Stages of Spiritual Evolution & Mysticism

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Vamadevananda

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Oct 26, 2007, 7:42:19 AM10/26/07
to Minds Eye
I have found the following material on one of the websites, which I
felt most active Group members ( including rationalists and atheists )
will find interesting, relevant and engaging. For instance, it rates
atheists as being at a higher spiritually evolved plane than
religionists.

Please check it out and see if you are stimulated, soothed or
enlightened by it :-


Just as there are discernible stages in human physical and
psychological growth, so there are stages in human spiritual
development. The most widely read scholar of the subject today is
James Fowler of Emory University, the writer of Stages of Faith: The
Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. But I first
came to an awareness of these stages through my own personal
experience.

The first of these experiences occurred within I was fourteen and
began attending Christian churches in the area. I was mainly
interested in checking out the girls but also in checking out what
this Christianity business seemed to be about.

I chose one particular church because it was only a few blocks down
the street and because the most famous preacher of the day was
preaching there. It was in the day before the "electronic church," but
this man's every sermon was broadcast over almost every radio
frequency across the country. At fourteen I had no trouble spotting
him as a fraud.

On the other hand, up the street in the opposite direction was another
church with a well-known minister-- not nearly as famous as the first
but still probably among the top thirty in the Who's Who of preachers
of the day - a Presbyterian named George Buttrick. And at age fourteen
I had no trouble spotting George Buttrick as a holy man, a true man of
God.

What was I to think of this with my young brain? Here was the best
known Christian preacher of the day, and as far as I could discern at
age fourteen, I was well ahead of him. Yet in the same Christian
religion was George Buttrick, who was obviously light years ahead of
me. It just didn't compute. So I concluded that this Christianity
business didn't make any sense, and I turned my back on it for the
next generation.

Another significant non computing experience occurred more gradually.
Over the course of a decade of practicing psychotherapy a strange
pattern began to emerge. If people who were religious came to me in
pain and trouble, and if they became engaged in the therapeutic
process, so as to go the whole route, they frequently left therapy as
atheists, agnostics, or at least skeptics. On the other hand, if
atheists, agnostics, or skeptics came to me in pain or difficulty and
became fully engaged, they frequently left therapy as deeply religious
people. Same therapy, same therapist, successful but utterly different
outcomes from a religious point of view. Again it didn't compute--
until I realized that we are not all in the same place spiritually.

With that realization came another: there is a pattern of progression
through identifiable stages in human spiritual life. I myself have
passed through them in my own spiritual journey. But here I will talk
about those stages only in general, for individuals are unique and do
not always fit nearly into my psychological or spiritual pigeonhole.

With that caveat, let me list my own understanding of these stages and
the names I have chosen to give them:


STAGE I : Chaotic, Antisocial.

Frequently pretenders; they pretend they are loving and pious,
covering up their lack of principles. Although they may pretend to be
loving (and think of themselves that way), their relationships with
their fellow human beings are all essentially manipulative and self-
serving. They really don't give a hoot about anyone else.

I call the stage chaotic because these people are basically
unprincipled. Being unprincipled, there is nothing that governs them
except their own will. And since the will from moment to moment can go
this way or that, there is a lack of integrity to their being. They
often end up, therefore in jails or find themselves in another form of
social difficulty. Some, however, may be quite disciplined in the
services of expediency and their own ambition and so may rise in
positions of considerable prestige and power, even to become
presidents or influential preachers.


STAGE II : Formal, Institutional, Fundamental.

Beginning the work of submitting themselves to principle - the law,
but they do not yet understand the spirit of the law, consequently
they are legalistic, parochial, and dogmatic. They are threatened by
anyone who thinks differently from them, as they have the "truth," and
so regard it as their responsibility to convert or save the other 90
or 99 percent of humanity who are not "true believers."

They are religious for clear cut answers, with the security of a big
daddy God and organization, to escape their fear of living in the
mystery of life, the mystery of uncertainty in the ever moving and
expanding unknown. Instead they choose the formulations, the
stagnation of prescribed methods and doctrines that spell out life and
attempt to escape fear. Yet these theological reasonings simply cover
over fear, hide their fear and they do not transcend it, despite their
individual acceptance in the expanding religious movement they
subscribe to.

Stage II individuals perceive all those outside of Stage II as Stage I
people, as they do not understand Stage III and Stage IV. Those who do
fall, reverting from Stage II to Stage I are called "backsliders."

There is a Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson
mentality (one-sided thinking - ignorance that produces hostility) in
every religion, the one - sidedness in every ideology. But
Christianity cannot be condemned, as being responsible, for the
fundamentalists who claim to represent it. One just has to look at
Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King, Jr. to see the opposite of such
thinking.

You can find the Falwell in Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism,
Mohammedism and of course Christianity. That is the narrow one - sided
exclusiveness that limits insight to one set of rules and one
objective truth, under their particular / literal logic or
rationalism, that fails to apprehend the unseen intuitive essence of
existence and ignorantly labels outsiders as misled sinners, while
surrounding themselves with interior neurotic and finite walls of
security and certainty. All is safe in this illusion, but all is not
just, nor fair, and does not transcend prejudice that surpasses tribal
identity, an identity that must be scrapped in order to bring higher
consciousness of planetary cultural peace and love based on principle
with intuitive insight.

There is also a Bin Laden (evil intolerance) in every religious
culture and teaching, in every social, political and cultural view.
Islam cannot be condemned as being responsible for the extreme
fundamentalists who incorporate harm and war. One just has to look at
the other side within Islam, to the Sufi's compassion and committment
for peace, that of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen or Hazrat Inayat Khan.

