Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Can We Divorce Spirituality From the Transcendent, Divinity?

I read an interview some weeks ago (New York Times Magazine, September 6, 2010) that shocked me.

The author Deborah Solomon questioned Deepak Chopra the man from India raised a Hindu and turned California guru of alternative wellness. Chopra is the founder of a wellness center in California.

I have read some of his work on meditation as a health practice. I confess I have not studied it, because I was not drawn into his thought save for his insistence on a holistic view of wellness.

I detected, however, a subtle suggestion that we could actually take control of our moments, days, even lives by meditative thought. We could almost MAKE or WILL ourselves well by this practice. Too much me and not enough God.

Where was there room for Divinity, for Spirituality meaning that transcendent mystery some call grace, others coincidence. Where was the Holy? Where was the divine/human relationship? Where human trust, faith, hope?

I suspected idolatry, worship of temporality with the expectation that would be enough.

If meditation became your god then what if a day came when you couldn’t do it?

If self-reliance your god on whom or what would you rely when resources dried up?

If science were your god and it had no cure or you couldn’t afford it, then what would you trust, where turn for healing?

Or...if your work was your god what happened when you couldn’t work or lost your job?

Where would meaning be found at the end of your rope?

I am not against meditation, know of its benefits myself, and often suggest it to people as a way to draw energy back from the distractions of a high speed culture and into the self or soul, a way to focus and center on Divinity, to bring together the transcendent dimension we call Divinity with the immanent dimension we call soul.

I call it contemplative prayer.

At any rate meditation is far from new to religious traditions. Neither btw is spirituality. Chopra seemed to me in this interview to calculate his thoughts in a dichotomous way; that is he offered an either/or mentality I didn’t find congruent with what he claims to represent: wellness.

For example, when queried about the Islam center in NYC and whether Sufism represented the reform branch of Islam, he responded, “Yes, traditional Islam is a mixture of obedience to Allah and if that requires militancy, so be it. Whereas Sufism exalts beauty, intuition, tenderness, affection, nurturing and love, which we associate with feminine qualities.”

Seemingly, male/female and Sufism/Islam do not easily co-exist in Chopra’s analysis.

I think growth toward wholeness, and incidentally wellness, happen when the best of tradition is supplemented rather than supplanted.

Asked if he believed in God’s existence, Chopra responded, “Yes, but not as a dead male.” I would agree if I thought the Christ spirit were dead or male. Mostly I thought it a snide slur.

Chopra defined his practice as “what I can only call a secular spirituality.” Can there be such a thing since secular still means any activity or attitude that has no spiritual or religious basis. Didn’t the idea of spirituality stem from religions’ awareness of Spirit beyond human boundaries but interacting within human process?

Or has it morphed to being just human values, nice cozy things like belonging? And aren’t humanistic values contingent, relative to culture? Perhaps Chopra means spiritual humanism?

Why try so hard to divorce spirituality from religion? Just because religion is unpopular in this age?

Spirituality and religion were also polarized in Chopras’ definitions in response to the question about how he would define spirituality as opposed to religion? “Self-awareness and awareness of other people’s needs.”

Spirituality is by this definition self-centered while religion is centered on other people. Is this another dichotomous solution? Aren’t self and other awareness part of holistic wellness?

Healthy spirituality can not be divorced from the need to be aware of the dignity of all human being and the whole created order. Equally, religion can not be sane if divorced from soul-awareness and nurture. Both/and.

The interviewer pushed on asking what religion he would say he is. “I say God gave humans the truth, and the Devil came and said, ‘Let’s organize it, we’ll call it religion.’ ”

No comment.

OK just one. Do you think meditation classes aren’t organized, that we students don’t know who the teacher/guru is and where s/he belongs in the structure? As long as no power abuses (and I know of such abuse in a meditation group in which the teacher, playing god, took physical advantage of a student’s vulnerability) occur the ordered/organized structure is in place for our wellness, just as in a functional family.

Trellis and roses make a necessary whole.

The interviewer soldiered on commenting that religion was free to worshipers and Chopra’s meditation retreats were costly. He countered with tax free donations to religions and the wealth of the Vatican. He thinks insurance companies should pay for his lifestyle management classes and they would save money.

That is a good idea and I agree we need to see, as Chopra said, “that alternatives medicine is now mainstream.” Another either/or?

I use traditional medicine and all the “alternatives.” Only I call them “complimentary.”

We need to remarry spirituality and religion—the best of both.