The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Tag: Religion

Killing Herd Animals

One of the great crimes and tragedies of our world is how we treat the animals we eat (or whose milk, eggs, or other products we eat and use). Factory farming keeps them in tiny enclosures, feeds them monotonous foods, and then when they’re slaughtered, it’s a terrible experience–they’re terrified and die in pain.

There’s been a kerfuffle in Britain, where the Green Party leader said he’d bank Halal meats.

There’s an argument for this based on Nassim Taleb’s tyranny of the committed minority. If enough people simply won’t buy something unless it’s done their way, it makes sense for capitalists to just produce all of whatever it is that way. “Just butcher them all Halal.”

Halal killing is a cut to the jugular vein, and then all blood is drained. In part it’s fairly clear that the intent is to spare animals pain, same as it is in Kosher butchering, where the carotid and jugular and windpipe are all cut in one smooth motion.

So both these things seem good to me, but it seems that there’s a third style of killing herd animals that is even more painless: the Mongolian one. They make a small incisition in the neck, then pull out a vein. The animal dies quickly and painlessly (though it’s messy, as you’d expect.)

I have little respect for religious rules just because they’re religious, and that includes rules about how animals are treated. Animals, especially mammals, clearly have emotions and suffer. If you want to obey “God’s” rules yourself, knock yourself out–as long as it affects no one but you. But when it effects other people, those rules get no extra points because “God” said so.

Both Halal and Kosher killing is better than what happens in most slaughterhouses. But if Mongolian butchering is painless, then that’s what we should use. It should be mandated by law, everyone who kills animals should be trained, and slaughterhouses should be inspected.

And if that means some Jews and Muslims (or anyone else) decide not to eat meat, they can go howl.

The point here isn’t really about slaughtering animals (though we should do it humanely, and yeah, I’m willing to see prices go up if that’s required and I’m poor enough that means I’d eat less meat), but about religions, ideologies, and policies.

Religions are ideologies which claim special status. “God said,” usually.

Those claims are laughable. It’s not that God may or may not exist, it’s that there are too many religions all claiming “God” said different things.

Obviously, most of them are wrong. Heck, they’re probably all wrong, even if God does exist.

So that means they’re just ideologies: a series of assertions about how the world is, how the world should be and how humans should think, feel, and act. As such, they are due no more deference than any other ideology, whether capitalism, the divine right of kings, the Pax Romana, or democracy. They are simply provisional sets of ideas, from a particular time, with a particular history, and they can be wrong, or more to the point, harmful. Some will be good, some bad, and so on.

As such they must be evaluated by the good they do, versus the harm, and if better ways of doing things, in terms of the welfare of humans, animals, and life in general are found, what some guy centuries or millennia ago said about what God wanted should be thrown out the window.

Religion, all religion, including yours, is just ideology in supernatural drag.

Treat it as such.

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Circles of Identity, Circles of Violence

Globe on FireThe worst humanitarian disaster in the world today is almost certainly Yemen, which is under siege and bombed every day. There is a famine, people are dying every day, and there is no let-up in sight.

For years, there were terror attacks in Iraq virtually every day; bombs going off in markets, and so on. Then someone would, say, attack the London Underground and the West would go into paroxysms of grief.

We care about violence in direct proportion to how much we identify with the victims. We identify with fellow Westerners far more than we do with non-Westerners. Let there be an attack in Western Europe (not Eastern Europe) or an English-speaking nation and we cry and talk about racism and fascism and intolerance and go on and on and on.

And meanwhile Yemenis die. Iraqis die. Afghans die.

One might say “all deaths matter” but we don’t act that way. Some deaths definitely matter more than others, some violence definitely matters more than other violence. When Saudi Arabia, aided by the United States, bombs the hell out of Yemen, well, that doesn’t much matter.

When some right-wing fascist shoots up a mosque, we go into paroxysms for days.

All lives, and all deaths, are not equal, they never have been.

Which is, I guess, like saying, “The sun is hot.” Everyone knows this, we just, too often, pretend otherwise. We pretend we care about people who aren’t like us, who aren’t members of our societies or societies we identify with.

