Questions from Stacie: Part 2

1.) Do you think all children should be exposed to some sort of organized religion to help form their moral compass?

I don’t know much about child-rearing, so I really can’t say. Religions in general can  be a mixed bag of nuts when it comes to imposing their particular “moral compass” on others. Though generally I think it’s good to expose children to religion. At some point later in life most of us start asking the religious questions: “Why are we here? What is this life all about?” And religion is a good starting point for investigating into these questions.

2.) What effect does religion have on your daily life today?

Not much, I consider myself as a spiritual person, more so than a member of any particular religion.

3.) Are there any negative aspects of religion that have affected you in the past or that affect you now?

When I was in college, my roommate — who was a pot-smoking, guitarist in a KISS cover-band — suddenly became a Born Again Christian, cut off his hair, and spent the next semester tormenting me that I was going to Hell if I didn’t renounce Satan and give my life to Jesus.  So that was annoying.  Other than that, I can’t think of religion impacting on my life one way or another.

Questions from Stacie

1) Do you consider yourself religious, spiritual, or any other creative source?

I’ve always considered my life a spiritual quest. I’m a seeker by nature. At times I’ve felt like I was gaining hard-fought spiritual wisdom. While at other times I’ve felt like a spiritual cripple.  I’ve checked out most of the world’s religions. But don’t belong to any of them. Practiced yoga and meditation for many years. But I suppose those would be considered more as a form of spiritual science than as a religion. I’ve probably most been influenced by Vedanta and Hinduism.

2) Have you ever had a religious or spiritual experience so intense it changed the way you feel about the universe that you’d like to share?

When I was 19 I was heavily into LSD and Alan Watts and books about Zen. And at one point, peaking on acid, I had what I considered to be a pretty intense mystical experience. Experiencing God, experiencing myself as a manifestation of God, experiencing Oneness with God, Oneness with the Universe. I transcended my individual identity and experienced my Universal identity. Though later I came to question the authenticity of the experience. And to question the validity of psychedelics as a spiritual tool . . . .  My spiritual life sort of hit a dead-end after awhile, and was dormant for many years. Until I was 40 and a friend of mine gave me for a Christmas present a copy of this book by Swami Muktananda — an Indian guru — titled “Where Are You Going?” (good question) And I had an instantaneous “Shakti” experience just from looking at the photo of Muktananda in the book. “Shakti” is the experience when an enlightened spiritual master directly transmits his divine spiritual energy into a devotee. It’s like the ultimate “contact high.”  Where the guru gives you a taste of his Divine state. That experience kick-started a renewed interest in my spiritual development. And I would spend the next 7 years reading all of Muktananda’s books and practicing daily kundalini yoga meditation and mantra repetition. And I had many spiritual experiences from those practices.

3) What do you think happens when you die? If you believe in heaven do you think there are certain criteria that must be met to be worthy? Do you believe in redemption?

I believe in reincarnation. That we all go through many lifetimes — as a process of purifying ourselves. Until we ultimately reach the highest state and merge with God. Though the mystics regularly point out that in fact we’re already one with God, even though most of us haven’t realized that fact yet.

4) Do you believe that objects like crystals, symbols like tarot or ouija, have any power?

I believe that different objects, and places, can be blessed as well as haunted or cursed. There is spiritual power emanating from all the points of this universe of ours. Personally, I’m not very familiar with crystals, tarot or ouija, so can’t really comment about that.

5) Have you ever had a paranormal experience?

One of the unusual — and dangerous — side effects of practicing kundalini yoga is that as you get more advanced into it, you start to gain these occult powers. The powers are along the lines of “whatever you think will manifest.” The more purified and powerful your mind gets from the yoga, the more you’re able to make things happen simply by willing them to be. Which can get you into all sorts of trouble if you start using these powers. Especially in the early stages. Because you’re like a baby who has been given this extremely powerful (and volatile) toy to play around with. And I severely retarded my spiritual development because I couldn’t resist indulging on the occult level.

6) How do you think all this was created? Big bang, evolution, a higher power?Does your personal belief system help you act with higher standards of morals and behaviors? Was your first exposure to religion a positive one, or was it used as a judgment with unreachable standards or harsh punishment?

I believe God created this entire Universe in a blink of an eye, primarily for sport, for His own amusement and cosmic kicks. And one day God will blink his eye again and dissolve this entire Universe back to nothingness. And that the entire Universe is nothing less than the body of God Himself.

7) Do you think there’s only one “Right and true religion?” Can an atheist have a conscience and similar high moral integrity without religious rules or the punishment of purgatory, or hell?If you do believe in an afterlife or higher power, when did you first find your faith? Have you had more than one religion that you Identified with? Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

I think most of the world religions have something of value to offer. Different people feel comfortable with different religions depending on their temperament and cultural background. But there’s a common mystical thread that runs through most of them. And that’s the primary facet of religion that has always interested me. I started out primarily interested in Zen Buddhism (the satori experience) and Taoism. But was later drawn primarily to Vedanta.

