Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Levels of Spirituality - Part I

I have come to embrace of mild form of spirituality that is consistent with my rationalist leanings yet not inconsistent with our major spiritual traditions. I will explain the specifics of my personal spirituality in a subsequent essay. My purpose here is to describe the shared structural elements of our major spiritual traditions as viewed from the perspective of a rational, open-minded non-participant.

My analysis of our major spiritual perspectives indicates that there are three discrete levels of involvement. These levels of spirituality are defined with respect to the Transcendent entity underlying all of these traditions. The distinct levels of spirituality are:

  • Adherent - Believer in Transcendence
  • Prophet - Communer with Transcendence
  • Divinity - Manifestation of Transcendence

The Adherent represents the minimum level of participation in a given tradition. As such they are the most loosely affiliated participants in a given spiritual practice. This is the level of the majority of those associated with a given spiritual interpretation. The Adherents of different spiritual traditions have accepted as true the revelations of a Prophet of that tradition.

A Prophet speaks for the fundamental Transcendent entity underlying most spiritual interpretations. To do so, the Prophet has to have had some form of communion with this Transcendence. From most spiritual perspectives this communion represents a mystical experience. It is generally the first significant instance of such an experience that transforms an Adherent into a Prophet. In being fundamentally transformed by their spirituality, Prophets have a deeper level of commitment to their interpretation than do Adherents. The relative rarity of true mystical experiences means there are typically fewer Prophets than Adherents in a given spiritual tradition. The mystical experience provides the Prophet with intuitive insight into the nature of Transcendence, in the form of a spiritual revelation. Collectively the revelations of the orthodox Prophets of a given spiritual interpretation represent its logos.

In mystic spirituality the fundamental Transcendent entity is regarded as being beyond comprehension. As such its manifestation as Divinity is what Prophets commune with in order to receive the revelations that form the foundation of the beliefs of Adherents.

Its Divinity represents the accessible core of a spiritual tradition. Only the most exceptional beings in a given spiritual interpretation are found here. In the Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) Adherents are taught that the Transcendent descends to manifest as the Divinity (Shekhinah, the Holy Spirit, the Christ, Az-Zahir). Generally in the Abrahamic interpretations only Prophets believe they can ascend to the Unity with Transcendence that manifests as Divinity. Abrahamic Adherents believe they can only aspire to proximity with the Transcendent, a location that represents the realm they call Heaven. This domain corresponds to what is essentially the upper reaches of the Prophetic level.

By contrast, in the Dharmic and Daoic traditions (Hinduism, Daoism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, etc), Adherents are taught that Prophets can ascend to Divinity through spiritual growth. These Far Eastern traditions share the Abrahamic belief that the Transcendent can descend to manifest as Divinity.

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