And maybe we do. A little bit. A very, little bit.

Identification is in the running for the first evil; the first sin.

Oh, it’s entirely understandable: humans are tribal. For much of history, the most dangerous animal to a human was another human, and we compete for the same resources. Our near-competitor is other humans (with insects coming a close second, ever since the agricultural revolution).

It is human to identify: We put ourselves first (my body!), our families second, our friends third, our tribe fourth, and everyone else a distance thousandth.

But much of what is human is evil or self-destructive. Much of what is human is especially evil or self-destructive when it scales to billions of people.

In a world where humans are a few million or even a few hundred million people, what we do doesn’t much matter. Oh we can and did cause ecological collapses. We can and did cause genocides. We can and did wipe out entire species (including, basically, all megafauna). We’ve always been cannibalistic locusts on two legs.

But when there are billions of us, when we live in each others pockets, and when what happens in the Amazon, the Congo, or the Arctic bounces back to effect us almost immediately, when what happens when a country like Iraq, Afghanistan, or Yemen becomes a failed state, or when a country like Saudi Arabia becomes a fantastically rich, fundamentalist state exporting its particular ideology all over the world, well, our identities are ramped up into weapons far more deadly– more so than they were when our ancestors wiped out the European aborigines, or most of the Native Americans.

Identity tells us not just who to care about, it tells us who to kill.

And we are very good at killing.

The irony is that identities are very close to arbitrary. You didn’t choose where you were born, or who your parents are, so you didn’t choose your culture or your nationality. As for religion, most people worship the religion of their parents.

We kill each other fighting over characteristics we didn’t create (you didn’t create Christianity, or Islam, or Hinduism, or, America, or Russia) and which almost none of us chose.

This is bug-fuck insane. If you change your religion, you are still you. If you change your nationality, you are still you. We are killing ourselves or identities which are, well, crazy to identify with. (This will strike most people as radical, but no, your religion or nationality is not fundamental and if you think it is, you are nuts.)

Or we divide ourselves up over frankly absurd biological characteristics: the color of our skin, or our sexual characteristics.

None of this makes any sense.

And the consequences are severe: Because we do not take care of everyone, because we are scared of each other, we treat each other badly.

The simplest and surest rule of human nature is this: People who are abused tend to become abusers. People who are treated well tend to treat other people well. Oh, this isn’t a 100 percent rule–there are always exceptions, those people who were abused and turn into saints, those who are treated well and are still bad…but overall it’s a rule that works.

Evil redounds. It doesn’t always, or even often, redound directly on those who do evil (the world would be a better and simpler place if it did), but it does hit other people.

Evil leads to more evil.

Good leads to more good.

But because someone has a different culture, or religion, or nationality, or skin color, or genitals, we think it’s ok to do them more evil, and less good. We think it’s ok to care more about the evil done to people we identify with, and care less about people we identify less with.

And in a world with billions of people, that doesn’t work. The evil we do thousands of miles away comes back to us.

Further, our identification with humans above all other life is also a problem.

If we cared about what was happening to other species, to other animals, we could have avoided the worst of climate change and environmental collapse. Because, we, humans are not yet taking it in the neck, we don’t much care; we have done, effectively, nothing.

But there is already an apocalypse among animals, with species dying every day, in the fast mass extinction in Earth’s history.

This was a warning sign.

But they’re only animals, we don’t identify with them, so, well, whatever.

In a world with billions of people, we will only have a good world, a world worth living in, and maybe even a world we even can live in, if we either identify with no one or everyone. Either we recognize that humans, and life, are a web supporting each all of us, and that our good lives require all of us, or we will create hell.

Or rather, given that climate change and ecological collapse are now irreversible to some extent, we have already created hell, it just hasn’t been completely delivered by nature yet.

Preferential identity, for us as a species, is an evil. Most religions and nationalities and ideologies, putting some people above everyone else, are evil. Perhaps they have done some good in the past. Perhaps they do some good in present. But overall they lead to evil, and cannot but lead to evil. (As most recently, nationalism did.)

