to some degree, but just how far that actually goes probably depends on the practitioner more than the religion. Since people seem to find it easy to be selfish and hurtful, encouragement to moderate that kind of behaviour is surely a good thing. And if we don’t occasionally remind ourselves of the importance of being kind, we’re likely to forget about it and stumble blindly through life hurting people and ultimately ourselves. But we don’t need a religion to remind ourselves to be kind and so on, we just need a way to help us remember.

Given that religions most likely also have some harmful beliefs or teachings, surely we’re better to come up with a way to remind us of the spiritual dimension of our lives without submitting to a dodgy package deal. The Christian Bible, for instance, has some truly hideous things in it! Like this one in which Samuel, one of the early leaders of Israel, orders genocide against a neighbouring people:

“This is what the Lord Almighty says … ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ”

1 Samuel 15:3:

And here is St Paul’s advice about whether women are allowed to teach men in church:

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”

1 Timothy 2:12

Doing it for ourselves

I never wanted a religion, but I found that the Buddhist teachings on mind, particularly the dzogchen teachings and practice spoke to me, so I ended up in one. But the teachings and practices that speak to us can be used outside the framework of the religion that brought us the teachings. There are plenty of books from which we can learn, after all, and we can join in events lead by various spiritual teachers without getting caught up in their whole deal.

We can do yoga classes and/or Tai Chi or meditation classes and spend time walking in nature and reading whatever book has caught our eye at this stage of our life without having to subscribe to whatever yoga, tai chi, meditation or belief system our teacher follows. We can do them all at once and simply use what they each have to offer to help us make time for the spiritual dimension of our lives … to remind us of what we likely already know, but can so easily forget, and to help us tune in to unbounded awareness.

We could have a journal where we write down anything we read that speaks to us and so create a personal book of spiritual guidance. And we can make a schedule for ourselves to help us to take time for whatever practice we find nourishes us and our spiritual awareness – or just our kindness. Or we can just wing it without any structure and trust ourselves to remember.

This I see as the challenge of living beyond the temple, and I talk about it a bit more in this short video.

Of course, our spiritual and daily lives are not necessarily separate.  But most people need committed time in individual spiritual practice to develop the qualities that will make them truly spiritual people in daily life.

Sandra Pawla ‘How to Make Space for Your Spiritual Life.’

I’m using yoga each morning to help me take time for the spiritual aspect of my life, and I’m dabbling with tai chi, but my ongoing practice, as I say in the video, is still dzogchen. But, at this point, it has nothing to do with any guru or religion; it’s simply a way I work with my mind.

So what helps you to live beyond the temple? If you haven’t entirely given up on the idea of having some form of spiritual practice or contemplation or self-reflection time, do you need a structure to encourage you to make time for such things? If so, what kind of structure do you use or could you use? Do you use anything you’ve learned from Buddhism – either consciously or unconsciously?

Image by apic from Pixabay

6 Replies to “Do you Need Structure to Facilitate your Spiritual Life?”

  1. “God will take care of it”. I sometimes think this is a way of dumbing down populations. For if people didn’t believe that they might question and do more. Take more self responsibility and be less docile and complacent. It is a way of taking individual power away from people.
    “The ones who will be saved”. This is very true. We are all instilled with fear. We are told we need to be saved from a very young age. In Christianity it’s the idea of being cast out from the Garden of Eden. Again such fear based ideas stop us from realising our true nature and the true nature of everything. We can engage in all sorts of behaviour from clinging to our beliefs to outright murder in pursuit of being on the right side particularly at the time of death. For it seems that fear of death as a result of ignorance of the true nature of things is a large part of the problem.
    Few people realise “our spiritual and daily lives are not necessarily separate”. The vast majority are so busy surviving that their spiritual life is relegated to a part-time hobby. I’ve often heard the phrase ‘trying to find oneself’ and because of conditioning from the day we are born we spend our days compartmentilising our lives instead of living in a whole way.
    Do you use anything you’ve learned from Buddhism – either consciously or unconsciously? Yes. The idea of che gom and jok gom I find useful. I am familiar with the idea of contemplation in the Christian tradition. So analytic and resting meditation was attractive. Some say gom is not just meditation but becoming familiar with. This, to me, is better. Becoming familiar with analysing and then resting with anything discovered. It makes it seem much more accessible and doable. Something that could be integrated into daily life not just sitting on a cushion. Something that allows us to question, investigate, analyse and rest our mind on anything. Thus allowing us to see more clearly everywhere, every day and bring our daily and spiritual lives together.
    Spirit can be defined as ‘the nonphysical part of a person regarded as their true self and as capable of surviving physical death or separation’. For me, the teachings encountered in TB allow us to come into contact with this idea and explore it.

    1. Ah yes, che gom and jok gom. Following that combination makes a great way to read books, especially spiritual ones, but I hadn’t considered it’s use beyond that. Thanks for the insight.

  2. Dear Thalia;

    Than you for steering the conversation now onto this new, more hopeful ground. Your suggestion to keep a journal of inspiring quotes, etc., is especially good. I’ve done this myself for the last few years, and I’ve been amazed at how many entries I have even from Western, secular sources reflect the view and spirit of Dzogchen..

    One book I’ve found especially helpful is Nimue Brown’s “Sprituality Without Structure.” Here’s a longish quote:

    “There can be a spiritual essence to the universe or just mechanistic process. It doesn’t matter, because the focus shifts to how you live and what you do. Let the rest of reality take care of itself. There’s no gain in arguing or fighting over the unknowable. Lived spirituality is real.”

    It’s so good to move on.

  3. The genuinely sad aspect of loosing my religion is that what made it continuingly good is that much experience went into the teachings for the majority of it. Rarely do practicing student/teachers encounter the well-considered reasoning behind the words specifically chosen throughout iteration after iteration of translations over millennia.

    For example the word pure is like a legal term. It is not exactly used as it would be on common use language It is a Term of Art. This art purpose is to assure that the Mind releases from distracting superstitious notions as trained to experience sans process of the Language/Conceptual facets. These brain function areas are where the Mind does its 24/7 spew of thoughts beginningless and endless. It is all nonsense as having no basis. With no cause the effect will always be to become more and more obtrusive with tricks to create lower-brain states like fear. This even engages perceptive abilities like vision and smell.

    Thus when stilling the Mind, one is very busy disoluting spontaneously so as not to generate ever-more intense distraction , freeing one’s self from any misknowing as Clear knowing. It is is this ability, which as a Dzogchen practitioners many folks walk in. This does not – perse – imply that if there is dirt on you knee, ate too much for dinner, or want to slug your little brother that you are impure.

    Purity is a state as non-distracting as space to the ever-scanned/ ever-scanning Lingo/Conceptual. If I had not been instructed on it like that, I would still be thinking Purity meant Good Enough, an ever and always struggle to push away from my own self from what I was born into.

    That I get a grasp ( ha ha) momentarily of clarity is more and more frequently the motivation and thus the guidance to keep going because space is for exploring. If I were still so imbued with Ignorance, well, no amount of the Art of the Knack could pull me through.

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