This evil of extreme fundamentalism resides in all facets of society,
those who would kill and destroy, torture and humiliate, all in the
name of their theological and ideological views. These extremists,
from moderate to extreme, are of Stage II mentality. They fail to
integrate with the wider community by their own non - acceptance of
others, and continue to restrict themselves to being within their own
one - dimensional perception.

And yet in each of these same cultures, there exist spiritually
evolved and mystical persons ( Stage IV ), although in minority, who
transmit inclusiveness and compassion and transcend all divisiveness
in the world.


STAGE III : Skeptic, Questioning Minds - atheists, agnostics and
scientists included.

These individuals demand measurable, well researched and logical
explanations. Although freqently non - believers," people in Stage III
are generally more spiritually developed than many who are content to
remain in Stage II.

Although individualistic, they are not the least bit antisocial. On
the contrary, they are often deeply involved in and committed to
social causes. They make up their own minds about things and are no
more likely to believe everything they read in the papers than to
believe it is necessary for someone to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and
Savior (as opposed to Buddha or Mao or Socrates) in order to be
saved.

They make loving, intensely dedicated parents. As skeptics they are
often intellectuals, and as such they are both principled and
disciplined. Indeed, what we call the scientific method is a
collection of conventions and procedures that have been designed to
combat our extraordinary capacity to deceive ourselves, in favour of
submission to something higher than our own immediate emotional or
intellectual comfort-- namely the truth.

Advanced Stage III men and women are active truth seekers.

Despite being scientifically minded, in many cases even atheists, they
are on a higher spiritual level than Stage II. Stage III is a required
stage of growth to be passed through before entry into Stage IV.

The age old dilemma of the Church : how to bring people from Stage II
to Stage IV, without allowing them to enter Stage III ?


STAGE IV : Mystic, Inclusive.

Out of love and commitment to the whole, using their ability to
transcend their backgrounds, culture and differentiating limitations,
they reach the notion of a world community and the possibility of
either transcending culture or -- depending on which way you want to
use the words -- belonging to a planetary culture. They are religious,
not looking for clear cut, proto type answers, but desiring to enter
into the mystery of uncertainty, living in the unknown.

The Christian mystic, as with all other mystics, Sufi and Zen alike,
through contemplation, meditation, reflection and prayer, see the
Christ, Gods indwelling Spirit or the Buddha nature, in all people,
including all the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews and so forth,
recognizing the connectedness of all humanity with God, never
separating oneself from others with doctrine and scripture,
recognizing that all scripture acts as fallible pointers of
inspiration, unable to capture the essence of truth outside of both
human perception and the linguistic straight jacket of language and
articulation.

That is, the words of fallible men who experienced the nature of God,
that of their inner true self, and attempted to record their
experience in human words, words constrained by the era of time they
were written in that became compromised the moment they were penned
and are further removed from objectivity when interpreted by us,
fallible men and women who read them. (Words in Blue Font Added)

It is as if the words of each had two different translations. In the
Christian example: "Jesus is my savior," Stage II often translates
this into a Jesus who is a kind of fairy godmother who will rescue us
whenever we get in trouble as long as we remember to call upon his
name. At Stage IV, "Jesus is my savior" is translated as "Jesus,
through his life and death, taught the way, not through virgin births,
cosmic ascensions, walking on water and blood sacrifice of
reconciliation - man with an external daddy Warbucks that lives in the
sky - mythological stories interpreted as literal accounts, but rather
as one loving the whole, the outcasts, overcoming prejudices,
incorporating inclusiveness and unconditional love, this, with the
courage to be as oneself - that is what I must follow for my
salvation." Two totally different meanings.

The Stage IV - the mystic - views the conception of "back sliding" as
the movement away from the collective consciousness and true inner
nature, returning to the separate self - the ego, as opposed to the
Stage II - the fundamentalist, whose conception of "back sliding," is
the movement away from mapped out security to that of chaos. Two
totally different views.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Most all young children and perhaps one in five adults fall into Stage
I. It is essentially a stage of undeveloped spirituality. I call it
antisocial because those adults who are in it (and those I have dared
to call "People of the Lie" are at its bottom) seem generally
incapable of loving others. Although they may pretend to be loving
(and think of themselves that way), their relationships with their
fellow human beings are all essentially manipulative and self-serving.
They really don't give a hoot about anyone else. I call the stage
chaotic because these people are basically unprincipled. Being
unprincipled, there is nothing that governs them except their own
will. And since the will from moment to moment can go this way or
that, there is a lack of integrity to their being. They often end up,
therefore in jails or find themselves in another form of social
difficulty. Some, however, may be quite disciplined in the services of
expediency and their own ambition and so may rise in positions of
considerable prestige and power, even to become presidents or
influential preachers.

>From time to time people in this stage get in touch with the chaos of
their own being, and when they do, I think it is the most painful
experience a human can have. Usually they just ride it out unchanged.
A few, I suspect, may kill themselves, unable to envision change. And
some, occasionally, convert to Stage II.

Such conversions are usually sudden and dramatic and, I believe, God-
given. It is as if God had reached down and grabbed that soul and
yanked it up a quantum leap. The process also seems to be an
unconscious one. It just seems to happen. But if it could be made
conscious, it might be as if the person said to himself. "Anything,
anything is preferable to this chaos. I am willing to do anything to
liberate myself from this chaos, even to submit myself to an
institution for my governance."

For some the institution may be a prison. Most people who have worked
in prisons know of a certain type of "model prisoner"--cooperative,
obedient, well disciplined, favored by both the inmates and the
administrative population. Because he is a model prisoner, he may soon
be paroled, and three days later he has robbed seven banks and
committed seventeen other felonies, so that he lands right back in
jail and with the walls of the institution to govern hi, he once again
becomes a "model prisoner."

