By Deepak Chopra™ MD
It’s natural in troubled times for people to reflect on God and religion as a source of solace and hop, which matters more in a crisis. But with church services being so limited, not to mention the decline in organized religion that has continued for fifty years, God isn’t the pillar of faith that past generations relied on.
I don’t find myself thinking about spirituality in those terms, however. Like a winter coat that’s put away in spring, for many people religion gets put away once the crisis has passed. Crises by their nature go up and down, but the deeper need for spirituality remains. This need is rooted deeper than solace and hope. It’s the need for wisdom. Wisdom is a word that’s open to skepticism and dismissal. Even people who think of themselves as spiritual are likely to think much more about issues like self-esteem and love.
Wisdom is much less personal but of crucial importance. It gives answers to why we exist and what our purpose is. Wisdom offers a vision of consciousness itself, bridging all ages and circumstances. It gets at the heart of reality. Ultimately the search for reality is what binds people who want to reach beyond organized religion and its perceived drawbacks.
Right now the search for wisdom is more important, I think, than the search for God. Ever since Aldous Huxley coined the phrase “the perennial philosophy,” seekers in the West have come to realize that sectarianism is too narrow and religions too orthodox to contain the great body of wisdom that has accumulated over time. The spiritual scene unfolding around us is today’s Americanized version of the perennial philosophy. In all times and places, the perennial philosophy is about transcendence. It’s the evidence based on direct experience that higher consciousness is real.
For many spiritual people there’s little doubt that organized religion, by turning to fundamentalism, is serving reactionary social forces and a dogmatic version of God. Yet it is far more deplorable to ignore the spiritual yearning that exists in us. The current spiritual scene may not fill the vacuum perfectly, but it has many virtues, which I consider real wisdom because it is dynamic and alive.
- People feel free to express themselves outside the doctrines of organized faiths.
- They feel open to experiences that earlier generations denied or condemned, and that arch materialists totally deny.
- They are aware that spirituality is a broad river running back many centuries.
- They feel included in a magnificent human quest.
- They believe that evolution of consciousness is real and worth pursuing.
- They believe they can find a noble vision and begin to live up to it.
These values represent wisdom as personal experience rather than words in a book, however sacred the text. The current spirituality embraces a huge number of people who have tasted transcendence through meditation and various peak experience, those moments when the veil of the personal self drops away and reality is seen without interference by the ego, memory, and old conditioning.
The seekers that one meets vary enormously: students and practitioners of yoga, meditators of every stripe, Jungians brought up in the Fifties, freethinkers and flower children from the Sixties, and even Theosophists, followers of teachers like J. Krishnamurti and gurus like Paramahansa Yogananda, not to mention readers of Huxley, Gerald Heard, and other expatriates who brought Vedanta to Southern California in the era before World War II. It’s a big tent and hardly a new one.
The net result of this diverse movement is hard to calculate. Certainly, there don’t seem to be many inroads into orthodox political or academic thought, but as a grassroots movement personal spirituality is powerful; it stands for the unquenchable idealism of millions of people who either flirt with the perennial philosophy or dive into it more deeply.
The path of wisdom, being timeless, is always open. I don’t see an alternative, frankly, to our spiritual yearnings unless organized religion finds a new flowering, which seems highly unlikely. So whatever the spiritual scene morphs into thirty years from now, at this moment personal seeking and the inward path are the most viable movement we have, and it deserves to be considered on its own terms, without labels but with a love for wisdom and the untapped resource of human possibilities.