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Introduction to this Issue

The Modern Spiritual Predicament
by Andrew Cohen

Andrew Cohen

The philosophical climate in the modern spiritual marketplace where East meets West is and has been for some time now somewhat like the weather in California: very pleasant. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right. This climate is pleasant because it is comfortable. And it is precisely because it is so comfortable that it has become so popular. In this climate comfort has become more relevant than truth and, because of this, over time many ideas have become sacred in order to ensure that no clouds will appear in an otherwise blue sky. There is a status quo in the alternative spiritual subculture and it has its own laws, its own commandments and its own tenets. And while it is obviously very important that more and more of us find ourselves being drawn to embrace the spiritual dimension of life, as long as we do not closely examine for ourselves what that dimension actually is, it will be all too easy for us to draw conclusions about that dimension that may ultimately reveal themselves to be insubstantial.

As the current interest in the spiritual dimension of life continues to grow, now even beginning to enter the mainstream, simultaneously it seems that the deeper implications of spiritual revelation are increasingly becoming submerged beneath the prevailing climate of pleasant feelings, naive expectations and too-often sentimental hopes and dreams. In the midst of this current surge of interest, all-important distinctions that help us find our way have become blurred. It would seem for example (if you read all the fine print) that meditation and massage therapy, self-inquiry and a vegetarian diet, a weekend intensive and full monastic ordination all lead us, sooner or later, to the same place. The crucial distinction between self-improvement and self-annihilation (enlightenment) is more and more becoming obscured. And the most significant result of this is that the distinction between the sacred and the mundane is becoming lost.

As the spiritual marketplace is flooded with ever more information about the most esoteric and profoundly subtle reaches of human consciousness, it is worth noting that instead of a greater reverence for that which is unfathomable, intellectual overfamiliarity has created an environment that is more casual than truly awake with regard to that which is sacred. While greater interest has undoubtedly created more sympathy for the spiritual dimension of life in general, we should not assume automatically that there is equally greater interest in real depth.

One of the most fundamental commandments of the spiritual status quo of the time we are living in is "Thou shalt not judge," which is really only a fear of making important distinctions. The light of truth unfettered by hope, superstition and sentimentality is ruthless in its absolute simplicity. Succumbing in any way to fear of its austerity automatically will distort its reflection in this world. Reluctance to draw conclusions for fear of making judgments, coupled with attachment to pleasing beliefs, creates an environment that allows little room for real depth.

Direct realization of that profound wisdom which has the power to destroy ignorance requires enormous courage and rare independence of spirit. Sustaining that realization demands an ever wakeful readiness to question our experience in such a way that would leave little room for falsehood.


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This article is from
Our Modern Spiritual Predicament Issue