For others the institution may be the military, where the chaos of
their lives is regulated by the rather gentle paternalistic-and even
maternalistic-structure of military society. for still others it might
be a corporation or some other rightly structured organization. But
for most, the institution to which they submit themselves for
governance is the Church.

There are several things that characterize the behavior of men and
women in Stage II of their spiritual development, which is the stage
of the majority of churchgoers and believers (as well as that of most
emotionally healthy "latency" period children). One is their
attachment to the forms (as opposed to the essence) of their religion,
which is why I call this stage "formal" as well as "institutional."
They are in fact sometimes so attached to the canons and the liturgy
that they become very upset if changes are made in the words or the
music or in the traditional order of things. It is for this reason
that there has been so much turmoil concerning the adoption of the new
Book of Common Prayer by the Episcopal Church or the changes brought
about by the Vatican II in the Catholic Church. Similar turmoil occurs
for similar reasons in the other denominations and religions. Since it
is precisely these forms that are responsible of their liberation from
chaos., it is no wonder that people at this stage of their spiritual
development become so threatened when someone seems to be playing
footloose and fancy-free with the rules.

Another thing characterizing the religious behavior of Stage II people
is that their vision of God is almost entirely that of an external,
transcendent Being. They have very little understanding of the
immanent, indwelling God--the God of the Holy Spirit or what Quakers
call the Inner Light. And although they often consider Him loving,
they also generally feel He possesses--and will use--punitive power.
But once again, it is no accident that their vision of God is that of
a giant benevolent Cop in the Sky, because that is precisely the kind
of God they need--just as they need a legalistic religion for their
governance.

Let us suppose now that two adults firmly rooted in Stage II marry and
have children. They will likely raise their children in a stable home,
because stability is a principal value for people in this stage. They
will treat their children with dignity as important beings, because
the Church tells them that children are important and should be
treated with dignity. Although their love may be a bit legalistic and
unimaginative at times, they will still generally treat them lovingly,
because the Church tells them to be loving and teaches something about
how to be loving. What happens to children raised in such a stable,
loving home, treated with importance and dignity (and taken to Sunday
school as well) is that they absorb the principles of Christianity as
if with their mother's milk--or the principles of Buddhism if raised
in a Buddhist home, or of Islam if raised in a Muslim home, and so on.
The principles of their parents religion are literally engraved on
their hearts or come to be what psychotherapists call "internalized."

But once these principles become internalized, such children, now
usually late-adolescents, have become self-governing human beings. As
such they are no longer dependent on an institution for their
governance. Consequently they begin to say to themselves, "Who needs
this fuddy-duddy old Church with its silly superstitions?" At this
point they begin to convert to Stage III - the skeptic, individual.
And to their parents great but unnecessary chagrin, they often become
atheists or agnostics.

Although frequently "nonbelievers," people in Stage III are generally
more spiritually developed than many content to remain in Stage II.
Although individualistic, they are not the least bit antisocial. To
the contrary, they are often deeply in involved in and committed to
social causes. They make up their own minds about things and are no
more likely to believe everything they read in the papers than to
believe it is necessary for someone to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and
Savior (as opposed to Buddha or Mao or Socrates) in order to be saved.
They make loving, intensely dedicated parents. As skeptics they are
often scientists, and as such they are again highly submitted to
principle. Indeed, what we call the scientific method is a collection
of conventions and procedures that have been designed to combat our
extraordinary capacity to deceive ourselves in the interest of
submission to something higher than our own immediate emotional or
intellectual comfort--namely truth. Advanced Stage III men and women
are active truth seekers.

"Seek and you shall find," it has been said. If people in Stage III
seek truth deeply and widely enough, they find what they are looking
for--enough pieces to begin to be able to fit them together, but never
enough to complete the whole puzzle. In fact, the more pieces they
find, the larger and more magnificent the puzzle becomes. Yet they are
able to get glimpses of the "big picture" and to see that it is very
beautiful indeed--and that it strangely resembles those "primitive
myths and superstitions" their Stage II parents or grandparents
believe in. At that point they begin their conversion to Stage IV,
which is the mystic communal stage of spiritual development.

There are those in Stage III who will not progress to Stage IV - that
is, anything that is beyond the empirical data and observation of
analysis. All intuitive knowledge, all experience outside of
scientific measurement and factual construction is rejected, as the
Greek frame of mind of intellectual analysis is favored and the Hindu
frame of mind, that of the essence of inexpressible "being," and
"existence," is rejected as fallacious. A perfect example is that of
Alfred Jules Ayer in his 1936 book entitled, Language, Truth & Logic.
Here Ayer concludes:

"We conclude, therefore, that the argument from religious experience
is altogether fallacious. The fact that people have religious
experiences is interesting from the psychological point of view, but
it does not in any way imply that there is such a thing as religious
knowledge, any m ore than our having moral experiences implies that
there is such a thing as moral knowledge. The theist, like the
moralist, may believe that his experiences are cognitive experiences,
but, unless he can formulate his "knowledge" in propositions that are
empirically verifiable, we may be sure that he is deceiving himself.
It follows that these philosophers who fill their books with
assertions that they intuitively "know" this or that moral or
religious "truth" are merely providing material for the psycho-
analyst. For no act of intuition can be said to reveal a truth about
any matter of fact unless it issues in verifiable propositions. And
all such propositions are to be incorporated in the system of
empirical propositions which constitutes science." (1)

While it may be truth that any religious or metaphysical experience
and intuitive knowledge can never be used to create codes and
precepts, it cannot be emphatically true that these insights or
perceptional awareness can be rejected as fallacious to ambiguous
reality and naked truth, that which rests outside of mental
interpretive filters, and most certainly beyond scientific
measurement. This must be embraced, that of emptiness, in order to
progress to Stage IV awareness.

