Friday 4 February 2022

Why the failure of all spiritual techniques and methods?

At least from the 20th century onwards; I find the results of 'spiritual techniques' to be so unimpressive as to suggest that they are at best useless and more likely spiritually-harmful. 

By spiritual techniques I mean the use of all types of external assistance from symbolism and ritual, through prayer and meditation (of many kinds) - to reading, group work (of many kinds), vigils, magic, music, fasting, pilgrimage and the power of place... everything you can think of.

People are always claiming that one, other or all such things are helpful and yet - just look at the results! And look where we are now? 

It strikes me that this apparently counter-productive effect of almost any 'method' of spirituality may have a very simple explanation; which is that all such techniques are external, when what is needed is internal.  

The more external spiritual assistance we seek, or come to rely upon - of whatever possible type; the weaker and more-passive becomes our inner spiritual strength. 

Any yet it is this inner spirituality which is needed now above all. 

If not, then what? 

If I am saying that any and all external methods or techniques are harmful - then what is left for us to do? 

I suppose the answer lies within us: That all which is both good and also strengthening over the longer term needs to come from within our-selves and/or be discerned and chosen by our-selves (with a sense of fullest responsibility and in light of the ideals of salvation and theosis); aiming at our resurrection to Heaven, and that of those we love; and to learn the spiritual lessons of our own mortal life. 

And everything else is a - more-or-less harmful - distraction. 


Jack said...

I've been struggling with this very very much myself.

I've found sacred scripture to have a special power that goes beyond any spiritual technique. In particular, this passage strikes me as important when it comes to "spiritual technique" :

Jesus answered: Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is spirit. Wonder not, that I said to thee, you must be born again. The Spirit breatheth where he will; and thou hearest his voice, but thou knowest not whence he cometh, and whither he goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
(John 3:5-8)

I believe Jesus is using flesh and Spirit in a very special sense here. I don't think flesh refers to our corporeal body and Spirit refers to our higher spiritual faculties. That would be the way that spiritualists and pantheists typically understand it. Rather, flesh refers to our entire human psychosomatic being, and Spirit refers to the Holy Spirit, the third divine Person of the Trinity that is beyond all our understanding and technique.

Being born again of the Spirit means hearing His Voice without knowing where He's coming from or where He's going. This is clean contrary to spiritualism and spiritual techniques, maps, guides, systems, methods, etc., which try to track the movement of the Spirit, generalise it as principles and formulas, and harness it at will. This is trying to make the Spirit obey the flesh, trying to get the Divine to obey the human. It is part of man's fallen nature and does not belong to the Christian 'born again' life proper.

I think the spiritual methods, techniques, and systems devised in the past have frequently been attempts by men to capture and contain some movement of the Spirit that they experienced, and to bottle it up for further use and distribution. The crucial difference here is our culture compared to theirs. These people lived in cultures embedded in the spiritual, where spiritual practices and rituals were part of the environment. So for them to try and capture the movements of the Spirit formulaically, I suppose, likely involved less sin or error or wasted effort, because it was part of the daily and social life to some extent anyway, regardless of how the Spirit was moving. With us though, in a thoroughly secularised culture, trying to impose such techniques on ourselves is extremely artificial and involves a greater effort, a greater exertion of our flesh, which more than ever impedes the free movement of the Spirit.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jack - Very good comment, which expands on my point. Your point about cultural differences - then and now - seems decisive.

William Wildblood said...

I was going to write a comment in response to this post but Jack has said everything I was going to say and said it better. I would just add that techniques and methods in the past may have supplemented a basically religious attitude but now they tend to be used instead of a basically religious attitude and to get something from God or however the spiritual might be conceived. They are attempts to coerce the divine and make it obey our demands rather than ways to make ourselves more worthy of it.

Dr. Mabuse said...

"The crucial difference here is our culture compared to theirs. These people lived in cultures embedded in the spiritual, where spiritual practices and rituals were part of the environment."

This raised in my mind a very Tolkienish image of a society built around a living tree, where the spiritual practices were leaves which a man in need of shade and rest could shelter under. But our society has no tree, or it's a dead one now, and people still performing the spiritual practices are like men throwing dead leaves into the air and trying to pretend that they can get the same shelter and relief as before.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William and DM - I reached this kind of conclusion about a decade ago, without really understanding it; when I was intending to join the Russian Orthodox church (under a kind of intoxication of delight at the Byzantine era).

But then I rather suddenly realized (this was, indeed, explicitly stated by Fr Seraphim Rose in some of his letters and lectures; but it took a while to sink-in) that since the end of Holy Russia in 1917, the Orthodox churches (and their monasteries) no longer function as part of a 'holistic' way of traditional and ritual life.

And therefore the meaning, function, scope of the religion has irrevocably, un-recoverably, changed.

All its attributes now stand against, rather than within, society; tradition has been broken and can never again be spontaneous and unconscious - And this has the isolating and detaching effect upon them that has been described.

Mutatis mutandis for all other methods and techniques.

agraves said...

The discussions of so-called spiritual practices involve rituals held in contrived circumstances and conditions. Reading books, grimoires, chanting, etc. are, yes, external. However I would offer this: plan on going out into the desert for a week alone and no phone or devices. Be awake at night to observe the night sky and sounds of the desert, then hike out and see if something came to you.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ag - I would guess that most of the people who do exactly what you say are materialist atheist leftists. I was one of these, and have read a good deal of the literature advocating such experiences.

Of itself, solitude in nature is not the answer, nor does it tend towards an answer - although for someone who has already taken the right side, who has the right metaphysics, it may be helpful.

ben said...

From John

28 Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?

29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

30 They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work?

31 Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.

32 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.

33 For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.

34 Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.

35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

Faculty X said...

I have a lot of experience with meditation techniques and want to add:

First, there was always a substance that powered spiritual realizations. In India it was called Soma, a kind of fuel for meditation.

Second, the air was more replete with oxygen in the ancient past and was charged with a kind of ambient electricity that came from the pyramid technology of the Atlanteans and Egyptians.

Prana/chi/ki/vril/mana was thus supercharged and the meditation techniques were then enhanced so that they worked very obviously both within and without for those with the right heredity.

Erika said...

Aren't techniques and methods what the Pharisees did?
Aren't techniques and methods about manipulation?

If someone bought their date a bouquet of flowers or some jewelry to get her into bed, how do you think she would feel about that?

If we cannot change the laws of physics with inner techniques and methods, what makes us think we can change something more permanent like our spirits through techniques and methods?

If a person is offended when someone tries to manipulate them, why wouldn't God also be offended when that person tries to manipulate spirit with techniques and methods?
Isn't that like denying what salvation was all about?

Maybe i am overstepping myself here and if so i apologize.