I appreciate your questions. Spirituality isn’t something I talk about very much. It’s a personal thing with me. And not always easy to communicate with others about. And like I said, I primarily consider myself a spiritual seeker. So it’s not really my place to be a spiritual talker or teacher.

2002_10_16: Genius is pain. Yeah, but what in life ISN’T, you schmuck!

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There have been periods in my life where there was only one profound thought in my head that kept repeating itself over and over:

“I have been hurt almost beyond belief!”

I have gone through periods of almost unbearable agony and suffering. I suspect most people do. Nobody I know has gotten a free pass in this damn life.

But geez! I have gone through intense periods of such inner pain, it was like my soul was being permanently branded by the searing heat of it. I could literally feel my soul, my psyche, being warped out of shape by the pressure of it.

“Life is pain,” said the Buddha, and he was not fukking around. Or maybe he was. You don’t really like to think about it; about pain. Just as you don’t really feel like listening to somebody else bitching and whining about their problems, unless its done in a stylish, cathartic way, like “singing the blues”; or the pie-in-the-face suffering of comedy; or a case of somebody failing in a way that makes you feel successful by comparison (gee, I thought I had it bad, but that poor slob); or if you’re a soap opera junkie/tragedy queen who gets off on weeping and wailing for the suffering of the world….. But most other forms of suffering are dreary to think about. And usually we go out of our way to dodge it; to avoid dealing with it. Gimme a handful of codeines and a fifth of Jack Daniels. I’ll out-flank that damn suffering by hook or by crook.

But suffering has a way of exploding all over your soul in a way that demands: “DEAL WITH THIS, MUTHERFUKKER!!”

My Father was a Methodist minister and one of the perennial questions he had to deal with was the suffering of man; i.e. “Why me?” In fact, many of his parishioners came to him specifically in the hopes that he could heal their suffering or, at the least, give them a prescription from the Heavenly Doctor in the Sky.

One night when I was a kid, I remember my Dad getting a late-night phone call from one of his faithful parishioners. By the grave tone of his conversation, I could tell it was “serious.” My Dad kept repeating over and over: “Tsk! It just doesn’t make any sense! Geez!” It turned out the guy’s 18-year-old daughter had just died on the operating table while they were trying to deliver her baby. The guy kept asking my Dad that one unavoidable question:

“WHY WOULD GOD DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS?”

What can you say? “Gee, the Lord works in mysterious ways. Take two aspirins and call me in the morning….”

I know some people who get very bitter at God for interjecting the suffering bit into what otherwise was a very wonderful blueprint. “I mean, what’s the deal here, God?! I could be sitting here enjoying nectar and manna and lolling around on fields of golden grain for all of Eternity with nubile virgins with large breasts and endless supplies of Old English Malt Liquor. But no! You had to add this damn ‘suffering’ thing to the mix. Mind you, its not that I’m questioning the wisdom of Your over-all plan, Oh Great Lord, and praises be to You and all the rest of it, etc., etc. But geez Louise! What’s the deal with that suffering thing? I mean, plagues, and locusts, and cancer, and painful rectal itch, and bad TV sit-coms. Talk about over-kill. What were You thinking, Big Guy? And another thing: that death thing. I could have lived without that, too”

I know some people who get so warped by the pain of life, they take the attitude: “There is no God! No God in His right mind would create a world as sick as this!” Others get so pizzed, they refuse to believe in God out of spite: “I don’t care if You are the Heavenly Boss! I ain’t getting down on my knees to You! You can’t break me. You’ll never take me alive! Um….”

The Greeks and the Romans sort of had the attitude that the gods play with mortal man for sport. The Hindus take it one step further by maintaining that God Himself is playing all the roles, that you are God, and He really isn’t doing anything to anybody but Himself.

But one thing’s for sure: It’s mostly pain and suffering that drives us to the spiritual path in the first place. “No atheists in fox-holes,” that bit. I know when I’m sailing along in a fat and happy state, the last thing I want to be bothered with is wrestling with the existential issues of Life. It’s only when I’m driven to my knees in absolute despair that I truly start asking the fundamental spiritual questions. It’s not so much that I’m looking for Heaven. It’s more a matter of: “GET ME OUT OF THIS HELL!”

And maybe that’s part of the answer too: “Why suffer?” If life is basically a game. And the game is basically Get Back to God. Suffering is the prime game rule that keeps us from veering too far off course. Suffering snaps us back to attention right quick.

Also, too, to continue with the Cosmic Sport analogy: Take basketball. Sure, you want to win the game. But you also secretly want to lose, too. I mean; imagine if you won every time. That would get boring. Sure, you could design the hoop so its 100-feet around; every time you threw the ball up you’d get it in. Yes! I’m shooting 100%! But how much fun would that be? Secretly, we want to lose half the time. It’s what makes the game work. Secretly, we WANT a game that’s difficult and full of suffering and frustration. We want to be puzzled by it all; otherwise there’s no fun with figuring out the puzzle.

Maybe this all sounds stupid, but that’s the only “meaning of suffering” that I’ve been able to come up with. And now I’m done with this column. You know what they say: “I’ve suffered for my art; now it’s YOUR turn.”