For those of us in professional ministry and studying in seminary, we
spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the rational element in
religion- we can't seem to avoid it in the West. But no amount of
Aquinas will ever serve to explain the true meaning of religious
experience. Reading Aquinas is like studying a technical manual of
spirituality- it destroys the very meaning of it. Rudolph Otto, in his
book, The Idea of the Holy, writes a brief work here outlining the
main points of his theory- that religion can't be understood and never
can be as an empirical study- it is beyond our sense horizon. Religion
is to be savored, felt- not thought about or deconstructed, like,
taking an engine apart. What Otto, in other words, tries to do is to,
rather than studying how a flower produces a pleasing scent and how we
perceive it, says STOP and just smell the rose- and you'll understand
in an instant. This is the experience beyond what Ayer requires, the
verifiable propositions.

As a Lutheran, Otto understood the Catholic sacramental theology very
well-that a sacrament is an outward sign of an inner grace or reality,
and that signs and symbols work hand in hand- a sign points to a
reality ahead, like a clap of thunder signifies a storm. A symbol
conveys within itself the very reality it is expressing- for example,
perhaps the greatest being a kiss between husband and wife- the
reality is perfectly conveyed in the symbolic action itself, without
further clarification. THAT is experience, true spirituality, what he
means by the numinous, as applied. It is thus existential. Too much
wasted time and energy is spent in Greek thought, that of the West, as
much could be spared by understanding Otto's presentation of the
"holy, " as years of theology could be distilled to the contents of
such books as that of Otto's.

The mystical experience can be described as having various dimensions,
the 4th being described by Lex Hixon as

"In the fourth dimension, nothing is excluded from our contemplation.
Primal radiance and the infinite expressions of Life are fused. Our
ishtadeva or Archetype is everywhere. The holy sacraments of all
cultures have become our sacraments, the ways of all beings have
become our ways. Every content of consciousness proclaims the fusion
of forms and the formless radiance that is their essence. At this
moment, with open eyes, each of us is directly perceiving the fusion
of all phenomena as primal radiance. It is not simply a contemplative
notion. Even our physical senses, functioning in an ordinary manner,
record this fusion. All is fusion. The four dimensions are one." (2)

THE FOUR DIMENSIONS OF CONTEMPLATION: 1) Contemplating a Divine form,
2) loss of self in Divine form or presence itself, 3) Both self and
Divine form or presence disappears and finally, 4) The primal radiance
reveals itself as all patterns of Being, which reappear in an eternal
stream, flowing from the core of the particular ishtadeva or Archetype
that we are one.

In addition to other cultural mystical experiences, there are the 10
stages of kensho as described in the Ox Herding calligraphy in Zen
Buddhism.

"Mysticism," a much-maligned word, is not an easy one to define. It
takes many forms. yet through the ages, mystics of every shade of
religious belief have spoke of unity, of an underlying connectedness
between things; between men and women, between us and the other
creatures and even inanimate matter as well, a fitting together
according to an ordinarily invisible fabric underlying the cosmos.
Remember the experience when, during community, I suddenly saw my
previously hated neighbor as myself. Smelling his dead cigar butts and
hearing his guttural snoring, I was filled with utter distaste for him
until that strange mystical moment when I saw myself sitting in his
chair and realized he was the sleeping part of me and I the waking
part of him. We were suddenly connected. More than connected, we were
integral parts of the same unity.

Mysticism also obviously has to do with mystery. Mystics acknowledge
the enormity of the unknown, but rather than being frightened by it,
they seek to penetrate ever deeper into it that they may understand
more--even with the realization that the more they understand, the
greater the mystery will become. They love mystery, in dramatic
contrast to those in Stage II, who need simple, clear-cut dogmatic
structures and have little taste for the unknown and unknowable. While
Stage IV men and women will enter religion in order to approach
mystery, people in Stage II, to a considerable extent, enter religion
in order to escape from it. Thus there is the confusion of people
entering not only into religion, but into the same religion--and
sometimes the same denomination--not only for different motives, but
for totally opposite motives. It makes no sense until we come to
understand the roots of religious pluralism in terms of developmental
stages.

Finally, mystics throughout the ages have not only spoken of emptiness
but extolled its virtues. I have labeled Stage IV communal as well as
mystical not because all mystics or even a majority of them live in
communes but because among human beings they are the ones most aware
that the whole world is a community and realize that what divides us
into warring camps is precisely the lack of this awareness. Having
become practiced at emptying themselves of preconceived notions and
prejudices and able to perceive the invisible underlying fabric that
connects everything, they do not think in terms of factions or blocs
or even national boundaries; they know this to be one world.

There are of course many gradations within and between the four stages
of spiritual development. We actually have a name of the person
between Stage I and II: the backslider. This is the kind of man (we
will use men for our example for the sake of simplicity: women also
fall in between but tend to have slightly more subtle styles of doing
so) who drinks, gambles, and leads a generally dissolute existence
until some good Stage II folk come along and have a chat with him and
he is saved. For the next two years he leads a sober and righteous and
God-fearing life until one day his found back in a bar, a brothel, or
at the racetrack. He is saved a second time, but once again he
backslides, and continues bouncing back and forth between Stage I and
Stage II.