No one wants to believe this, but most people identify with nationalities or religions or cultures or skin color or whatever. They identify with crap that either clearly is not them, or which is meaningless (who cares how much melanin you have?)

Until we fix this, every fix for our problems as a species will be temporary: a band-aid on a gusher.

So it has ever been.

Does it have to ever be?

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The Problem with Identity

We all have an identity, or rather, we all have identities. You may have a religion, a country, a profession, and so on. A Buddhist American Accountant female bisexual Patriots fan.

And so on.

Our identities are both accidents and predetermined. They are accidents of birth–the body we are born with, where we are born, who are parents are; the nature (the body, including the brain) and the nurture (the conditioning we receive through our lives and the physical changes our lives impose on us–starting with nutrition. Few things will screw you up for life faster than bad nutrition as a child).

We take these identities to be who we are in different contexts. You are never more your nationality than when in another country, for example: ex-patriot communities can be very strong and if there aren’t a lot of you, suddenly just coming from the same country is a very strong tie. As a teenager in Bangladesh, I experienced this first-hand. Every Canadian was a potential pal. Anyone who spoke English and was from a western country ranked close.

Within our own countries, we often identify first by what our work is: The first question we ask others is usually, “So, what do you do for a living?” We assume this is important.

One can base their identity on skin color or gender–or the rejection of gender norms.

Identity  is often strongest if the identity is in conflict with society. To be gay in 1950, or Russia today, is defining. To be a public cross-dresser matters. To be dark-skinned in America gets you a ton of unpleasant attention, to be visibly Muslim in Germany the same. Some identities mark you out as a safe target for certain types of aggression: transgenders, women, and black males, for example.

The more people treat you as an identity, the more you either become that identity or react against it. For every gay who makes that integral to who they are, there is one who thinks it shouldn’t be so important, who wants to be recognized for something else. The same for women or those whose skin color isn’t the norm in their country, and so on.

To be proud of an identity one didn’t earn is an odd thing. People who are proud of their heritage always strike me oddly: You didn’t chose your parents or ancestors, of what is there to be proud?

Most people who are religious just belong to their parents’ religion and don’t take it very seriously. If they’d been born in a different religion, they’d be at the same level of engagement.  Again, what is the source of pride?

Likewise, to be proud of your biologically and socially assigned gender seems odd. Did you choose to be male or female? Even if your society has norms that must be met to be a “real man” or “real woman,” well, you just did what almost every other man or woman does.

Proud of your parents? Well, I guess, but, ummm, if anything it should go the other way.

Identity, too often, is little more than tribalism.

It is, however, an advanced form of tribalism.

Humans are wired to operate in groups of up to about 150 people. That’s as many people as most individuals are able to treat as individuals.

You can treat those people as individuals, you can care about them and look after them as individuals. You can trust them because you know each of them individually

To care about more people, you must have an identity in common which allows you to see them as part of your band, and to trust them.

Tribes (the step above bands) did this. Nations did this. Religions did this. The Zeus cult was used to allow people to trade safely together, since they worshiped (and feared) the same God.

To have a shared identity is to belong to a community. There are shared communities everywhere. One woman I know travels the world and finds friends and places to stay because she is a long-time fan of a particular band, and knows other fans.

Identity can become community, and members of communities can care for each other.

The strength of shared identities can pretty much be determined by looking at how much they care for each other or trust each other.

Shared identities leading to caring communities (which can mean caring enough to pick up weapons to defend each other) is the bright side of identity.

The dark side, of course, is that anyone you don’t share an identity with is someone you don’t owe as much care to.

“Not one of us” is one of the most dangerous statements in the world; ostracism is often death. You can see it today in all the refugee deaths: They aren’t “us.” You can see it in the refugee camps, statements of, “We aren’t going to let them become one of us.”

We find ourselves in four types of games. Me against the world. My group against the world. Humanity against the world.

And then there’s “We are the world.”

It is jejune to act as if me against the world, or my group against the world, or even humanity against the world doesn’t work. North Americans and Europeans have higher standards of living than most others because they out-competed many other groups, and that includes “wiped entire other groups out.” They won their wars.  They ruled or bullied almost every part of the world at one point or another.

