Non-Spiritual Spirituality

dora's picture

Average: 4.7 (7 votes)

A few years ago, I took a 10-day Vipassana course. At the end of the retreat, I have noticed a surprising strange phenomenon: Some "hardcore" senior Vipassana meditators which evidently seemed during the retreat as truly advanced, as soon as the official retreat ended and thus talking started, they happened to switch immediately to unconscious behavior with their egos inflated to monstrous propositions. I was puzzled by the acute contradiction. Later, I realized that our tricky mind uses our formal definitions of spiritual and non-spiritual to gain back control as soon as we exit the perceived spiritual context.

Non-spiritual Spirituality means that spiritual sadhana (practice) is not (and should not be) limited to official spiritual places or events such as ashrams, satsangs, temples, retreats and so on.

As a matter of fact, contexts and situations which are non-spiritual by definition provide many times a more challenging and productive environment for true spiritual work and awareness. Official spiritual locations are many times designed to be artificially sterile and isolated and thus can provide a very limited spectrum of situations that instigate conflicts and subsequently trigger old reaction patterns, conditioning, questions and deep doubts which we can observe in real time and thus are so essential כםר our spiritual process.

Mighty God is not confined to the temple so why should we?

Confining our spiritual practice and thus awareness to official spiritual situations only we therefore commit a three-fold misfortunate error:

First, we miss the rich supply of opportunities for spiritual lessons that the outer ordinary world provides.

Second, we maintain by this confinement a terrible basic unconscious ignorant view according to which "god is confined to the temple". This view, unnoticeably, reflects on our overall understanding of reality.

Third and worst of all, by limiting our spirituality to certain spiritual places we let ourselves sink into ignorant unconsciousness as soon as we leave the spiritual place, saying "I did enough for today" or "no need for any special spiritual effort of awareness where there is no spirituality". Then immediately our mind is getting back happily into control with its automatic old reaction patterns and conditioning, potentially rewinding any progress we may have just realized. This was the misfortunate case with the senior Vipassna meditators I mentioned in the beginning. It takes a lot of experience and earnestness not to fall into this pitfall of the mind.

My next blog posts will discuss "Spiritual Non-Spirituality" and "Spiritless Spirituality". You can speculate what they will be all about.

Omkaradatta's picture


I agree, and in fact meditation need not be limited to some formal situation. It can be 'practiced' even in public, in the marketplace, in terms of our consciousness, our awareness. We needn't meditate lying down in some private spot... it's not about physical relaxation, although that can be nice.

Omkaradatta | Fri, 11/21/2008 - 12:20
dora's picture

But we must beware!

But we must beware! we must make sure that we are not using this understanding now to give ourselves "discounts" - there is a huge value also to formal spiritual environments and situations including to the most valuable spiritual practice of all: formal meditation in a quiet isolated place with the power of a certain posture etc. Such a meditation in the appropriate environment enables us to dive deep, to gain unparalleled insight, to go beyond the mind in a way no other means enable us. A great fortunate gift.

dora | Fri, 11/21/2008 - 12:43
Omkaradatta's picture


It's interesting that the contraction "be aware" (beware) usually has to do with fear.

There's a huge value to what you want there to be a huge value for. If you want formal spiritual environments to be of a huge value, it will be. You are the source and end of the 'path'. You are creating and preserving it, and in the end it's you who will dissolve it. I don't mean the personal 'you', of course.

Omkaradatta | Sat, 11/22/2008 - 03:28
angel76's picture

It's not that simplistic

It's not that simplistic and arbitrary. It's not just the value you put on something. There is essence in the process, some call it spirit.

Regardless of the value you put, there is an objective importance and benefit in both the spiritual and non-spiritual circumstances. Ignoring one of them due to personal preferences and convenience gives the mind a splendid demilitarized zone to regain power while we are asleep on guard.

angel76 | Sat, 11/22/2008 - 22:01
Phroggy's picture


Omkara is exactly right; your creation of your own experience is much more radical than you know (though it is not 'your' creation). Nothing is objective, everything is subjective. Wherever you place your attention, there you will create the circumstances and the effects, and so you must deal with them. A spiritual practice is desired, and since this is your focus, a practice shows up. You want it to be successful and so it is, but it's mind's idea of success which is never Awakening.

The "Essence" is present equally in everything you do, whether it meditation or going to the bathroom or washing the dishes. Zen may tell you that washing the dishes IS your meditation.

There are no spiritual vs nonspiritual circumstances. Don't let mind separate anything!

Phroggy | Sun, 11/23/2008 - 09:16
george's picture

On what do you base these

On what do you base these opinions?

george | Sun, 11/23/2008 - 14:37
Phroggy's picture

On what do you base these opinions?

Direct perception, but that can mean nothing to you. All that can be done is to look and see for yourself.

Phroggy | Sun, 11/23/2008 - 21:12
Omkaradatta's picture

In the military

> Ignoring one of them due to personal preferences
> and convenience gives the mind a splendid
> demilitarized zone to regain power while we
> are asleep on guard.

Your "militarized" focus assures nothing but an endless battle (of mind against mind). This is what people want anyway, so enjoy it.

If/when the desire either to think or resist thinking ends, the mind won't trouble you any more. Your current focus (effortful) only gives it continued power: Which is exactly what you want, friend.