Similarly, people bounce back and forth between Stage II and Stage
III. There is the kind of man, for example, who says to himself: "it
isn't that I don't believe in God anymore, the trees, the flowers and
the clouds are so beautiful that obviously no human intelligence could
have crated them; some divine intelligence must have set it all in
motion billions of years ago, but it's just as beautiful out on the
golf course on Sunday morning as it is in church, and I can worship my
god just as well there." Which he does for a few years until his
business undergoes a mild reversal, and in panic he says to himself,
"Oh, my God, I haven't been praying." So back to church he goes for a
couple of more years until there is an upturn in the economy (for all
I know because he's been praying so hard), and gradually he begins to
slip back out onto his Stage III golf course again.

Similarly, we see people bouncing back and forth between Stage III and
Stage IV. A neighbor of mine was one such person. By day Michael
expressed his highly analytic mind with brilliant accuracy and
precision, and he was just about the dullest human being I have ever
had to listen to. Occasionally in the evening, however, after he had
drunk a bit of whisky or smoked a little marijuana, Michael would
begin to talk of life and death and meaning and glory and become
"spirit filled," and I would sit listening at his feet enthralled. But
the next day he would exclaim apologetically, "God, I don't know what
got into me last night; I was saying the stupidest things. I've got to
stop smoking grass and drinking." I do not mean to bless the use of
drugs for such purposes but simply to state the reality that in his
case they loosened him up enough to flow in the direction he was being
called, from which in the cold light of day he retreated back in
terror to the "rational" safety of Stage III.

Perhaps, predictably, there exists a sense of threat among people in
the different stages of religious development. Mostly we are
threatened by people in the stages above us. Although they often adopt
the pretense of being "cool cats" who have it "all together,"
underneath their exteriors Stage I people are threatened by just about
everything and everyone. Stage II people are not threatened by Stage I
people, the "sinners." They are commanded to love sinners, but they
are very threatened by the individualists and skeptics of Stage III,
and even more by the mystics of Stage IV, who seem to believe in the
same sorts of things they do but believe in them with a freedom they
find absolutely terrifying. Stage III people, on the other hand, are
neither threatened by Stage I people nor by Stage II people (whom they
simply regard as superstitious), but are cowed by Stage IV people, who
seem to be scientific minded like themselves and know how to write
good footnotes, yet somehow still believe in this crazy God business.

It is extremely important for teachers, healers, and ministers (and we
are all of us teachers, healers, and ministers whether we like it or
not; our only choice is whether to be good teachers, healers, and
ministers or bad ones) to be cognizant of this sense of threat between
people in the different stages of this sense of threat between people
in the different stages of spiritual growth. Much of the art of being
a good teacher, healer, or minister consists largely in staying just
one step ahead of your patients, clients, or pupils. If you are not
ahead, it is unlikely that you will be able to lead then anywhere, but
if you are two steps ahead, it is likely that you will lose them. If
people are one step ahead of us, we usually admire them. If they are
two steps ahead of us, we usually think they are evil. That's why
Socrates and Jesus were killed; they were thought to be evil.

Similarly, it is very difficult to reach down two or more steps. For
this reason a Stage IV person, even though advanced himself or
herself, will not be the best therapist for many. Generally speaking,
Stage II people and programs offer the best therapy for Stage I
people. Psychiatrists and psychologists in this country - primarily a
Stage III group - have generally served their culture well as guides
for those making the journey out of a dependent Stage II mentality.
Stage IV therapists do best leading highly independent people toward a
recognition of the mystical interdependence of this world. Most all of
us are pulling someone up with one hand while we ourselves are being
pulled up by the other.

An understanding of the stages of spiritual development is important
for building community. A group of only Stage IV people or only Stage
III people or only Stage II people is, of course, not so much a
community as a clique. A true community will likely include people of
all stages. With this understanding, it is possible for people in
different stages to transcend the sense of threat that divides them
and to become a true community.

In my experience the most dramatic example of this possibility
occurred in a relatively small community-building group I led several
years ago. To this two-day group of twenty-five there came ten
fundamentalist, Stage II Christians, five Stage III atheists with
their own guru - a brilliant, highly rational trial lawyer - and ten
Stage IV mystical Christians. There were moments I despaired that we
would never make it into community. The fundamentalists were furious
that I, their supposed leader, smoked and drank and vigorously
attempted to heal me of my hypocrisy and addiction. The mystics
equally vigorously challenged the fundamentalists sexism intolerance
and other forms of rigidity. Both of course were utterly dedicated to
converting the atheists. The atheists in turn, sneered at the
arrogance of us Christians in even daring to think that we had gotten
hold of some kind of truth. Nonetheless, after approximately twelve
hours of the most intense struggle together to empty ourselves of our
intolerances, we became able to let one another be, each in his or her
own stage. And we became a community. But we could not have done so
without the cognitive awareness of the different stages of spiritual
development and the realization that we were not all "in the same
place," and that that was literally all right.

My experience suggests that this progression of spiritual development
holds true in all cultures and for all religions. Indeed, one of the
things that seems to characterized all the great religions--
Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism--is their
capacity to speak to people in both Stage II and Stage IV. In fact, I
suspect this is why they are great religions. It is as if the words of
each had two different translations. Let us take a Christian example.
"Jesus is my savior." At Stage II this is often translated into a
Jesus who is a kind of fairy godmother who will rescue me whenever I
get in trouble as long as I remember to call upon his name. And that's
true. He will do just that. At Stage IV, "Jesus is my savior" is
translated as "Jesus, through his life and death, taught me the way I
must follow for my salvation." Which is also true. Two totally
different meanings, but both of them true.