As individuals we can certainly create “good” lives by out-competing everyone around us. Many people extend this to their own families.

And humanity can use the entire world as its preserve, without caring much (if at all, in practical terms) what happens to other life forms, including ones like dolphins, which are clearly sentient. We can “win” from this, and we have.

But we can also lose by doing this, because we are not isolated from other people, other animals, other plants. Heck, from microbes (especially not from microbes).

How we treat other people comes back to haunt us. We hurt them, they hate us. We make them poor, they pollute, that pollution eventually hurts us. We deny them medicine, they get sick, that sickness pool eventually hurts us.

We treat other beings and, indeed, the unliving world, as something other than us, not caring for them, or for it, and we get climate change. We pollute, which is a win for the industries who do it, and we suffer huge levels of chronic illness.


We do this because we do not identify with other people. America is against Russia, against China. India is against China. Muslims and Christians are against each other. The rich are against the poor.

Blah, blah, blah.

We certainly don’t give a damn what happens to other animals, not in any practical sense; the number of large fish in the ocean, for example, has dropped about 90 percent since the 30s, and the 30s had already seen huge drops. The Grand Banks, off the Canadian Maritimes, in the 15th century, were so rich with fish you could simply drop a bucket in and come up with fish. Today that fishery is gone.

We are killing trees that create the oxygen we need to live. The ocean’s oxygen cycle is in danger.

Our identities, our refusal to identify with everyone, and especially with everything, is going to wind up killing a lot of us. A hell of a lot of us.

But I want you to consider this another way.

What sort of people do you like being around?

I will posit that most people enjoy being with other people who are happy. People tend to be happy when they are healthy, have enough stuff, and do work they enjoy.

Happy people are just way better to live with. Happy people also don’t commit nearly as much violence. Security for others is security for us. Happiness for others is happiness for us. People who are prosperous in the truest sense, which is to say, people who are not scared of losing their prosperity, are generous. (Most people in the world are not prosperous in that sense.)

Identity links us to others, but it also cuts us off from others. We can win from that, as individuals and groups, but we are at the point now, due to limited resources and carrying capacity, where we cannot win as a species that way.

And perhaps we have always lost as a species, and as individuals, if you consider the highest good to be love. For those who truly love, want the best for others.

I recognize in identity the attempt to connect with others, to overcome human limitations. I hear in it the attempt at human choice, when our identities are not the ones approved of by our communities.

But I believe, in the end, that if someone’s most important “identity” doesn’t allow them to identify with all life, that identity has become mal-adaptive to our survival.

Identifying with all life doesn’t mean tolerating all behaviour, rather the contrary, by the way. The problem we have can be boiled down to selfishness, greed being a species of selfishness.

That doesn’t mean people have to live like crap; that’s a myth. Yes, we will need to reduce carbon expenditures and environmental impact and make room for other species, but that can be done in a way that is win/win because we live in ways that are terrible for our health, for our sense of meaning, and for our happiness. We will have to live differently, not worse.

That’s another article, though, but to want to do the right thing, you have to believe it is the right thing. If your identity doesn’t include the rest of humanity, or the rest of life as worthy of life, and a good life, you will not and cannot do the right thing.

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Further Notes on Meditation and Cultivation

One of the great problems with most commentators on religion, spirituality, and even philosophy is that they have not cultivated. If you have not seriously cultivated (which includes more than meditation), your odds of understanding what the founders of the great religions were trying to do are small.  You cannot understand philosophers with attainments, and you certainly can’t understand the mysticism.

Kali standing on Shiva's corpse

Kali standing on Shiva’s corpse

Such people are reduced to literalism, or to muttering about hallucinations and delusions. They listen to Socrates, through Plato, saying “no man knowingly does evil” and can only say “this is nonsense”—which it is, if you’re unenlightened, because what certain enlightened people mean by knowledge isn’t what ordinary people take as knowledge.

Let’s start there: Socrates was known to freeze in place and lose all sense of the outer world. This is most likely Samadhi, a type of (very deep) trance state. Buddhists list three types, but anyone who can do even the lowest is an advanced adept.

Krishnamurti claimed that to him moral facts were facts in the same way that physical facts are. If you see a train bearing on you, you jump out of the way. When moral facts are perceived the same way, known the same way, that knowledge is very different from your knowledge that “I shouldn’t kill.”

No one who knows moral facts in that way does wrong if they can possibly avoid it. All knowledge prior to that is not knowledge in the sense that an advanced adept means the word.

In fact, such adepts will tell you that you really don’t know anything. Nothing. This is very common in Buddhism. The world is illusion, mediated through the senses and the mind, both of which are inherently unreliable. You know nothing.

The Delphic Oracle said that Socrates was the wisest man in Greece. He said it was because other people thought they knew something, but he knew he knew nothing. (Careful reading of the dialogues will indicate he did believe he knew some things, but not in the way ordinary people do.)

What are the early Socratic dialogues about? Proving to other people that they don’t know anything.

This is similar to Zen Koans: The idea is to break people’s conditioning and mental models. When you realize that intellectual thought can’t actually grasp true knowledge and stop trying, you create space to actually understand. (More on this further down.)

Let us step to another matter: “Turn the other cheek.” Another common enlightenment experience is that other people are you. Everyone is just a mask on the same underlying reality: God, Awareness, the Tao, whatever. We are the same entity. If you hit yourself does it make sense to hit yourself again in response? To someone who literally perceives everyone in the world as themselves the idea of responding to violence with violence is counterproductive, insane.

Progress on the cultivation path requires learning how to stop paying attention. If you watch your mind, you’ll notice that your attention is always somewhere. On what you’re reading, on what you’re seeing, on what you’re feeling, on the thoughts rushing through your head, on your worries for the future, your regrets for the past, and so on.

Various practices, not just meditation, strive to teach you to not have your attention anywhere. Try it, right now. Try to pay attention to nothing. Unless you’re quite extraordinary, or have done a lot of work, I doubt you can: Your attention’s always somewhere. Maybe you can put it nowhere briefly, for a few seconds. If so that’s actually impressive, most people can’t.

In order to investigate what you actually are, you have to stop paying attention to anything, including your thoughts and feelings.

So the cultivation path spends a ton of time on this. Let’s run through some ways.

Teaching You to Notice and Control Your Awareness.

This is your breath watching —anapana, or a variety of other exercises. You put your attention on something, and you keep it there. Beginners can’t do this for any length of time. Thoughts distract them, itches catch their attention, sounds demand notice, in time one’s heartbeat roars. Once you can put your attention where you want and keep it there, you’re closer to being able to put it nowhere–if there aren’t too many distractions.

Mindfulness Meditation

In mindfulness meditation, you watch your thoughts but don’t get involved in them. As you do so, they tend to die down, but they rarely go away entirely. This isn’t about getting rid of thoughts, though that’s a bonus to whatever extent it happens, it is about learning to, yes, pay no attention to them. And because so many people think they ARE their thoughts, it is about learning that you aren’t your thoughts. If you can pay attention to something, it isn’t you.

Karma Yoga

The God Krishna said that one has the right to one’s work, but not to the results. To a secular type, this sounds horrible, but what he’s saying is this: Don’t worry about it. Do good work, don’t worry about the results, because so much of that is not in your hands. You plant the crops, the rain doesn’t come in time, you get a bad crop. You do your best on the exam, there’s no point in worrying about results.

Confucius told people to do the right thing, but not worry about how doing the right thing worked out in the world. Same idea, and when you also know what the right thing to do is without having to think about it, “never steal, never kill, give charity, do what your father says, etc…” well you also don’t have to think much about what to do. Make most daily behaviour between people ritual “bow x depth to person of Y rank, greet them with z words” and so on, well, a lot more decision making is taken away. You don’t need to think about this, or worry that you did it wrong. Mental space is cleared.

Vows of Poverty, Silence and Monastic Codes

By now you’re getting the idea: more stuff you don’t have to worry about.  Friars or Mendicant monks (like most Buddhists and many Hindu Sanyasan) eat what they are given by people.  That’s it.  They own nothing beyond their clothes and begging bowl, and they don’t work.  They don’t have children to worry about, they no longer care for their parents.  Whole vistas of thought and worry and emotions are cut off.

There are innumerable practices like this. They all reduce cognitive and emotional load.

Who Are You?

Who you are is known: You are awareness. But actually identifying with awareness beyond an intellectual way is damn hard. You reduce all the stuff above to create space, but it is also often necessary to reduce attachments significantly. Mindfulness meditation, as noted, teaches you that you aren’t your thoughts. Vispassana, where you concentrate on body parts or sensations teaches you that you aren’t those parts. You concentrate on a pain in your toe and ask, “Am I that pain?” You concentrate on your heart, your head, your little finger, whatever, “Am I this?” No, you are whatever is aware of the sensation, body part, or sensation.

Then you start doing the same thing with sight and hearing, with things outside your body. Am I that? Of course you aren’t. But in time you begin to wonder what’s so different about that which is “outside” your body, “outside” your mind and that which is inside. Is any of it really “outside?”

You aren’t anything your senses show to you. You are nothing you think. You are nothing you feel. The discriminating intellect can figure this out just through reason, but most people can’t make the leap from that to the experience that you are none of these things, you are the awareness in which all these things reside.

Layers of Enlightenment Experience

There are a lot of different experiences on the enlightenment path. Let’s run through a few.


Hang out in certain cultivation circles and you’ll often overhear the phrase: “There is nothing you can do.” This is deceptive, but it’s a common experience. Krishna talks about this, that the enlightened person does nothing. The actual experience is that your body moves without you, you think without volition, you make decisions without volition, and so on.

Let me point out that this is congruent with science. Scientists can tell when you’ve made a decision, and it happens before “you” are consciously aware of it. In the early enlightenment your mind, your ego, starts perceiving this, and it interprets it as “I didn’t decide to that!” Some people really hate this experience, for reasons I trust are obvious. This isn’t the final enlightenment experience, which for many, reintegrates. Instead it is a point where you don’t identify as what you truly are, awareness, but become aware that your ego/mind is not actually calling the shots.

Everything Is In Me

This experience usually comes after non-doership. Everything except other people is seen as being inside of you. The monitor, the mouse, the walls, the buildings, they are all you. This is supposed to be a wonderful experience, akin to being master of all you see. It’s all you!

Of course it is all you, and it always was. That doesn’t mean it has no independent existence (though it doesn’t seem like it does), this is direct perception of neurological fact: Everything you perceive is through your various senses, which are interpreted by your brain (and maybe a non-physical mind, though you need not believe that). Everything you ever experience is a representation of an outside you can never directly perceive. (Kant: You never know the thing as it is.)

At this point you are experiencing the world as inside you because your only experience of the world is inside you, that’s all.

Cutting the Senses

One of the Yogic goals is to learn how to shut down all the senses. Sense, touch, kinaesthetic, etc… When you do this, what you get is a sense of infinite whiteness. It is very similar (perhaps identical) to many near-death experiences. Certain parts of the brain shut down. The idea here is simple enough: Shut off all senses, see what remains. Cut off the part of the brain that keeps time, and even more mind-bending experiences occur. If you’re a careful thinker you’ll understand why this is valuable.

Causeless Joy

Most of what I’ve written about I haven’t experienced, or I’ve barely touched the edges. I’ve had episodes of this, however. Here’s the odd thing, and I don’t know the reason for it, but when you stop attaching to anything, stop worrying about anything, you get absurdly happy for no goddamn reason. Confucius talked about this, he said that when you acted without worrying about consequences and always acted morally, you would be happy. I’ve never been able to stay there for more than a day at a time, but it’s a very nice place to be, and many adepts manage to sit there permanently. (Also common is to start feeling love for everyone, again with no discernible cause. This is VERY different from what we normally call love, which is contingent, even with our children, but especially with romantic love. I’ve experienced this, though not for any lengthy periods.)