There is nothing what-so-ever spiritual about your endeavors. They are purely egoic, a strengthening of the separate self based on a clash with your own mind. Your friend who talks about achieving "will" and "power" is equally misguided (church of satan?).

P.S. it's funny, but the people with the unhappiest-looking faces in their avatars seem also to give the poorest advice.

Omkaradatta | Sun, 11/23/2008 - 10:39
lolita's picture

The really funny thing

Jeusus, it's obvious you have no idea who is it behind the nick leo. You have a very long way to reach his level.

lolita | Sun, 11/23/2008 - 13:27
avi's picture

Why do you bother?

* In a second thought, I don't think what I previously wrote here was compassionate. This is not the way to assist others, Sorry *

avi | Sun, 11/23/2008 - 15:23
Omkaradatta's picture

Behind the nick?

Some famous figure, president of India maybe? Famous football star? Lindsey Lohan's ex-boyfriend? Some fellow who sold 30 books? Dude who meditated for 50 years and managed to still not be enlightened? What's his 'level'? Why should anybody care?

Try to tell folks that the self cannot control the mind (both are identical -- isn't it obvious?) and these sort of reactions show up. Spirituality is not about control, it's about surrender.

"You have a very long way to reach his level."

How would you know? I'm really curious.

Omkaradatta | Sun, 11/23/2008 - 17:31
lolita's picture

Oh, it's so obvious when

Oh, it's so obvious when reading your comments and quarrels with whomever here. It's so obvious. Please don't get insulted.

lolita | Sun, 11/23/2008 - 17:42
Phroggy's picture

What is obvious?

Is it obvious that there are countless individuals that are born and must die? Many will say it is not so obvious. Is it obvious that pointing to illusion and delusion in others means that one is bound to ego and judging and struggling and not 'spiritually advanced'? How do you know that it is not just a pointing to delusion, and then a pointing to the delusion of ego as it responds to that pointing? Are you sure you can tell the difference between a one sided quarrel and a two sided quarrel?

Like it or not, spiritual work is ego work, and it is always, always, messy. Take care not to abuse those who love you enough to step into the fire with you and reach for your hand.

Phroggy | Sun, 11/23/2008 - 21:30
Omkaradatta's picture

That's 'k...

That's OK, lolita, I'm not insulted. Sometimes the obvious, isn't so obvious. And sometimes the apparently non-obvious is completely obvious.

P.S. I really don't feel to be quarreling with anyone. Sorry if that impression is left. I don't seek disagreements, but don't hide them either. I'm beholden only to the truth, and will not compromise.

Omkaradatta | Sun, 11/23/2008 - 23:45
doo's picture

yea, spiritual sadhana is

yea, spiritual sadhana is 24x7 job. Always to be conscious, always to be present. Always test our beliefs, always check where the mind found a loophole this time and through it manipulates us in a tricky way.

doo | Fri, 11/21/2008 - 21:58
kalgo's picture

And so few of us remember

And so few of us remember and follow this. So few.

kalgo | Sat, 11/22/2008 - 18:03
mayasurfer's picture

Tuning in

I agree that "meditation" is not confined to the temple. The temple might be a good experience but if we can't take this experience into the marketplace and our 24 hr life then what is the point. Most of my friends say they can "tune in" and let go best in some quiet place, on the beach, in the forest etc. I find the opposite true for myself. I can "tune in" best in places like shopping malls, McDonald's, markets... I feel safe amongst crowds of people, amongst lots of food, restaurants, cafes, shops... McDonald's are great for "letting go", no pressure, you can stay as long as you want, nobody bothers you.... I feel safe in places like that and I can "tune in" and let go easily. I follow one sound until it disappears into the soundscape and it all comes alive as the "I" fades away.

mayasurfer | Sun, 11/23/2008 - 08:43
neo's picture

Mediting in crowded places may be a self deceit

The reason for the ability to tune in into meditation in busy places is that the hectic level of happening around relaxes the great fear of boredom associated with the meditation. The hum around provides a constant unconscious stimuli to the body's senses and brain and therefore the meditator is not concerned with a possible low level of boredom.

Though when starting to meditate it may be even advisable to meditate in such places, it is important to meditate also in quiet "boring" places, acknowledge the fear of boredom and observe it while meditating otherwise it will stay there and you will be dependent on outer circumstances to reach higher levels of consciousness.

neo | Sat, 04/18/2009 - 11:36
RandomStu's picture

Why make "spiritual"?

When I formally became a Zen student, there was a ceremony in which I was given a certificate to signify that decision that commitment. At the bottom of the certificate was a poem by Zen Master Seung Sahn (Dae Soen Sa Nim), which began with these lines:

"Good and Evil have no self-nature;
Holy and Unholy are empty names"

As noted in this blog post, difficulties and confusion can arise from behaving differently in spiritual vs non-spiritual places. These problems don't arise if we don't make the distinction between "spiritual" and "non-spiritual" to begin with.

Long ago, a travelling monk arrived at a temple in China and met the Zen master. The Master asked him, "Where are you coming from?"

The monk answered with the name of the last temple he'd stayed at: "The Temple of Spiritual Light."

The Master asked, "Here in our temple, we have sunlight during the day, and candle-light at night. But what is 'Spiritual' light?"

If you were the monk, how would you reply? There's one specific answer that removes completely all confusion about this matter.


RandomStu | Sat, 09/12/2009 - 23:40