Again in my experience, the four stages of spiritual development also
represent a paradigm for healthy psychological development. We tend to
be born Stage I creatures. If the home into which we are born is
stable and secure, by mid childhood we have become law-abiding, rule-
following people. If the home at all supports and encourages our
uniqueness and independence, in adolescence we routinely question the
laws, the rules, and the myths as budding skeptics. And if the natural
forces of growth that lead us to question are not excessively resisted
by threats of damnation from church or parents, after a while, in
adulthood we slowly begin to understand the meaning and spirit that
underlie the letter of the myth and the letter of the law. They may,
however, be destructive forces in the home environment which causes
people to become "fixated" in one stage or another. Conversely there
are rare, difficult to explain cases of people who develop further and
faster than would be expected. The wonderful and probably accurate
book Mister God, This Is Anna, for instance, described a seven year-
old girl already well into Stage IV, despite a presumably chaotic
early childhood.

It is also important to remember that no matter how far we develop
spiritual, we retain in ourselves vestiges of the previous stages
through which we have come, just as we retain our vestigial appendix.
I don't suppose I could be writing this were I not basically a kind of
Stage IV person. But I can assure you that there exists a Stage I
Scott Peck, who at the first sign of any significant stress is quite
tempted to lie and cheat and steal. I keep him well encased, I hope,
in a rather comfortable cell, so that he won't be let loose upon the
world. And I am able to do this only because I acknowledge his
existence, which is what Jungian psychologists mean by the
"integration of the Shadow." Indeed, I do not attempt to kill him, if
for no other reason than that I need to go down into the dungeon from
time to time and consult him, safely ensconced behind the bars, when I
am in need of a particular kind of "street smarts." Similarly, there
is a Stage II Scott Peck, who in moments of stress and fatigue would
very much like to have a Big Brother or Big Daddy around who would
give him some clear-cut, black-and-white answers to life's difficult,
ambiguous dilemmas and some formulas to tell him how to behave,
relieving him of the responsibility of figuring it all out for himself
And there is a Stage III Scott Peck, who if invited to address a
prestigious scientific assembly, under the stress of such an occasion
would want to regress to thinking. Well, I better just talk to them
about carefully controlled, measurable studies and not mention any of
this God business.

The development of the individual through these spiritual or religious
stages is that process to which we most properly give the name
conversion. I have mentioned that conversions from Stage I to Stage II
are usually sudden and dramatic conversions from Stage III to Stage IV
are generally gradual. The first time I ever spoke of these stages was
at a symposium in conjunction with the psychologist Paul Vitz, author
of Psychology as Religion. During the question and answer period Paul
was asked when he had become a Christian. He scratched his head for a
moment and said bemusedly, "Let's see; it was somewhere between 1972
and 1976." Compare this with the more familiar image of the man who
will tell you: "It was at eight-thirty in the evening of the
seventeenth of August!"

It is during the process of conversion from Stage III to Stage IV that
people generally first become conscious that there is such a thing as
spiritual growth. There is a potential pitfall in this consciousness,
however, and that is the notion some have at this point that they
themselves can direct the process. "If I take a bit of Sufi dancing
here," they tell themselves, "and visit a Trappist monastery there,
and do a bit of Zen meditation as well, along with some zest, I will
reach nirvana." But that's not how it operates, as the myth of Icarus
tells us. Icarus wanted to reach the sun (which symbolizes God). So
out of feathers and wax he built himself a pair of wings. But as soon
as he even began to get close to the sun, its heat melted his man-made
wings and he plummeted to his destruction. One meaning of this myth, I
believe, is that we cannot get to God under our own steam. We must
allow God to do the directing.

In any case, whether sudden or gradual, no mater how different in
other respects, Stages I to II and Stages III to IV conversions do
have one thing in common: a sense on the part of the persons converted
that their own conversions were not something they themselves achieved
but rather gifts from God. Certainly I can say of my own gradual
Stages III to IV conversion that I was not smart enough to find my way
alone.

As a part of the process of spiritual growth, the transition from
Stage II to Stage III is also a conversion. We can be converted to
atheism or agnosticism or, at least, skepticism! Indeed, I have every
reason to believe that God has a hand in this part of the conversion
process as well. One of the greatest challenges, in fact, facing the
Church, is how to facilitate the conversion of its members from Stage
II to Stage IV without them having to spend a whole adult lifetime in
Stage III. It is a challenge that the Church has historically avoided
rather than begun to face. As far as I am concerned, one of the two
greatest sins of our sinful Christian Church has been its
discouragement through the ages, of doubt. In so doing, it has
consistently driven growing people out of its potential community,
often fixating them thereby in a perpetual resistance to spiritual
insights. Conversely, the Church is not going to meet this challenge
until doubt is properly considered a Christian virtue--indeed a
Christian responsibility. We neither can, nor should skip over
questioning in our development.

In fact it is only through the process of questioning that we begin to
become even dimly aware that the whole point of life is development of
the soul. As I said, the notion that we can totally direct this
development is a pitfall of such awareness. But the beauty of the
consciousness that we are all on an ongoing spiritual journey and that
there is no end to our conversion far outshines that one pitfall. for
once we become aware that we are on a journey--that we are all
pilgrims--for the first time we can actually begin to cooperate
consciously with God in the process. This is why Paul Vitz, at the
symposium I mentioned, correctly told the audience: "I think Scott's
stages have a good idea of validity, and I suspect that I shall be
using them in my practice, but I want you to remember that what Scotty
calls Stage IV is the beginning.


TRANSCENDING CULTURE

The process of spiritual development I have described is highly
analogous to the development of community. Stage I people are
frequently pretenders: they pretend they are loving and pious,
covering up their lack of principles. The first, primitive stage of
group formation--pseudocommunity--is similarly characterized to
pretense. The group tries to look like a community without doing any
of the work involved.

