On Spiritual Beliefs – In response to Zizek
While I have been diligently, or perhaps dilletantely practising Taoist self-help Alchemy since 2006 daily, I also share a laugh with Slavoj Zizek when he says that all this ‘Taoism/Western Buddhism is the chosen religion of capitalism’, with its focus on inner balancing, and being at peace with the world it functions, and breathing deeply, and achieving ‘being at peace in a tumultuous world’ is as an apology for doing nothing to change the current status quo. ‘Western Buddhism’ or ‘Taoism’ ‘perfectly fit’ the ‘fetishist mode of ideology of our allegedly “post-ideological” era’, enabling ‘you to participate fully in the frantic pace of the capitalist game while sustaining the perception that you are not really in it’. Often the new fringe Western spirituality with the more popular esoteria and cheap mysticism function within a capitalist framework, positive thinking to attract a new car, a new girlfriend, a promotion, to be rich and to achieve, the key word ‘prosperity’.
There are also the meditation practices where we send out love to oceans, or to the whales, or to the Middle East (it is always the Middle East), however what is involved is praying in a group or alone, listening to one’s heart beat, but not actually doing anything other than that. In some sense these internal works are kind of anti-revolutionary. I think the Old Taoists were always a bit apolitical anyway, tripping away in their caves in the mountains while coups and revolutions swirled in the valleys below.
However, I am committed to meditating daily, I feel the tangible benefits of meditation within myself I feel empowered and comfortable in my own skin. There are currently all sorts of scientific ways of explaining the benefits of meditation in terms of neuroscience and physiology, even the more leftfield modern mysticism practices of positive thinking and imagining having what you want, and being grateful are backed up with references to the discoveries of quantum physics and notions of the holographic universe. Or that the code of the I-Ching can be seen in the way DNA is designed and in Fibonacci sequences.
I am particularly fond of the Golden Mean, Pythagoras’ secret cut which refers to God’s fingerprint; we see the mathematics of the Golden Mean all over the place, in our teeth, in plants, in bird’s nests, in works or art the world over. The abundance of this same mathematical principle as the underlying principle of our universe, seen in the way galaxies swirl around their centre, brings the divine to a relation of proximity; it is within, without, and infinitely smaller and infinitely bigger. The same fundamental maths in all directions.
At the level of our solar system and galaxy, this is no random act of chance that there is life on this planet, it is because things are ‘just so’ that the earth is exactly where it is that we are here. We need all the other planets exactly where they for life to be tenable on Earth. On an even bigger scale, if the underlying physics were just slightly different, our solar system wouldn’t be possible. Therefore it must be because some guiding force has the whole universe balanced on an infinitely sharp knife edge that we are here at all. How can we not have reverence for the divine when there is no escaping the truth of these statements? To bring the point home, the orbit of Venus compared to the Earth’s is exactly in the proportion of the Golden Mean. If we follow the lines of this way of thinking, we can even postulate that the Earth is in fact the centre of the universe, the whole universe is required to be exactly where it is in order for there to be the perfect conditions for life on this planet. The free will of humans is the counterpart for the Divine Consciousness, as Jung points out in reference to the story of Job; it is through us that God knows himself. Hampate Ba, the Malian researcher also explains that for the doctrine of the Komo secret societies of the Dogon humans are imbibed with a divine particle so as to be interlocutors in partnership and co-creation with God.
Spirituality for me then is about a reverence for Earth, an acknowledgement of a collaboration of the whole universe working together for us to be here. At the same time, while this is looking outside at the macro, we can also easily observe the wonder of how ecosystems also collaborate and conspire to give us beautiful fruit and vegetables, animal companions, and the conditions for life. It is wonderful how an apple or an orange tree takes water and earth and sun and makes bite-sized sustenance for us. Then we can also look inside us, at the miracle which is our spinal column, or nerve tendrils, the cardiac muscles of our heart, our billions of bronchioles, mysterious brain neurology, DNA, the way our heart and lungs and hormones automatically do so much for us. Just from an engineering perspective all that goes on within us, our liver regenerating every month our skin every week, is humblingly beyond our conscious control.
This awareness of just how great things are inside us, around us and outside of us, how Nature conspires to place us in the middle of a divine web of life means that we cannot reject our fundamental divinity, that humans have at their centre a kernel, a spark of the essence of The Divine. Leonardo da Vinci got this innately, and spent his days in awe and wonder of nature.
This recognition means that we should at least acknowledge the generous higher intelligence all around us and be grateful for it. Not that I think we should all wear hair shirts and flagellate ourselves, but that we make the most of life, at least enjoying what is on offer, and not going through life in depressive funks, or in conflicts.
These thoughts are based on observations of nature and science; there is no ‘belief’ in any of these words. They are the conclusions of an applied rationalism. Regarding belief I follow Alan Watts, believe what you want and have fun doing it, pray, chant, meditate. Just don’t take any of the religion game seriously. When we talk of innate divinity, this is not a belief, but a rational thought based on observing astronomy, geometry, anatomy, neuroscience, mathematics, ecosystems, biology, and physics, and art. Nothing which requires taking anyone’s word for anything.
While Zizek gives us the example of western city dwelling Buddhists burying their heads in the sand by deep breathing there is something else going on.
To be spiritual today means to be able to live within full circle economics, and to live in harmony with nature’s resources from a hard science perspective. Thus we are beginning to see the Eco Vila movement, where houses are made out of adobe clay, toilets are connected to natural composters and a premium placed on a harmonious relationship with nature. It is also not for nothing that many people involved with the Eco Vila movement are doing so as an expression of their spiritual beliefs.
People who learn to connect intrinsically to nature, and hold nature as sacred become indignant at its destruction.
In response to Zizek, practices of concentrated introspection and belief in the Divine are not necessarily handmaidens of capitalism, but can provide individuals with a fundamental base from which to act in a more socially conscious way. In fact more dangerous than the deep breathers or positive thinkers is this kind of post 2012 doomsday nihilism that many people have that the world is going to end anyway so I am not going to try to do anything about it, or the kind of pseudo-science belief that I keep hearing that no one can be trusted and there is nothing we can do because it has been scientifically proven that humans are inherently competitive and destructive, so it would be somehow better if we all perished. Notions of the inner divinity of us and all of nature is exactly what we need right now.
Rio de Janeiro 2012
Some more fun visual examples of The Golden Mean: