Religion and spirituality serve different functions for different people, such as social control, a source of ethics, a sense of community, guidance, solace, or tools for spiritual practice.
One thing is quite striking: The public side of most religions and most forms of spirituality reflect the dream of the ego. They often offer or promise a life that’s just what we think we want lasting forever (heaven, Enlightenment, Nirvana, Valhalla). The term ego here refers to what happens when a thought is take as true, such as I need to be happy, I need to control my life, I need to know my future will be as I want it. It’s confused love, and innocent.
There may be many reasons for presenting this version. The people promoting it may want it for themselves and others, out of confused love. It may be a hook to get people interested and involved. They may give people what they think they want.
This is also found in more intentional spiritual practice. Traditions and teachers may offer a Sunday school version of the path and what it involves. They may talk in absolutes (complete, lasting) and present things in black-and-white. They may talk as if a state, insight, recognition or shift is permanent, as if they know the future and anything is stable. They may leave out that it may be a messy and confusing process, or the details of how it may look. They forget to mention the possibility of dark nights, and not knowing in advance how dark it may be. They may make it sound as if there is a single shift and everything is easy and fine after that. They may not mention the ongoing process of healing, maturing and realignment of the human self in the world, and how whatever is not aligned with reality (wounds, fears, confusion, beliefs) tends to surface so it can align more consciously with reality. They may leave out that it can always be more clear.
There may be many reasons for this as well. Some teachers may not want to scare people away. They may conform to a traditional way of presenting it, which deals in absolutes and sanitized presentations. The specific teacher may not have explored or gone through this him- or herself. They may think it’s better to mention it in private when or if it happens for any one student. They may not want to set up expectations for something that may not happen.
As so many others these days, I cannot help thinking that presenting an intentionally sanitized version is doing people a disservice. The ones who are sincerely drawn to it will do it anyway, because there is no real choice. Some who are less committed may leave, which is not a problem since there are so many other approaches out there. It provides a more realistic map for students. It gives a sense of transparency and honesty which invites trust. And it may be a great relief for teachers to be honest and open about it, not feeling they need to censor or leave anything out.
And if this is taken on as a belief, I notice it feels uncomfortable and a bit “off”. It seems more attractive to look at any stressful thoughts I see around this, in both directions, and find more clarity that way.