Stage II people have begun the work of submitting themselves to
principle--the law, but they do not yet understand the spirit of the
law. Consequently they are legalistic, parochial, and dogmatic. They
are threatened by anyone who thinks differently from them, and so
regard as their responsibility to convert or save the other 99 percent
of humanity who are not "true believers." It is this same style of
functioning that characterizes the second stage of the community
process in which the group members, rather then accepting one another
try vehemently to fix on another. The chaos that results is not unlike
that existing among the various feuding denominations or sects within
or between the world's different religions.

Stage III, a phase of questioning, is analogous to the crucial stage
of emptiness in community formation. In reaching for community the
members of a group must question themselves, "Is my particular
theology so certain--so true and complete--as to justify my conclusion
that these other people are not saved?," they may ask. Or, "I wonder
to what extent my feelings about homosexuals represent a prejudice
bearing little relation to the reality?" Or, "Could I have swallowed
the party line in thinking that all religious people are fanatics?"
Indeed, such questioning is the required beginning of the emptying
process. We cannot succeed in emptying ourselves of preconceptions,
prejudices, needs to control or convert, and so forth, without first
becoming skeptical of them and without doubting their necessity.
Conversely, individuals remain stuck in Stage III precisely because
they do not doubt deeply enough. To enter Stage IV they must begin to
empty themselves of some of the dogmas of skepticism such as:
"Anything that can't be measured scientifically can't be known and
isn't worth studying." They must begin to doubt even their own doubt.

Does this mean, then, that a true community is a group of all Stage IV
people? Paradoxically the answer is yes and no. It is no because the
individual members are hardly capable of growing so rapidly as to
totally discard their customary styles of thinking when they return
from the group to their usual worlds. But it is yes because in
community the members have learned how to behave in a Stage IV manner
in relation to one another. Among themselves, they all practice the
kind of emptiness, acceptance, and inclusiveness that have
characterized the behavior of mystics throughout the ages. They retain
their basic identity as Stages I, II, III, or IV individuals. Indeed
knowledge of these stages is in part so important because it
facilitates the acceptance of one another as being in different stages
-- different places spiritually. Such acceptance is a perquisite for
community. But wonderfully, once such acceptance is achieved--and it
can be achieved only through emptiness--Stage I, II, and III men and
women routinely possess the capacity to act toward one another as if
they were Stage IV people. In other words, out of love and community
to the whole, virtually all of us are capable of transcending our
backgrounds and limitations. So it is genuine community is so much
more than the sum of its parts. It is, in truth, a mystical body.

The individual journey through the stages of spiritual development is
also a journey in and out of culture. Erich Fromm once defined
socialization as the process of "learning to like to do what we have
to do." It is what happens when we learn to feel natural about going
to the bathroom in the toilet. The conversion from Stage I to Stage II
is essentially a leap of socialization or enculturation. It is that
point at which we first adopt the values of our tribal, cultural
religion and begin to make them our own. Just as Stage II people tend
to be threatened, however, by any questioning of their religious
dogmas, so they are also "culture-bound"--utterly convinced that the
way things are done in their culture is the right and only way. And
just as people entering Stage III begin to question the religious
doctrines with which they were raised, so they also begin to question
all the cultural values of the society into which they were born.
Finally, as they begin to reach for Stage IV, they also begin to reach
toward the notion of world community and the possibility of either
transcending culture or -- depending on which way you want to use the
words -- belonging to a planetary culture.

Aldous Huxley labeled mysticism "the perennial philosophy" because the
mystical way of thinking and being has existed in all cultures and all
times since the dawn of recorded history. Although a small minority,
mystics of all religions the world over have demonstrated an amazing
commonality, unity. Unique though they might be in their individual
personhood, they have largely escaped free from -- transcended --
those human differences that are cultural.

donnadonne

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Oct 26, 2007, 5:40:49 PM10/26/07
to Minds Eye
Yeah, the stairway to heaven theory ... a nerverending story

Lonlaz

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Oct 26, 2007, 5:56:18 PM10/26/07
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I've just barely skimmed this, and I'll try to read it later. I find
ranking people by spiritual belief pretty distasteful, though. I know
some very kind, and what I would consider spiritually superior
Christians. I'm quite sure there are some very 'saintly' Athiests/
Humanists.

I believe the 'better' person is the one who treats others better, not
the one who has a superior philosophy.

Pat

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Oct 26, 2007, 9:12:15 PM10/26/07
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But, surely having a superior philosophy--if it were truly superior--
would lead to treating others better. If the philosophy is there, the
actions should be there; equally, if the actions are there, it's
evidence of a superior philosophy. This is a clear example of the
actions being "the fruit" of the philosophical tree that Jesus was on
about in our other discussion.

Vamadevananda

unread,
Oct 27, 2007, 1:28:49 AM10/27/07
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It is not ranking people, only marking their stage of spiritual
development.

Vamadevananda

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Oct 27, 2007, 1:31:10 AM10/27/07
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Only, this stairway leads to no heaven but to your Self.

> ...
>
> read more »- Hide quoted text -
>
> - Show quoted text -

Lonlaz

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Oct 27, 2007, 9:55:15 AM10/27/07
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I'm stepping into new territory for myself, so bear with me if I'm a
bit clumsy expressing myself. Philosophy for me has never been about
being 'good' or being 'bad'. It has been about making sense of the
world. For me it's about building some 'solid' ground on which I can
stand and have a vantage to understand things that are going on around
me.

That being said, I'll direct the rest of my answer to Vamadevananda.
You have a good point, but that begs the question, what is the
difference between a spiritually advanced person, and a not so
spiritually advanced person? Are they more 'good'? If not, what is
the point? And I'm not so much asking you these questions, but
myself, like I said, I've never actively considered this question.

Andrew Andrew

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Oct 27, 2007, 2:32:54 AM10/27/07
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salaams, V
 
I nearly finished it but wanted to write back while there was a chance you'd still be around...
I have to say that it is one of the most enjoyable pieces that I have read in this group... i feel that there is a proportionally significant amount of truth (a valuable and rare currency) there.
Isn't there an analogous relationship between the four stages of spiritual conditions and the four
dimensions of contemplation where the latter could be considered end states of experience of the former?

Vamadevananda

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Oct 29, 2007, 12:34:15 AM10/29/07
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Being spiritually more advanced ... ?

It could mean many things, in terms of range and variety. But at its
core, even beyond good and bad issues, it is about being True, about
living in Truth, about living in a state of peace with yourself,
happiness, forgiveness, kindness, love ... and in a state of freedom
from your own baser, corrupting or destructive drives - inclinations
and propensities.

> > about in our other discussion.- Hide quoted text -

Vamadevananda

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Oct 29, 2007, 12:44:52 AM10/29/07
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Life is a far too dynamic and, consequently, chaotic to fall within
any one sytem of thought, conception or philosophy. There are
constantly churning whirls, swirls and eddies in our lives every
moment ... ruling out a linear passage from one stage to another, or
arriving / staying put at one end state of one stage and then
proceeding to another ( I have deliberately avoided use of the word :
next ).

I would respond further once you indicate if the above is contextual
to your message.

On Oct 27, 11:32 am, "Andrew Andrew" <aswat.min.al....@gmail.com>
wrote:


> salaams, V
>
> I nearly finished it but wanted to write back while there was a chance you'd
> still be around...
> I have to say that it is one of the most enjoyable pieces that I have read
> in this group... i feel that there is a proportionally significant amount of
> truth (a valuable and rare currency) there.
> Isn't there an analogous relationship between the four stages of spiritual
> conditions and the four
> dimensions of contemplation where the latter could be considered end states
> of experience of the former?
>

Lore Weaver

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Oct 29, 2007, 8:23:56 AM10/29/07
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This the stage approach to spirituality is valid only if you look at
it as the creator of this system intended it.

Dr. Scott Peck is a Psychologist. He describes these stages in an
attempt to describe the progression of the mind in approaching the
mystical Truth about life.

He looks at religion as merely the language in which one articulates
spiritual Truth.
Therefore, we should not see this system as ranking seekers, but as
understanding the psycho/spiritual tendencies they exhibit.

Shine forth the Light.

> including all the ...
>
> read more »

Pat

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Oct 30, 2007, 7:46:05 AM10/30/07
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On 27 Oct, 13:55, Lonlaz <lonlaza...@gmail.com> wrote:
> I'm stepping into new territory for myself, so bear with me if I'm a
> bit clumsy expressing myself. Philosophy for me has never been about
> being 'good' or being 'bad'. It has been about making sense of the
> world. For me it's about building some 'solid' ground on which I can
> stand and have a vantage to understand things that are going on around
> me.
>

Yes, and how we make sense of the world, how we understand our
relationship with the universe--our philosophy--will lead us to act in
certain ways. As I said, good and evil are perceptions and don't
really exist; but that doesn't mean that there aren't 'ways of
behaving' that produce superior results when compared to others.
Thus, when we compare, we will see some as better and our view, once
again, has created good.

> That being said, I'll direct the rest of my answer to Vamadevananda.
> You have a good point, but that begs the question, what is the
> difference between a spiritually advanced person, and a not so
> spiritually advanced person? Are they more 'good'? If not, what is
> the point? And I'm not so much asking you these questions, but
> myself, like I said, I've never actively considered this question.
>
> On Oct 26, 8:12 pm, Pat <PatrickDHarring...@hotmail.com> wrote:
>
>
>
> > But, surely having a superior philosophy--if it were truly superior--
> > would lead to treating others better. If the philosophy is there, the
> > actions should be there; equally, if the actions are there, it's
> > evidence of a superior philosophy. This is a clear example of the
> > actions being "the fruit" of the philosophical tree that Jesus was on

> > about in our other discussion.- Hide quoted text -

Lonlaz

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Oct 30, 2007, 2:26:43 PM10/30/07
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Okay, I actually read the article I was questioning previously. It
was a very good read, and it definitely had the ring of truth. I
found myself catagorizing people in my head, after reading this, and
it gave me some insight into their thought. It also reminded me the
different steps in the road that I have taken.

It seems to emphasize that advancement in this road is essentialy
learning how to get away from your ego, including its expectations on
the universe.

Lonlaz

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Oct 30, 2007, 2:45:50 PM10/30/07
to Minds Eye

> > > But, surely having a superior philosophy--if it were truly superior--
> > > would lead to treating others better. If the philosophy is there, the
> > > actions should be there; equally, if the actions are there, it's
> > > evidence of a superior philosophy. This is a clear example of the
> > > actions being "the fruit" of the philosophical tree that Jesus was on
> > > about in our other discussion.

You know, this really brings quite a bit together for me. Sometimes I
know something intellectually, like having a piece of a puzzle. But I
don't actually *know* anything until I find where that piece fits in
the whole picture.

I have always envisioned the universe as many mirrors reflecting God
at different angles, and depending on where you stand you only get to
see a piece of what 'is'. Depending on where you stand, some mirrors
are 'dim', and some mirrors are 'bright' (watered down Zoroastrian
terms). I have always been looking for that one special place where
all the mirrors are 'light'. I suppose this place of 'superior
philosophy'. And I suppose this makes me a Class III seeker. :)

Vamadevananda

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Oct 30, 2007, 11:57:42 PM10/30/07
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Felt great reading your post ! You are speaking of substantial
aspects of Being.
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