Identification with Awareness

As best I can tell when you actually identify with awareness you avoid suffering.  This is that level. Awareness never suffers. Everything, including pain, happens in awareness, but awareness is not affected or changed by it. This is the part where the advanced adepts start talking about how it’s not this, not that. It has no characteristics, it is affected by nothing, but it creates everything. It is uncreated, blah, blah, blah.  Doesn’t mean you can’t experience pain, and you may do a lot of screaming, but it isn’t suffering, it’s just pain and once it is done, it is done. At this level you really get that everything is ephemeral; that everything ends, that there’s no point in clinging to anything, etc, etc.  No, I’m not there.

Everyone Is One

Common high level experience as noted above. Of course, by common we aren’t actually talking a lot of people, but it has been reported by many of the great masters. Nope, never been even close, myself.

God Identification

There are a couple different levels of this. The first seems to be identification with a specific concept of God, the second is God as cosmic awareness, as all that is, the eternal within everything else resides. Never experienced this, not close to it, and the writing on it is ambiguous. But it is dead common for Yogis, Saints, and mystics of high attainment to say “I am God.”

Religion and Cultivation

The great religions appear to have all been created by people who were advanced on the cultivation path. You can look at them and see the influence.

Prayer, Especially Repetitive Prayer

Ever been told to say 100 Hail Marys? Seen people counting off prayers with prayer beads? This is mantra meditation, which tends to still the mind if done long enough.

Confession and Absolution

Ok, God has forgiven you your sins, so you can stop worrying about it, got it?


Food is one of the hardest things to stop clinging to. Perhaps you should go without food for a while and see it’s not so big a deal. (Note that Mohammed put this into Islam in a big way through Ramadan.)


It’s not that there is anything wrong with sex, but constantly thinking about sex gets in the way of detachment. So, spend enough time not having sex to get over it.  This is also why same sex monastic communities are common: most people are heterosexual, and the less they see of people they find sexually attractive, the easier it is to get over sexual desire.

Buddha is reputed to have said that if there were two desires as strong as sex no one would ever enlighten.

There are also some technical reasons for not having sex or masturbating which may have some validity.

Trust in God, Master, or Guru

We covered this above, but again, if you put your trust in God or Guru and just do what they say, it reduces a pile of worry, decisions, and so on. Of course, this trust can be deeply abused, and I’d never swear obedience to a Guru, but the system has worked for many.

Make No Images of God

If you’re meditating on God (common on the devotional path, noted below), it’s best to have no image, because otherwise you’re meditating on a picture, rather than on something that has no characteristics. (If you can meditate on a God with no characteristics this is incredibly valuable and you will make progress fast.)

Final Notes

You can be a straight atheist or agnostic and progress as a cultivator. The final step in cultivation is often said to be “the end of spirituality.” This is one meaning  of Kali standing over a dead Shiva: The end of spirituality. There is no need to believe in God (though you can conceive of awareness in the broadest sense as God. But you can also call it many other things). What does seem to be a common experience, however, amongst the highest adepts is the idea that your true self is eternal– not immortal, but eternal.

The main things to understand here are: a) the process of learning to pay attention to nothing, and; b) that the experience of enlightenment genuinely changes how you experience and perceive yourself and the world. Enlightenment is not intellectual knowledge, though intellectual knowledge IS helpful on the path, despite what many say.

You can get there a bunch of ways. Often the path is divided in two: the path of discrimination (eliminating everything you aren’t, and attachment to it, till all that is left is what you are), and the path of devotion, in which you trust completely in God and Guru till you are so detached and worry free that you can also see the truth. (The last step on this path is the infamous, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him point,” but you have to be damn advanced before you need to kill your Gods. Until then, God is a great crutch.)

When you have some understanding of the enlightenment path you can re-read the great religious-mystics with a new eye, and you can actually understand much of what they were trying to do with the rules set up for religion. Many of these rules were cultivation practices meant to give ordinary worshippers a chance at some real attainment. You can understand that when a mystic with real attainment tells you to “Treat your neighbour as yourself” he or she is really thinking, “They are you, but you’ll never believe it, so just treat them that way for now.” You understand why they want you to put your faith in God. And so on.

May the world open before you.

(For the record, I am not enlightened.)

Further Reading

Some Notes on Meditation

Personality and Destiny


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