Physical Strength as The Basis of Enlightenment

physical-strength-spirituality“First of all our young men must be strong. Religion will come afterwards,” said Swami Vivekananda. “Be strong, my young friends; that is my advice to you. You will be nearer to Heaven through football than through the study of the [Hindu religious text of the Bhagavad] Gita… You will understand the Gita better with your biceps, your muscles, a little stronger.”

We in the West have inherited the Christian image — and I would say, largely a false image — of the spiritual or enlightened man: self-sacrificing, passive, slender, and in a sense anti-physical.

Where Christianity has declined or disappeared, this image and the assumptions of the religion — equality, a focus on — or a belief in — the poor and the outcast, and strong suspicion of the physical body, especially physical strength — have become the major motifs of politics.

But the traits we associate with spirituality and intelligence are not necessarily accepted by either non-Western or pre-modern cultures.  Continue reading “Physical Strength as The Basis of Enlightenment”

The Female Image in the Initiation of The Higher Man

There is a custom in Nepal, in which a few, select prepubescent girls are regarded as living manifestations of the goddess, and worshiped by Hindus and Buddhists. These girls — kumari, or “living goddesses” — will live in temples until they retire at puberty. They will also wear special clothing, and will have a third eye or “fire eye” painted on their forehead, as a mark of their divine status. During religious festivals, they will be taken, inside special chariots, to the streets, where devotees will be able to worship them. Why?

While we in the modern West may be uncomfortable with such a tradition, we should suspend judgment.

Of course, we know that children naturally bring out paternal and maternal instincts — to protect or nurture. But, I believe the kumari acts as a reminder, not of the devotee’s role in life, but of his or her mortality itself. It makes him aware of his transience, his drawing closer to death, and of the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Continue reading “The Female Image in the Initiation of The Higher Man”

Monasticism, Manhood, and Initiation Into the Ordinary

In some southeast Asian cultures, it is considered a rite of passage — and a part of normal culture — for boys in their teens to enter a Buddhist monastery for a short period. In the West, such a tradition does not exist, and Christianity — which has been the dominant religion in Western Europe for the last thousand years — is generally regarded with hostility by secularists and spiritual people alike.

This may be partly the fault of Christianity today, which focuses on the moral and social aspects of the faith — rather than the mystical — and yet wants to appeal to modern people, for whom morality is “relative.” But it is also the fault of those who claim to be interested in the spiritual, but who cannot look beyond the exoteric — as they can with other religions — to find the spiritual heart of the faith. Continue reading “Monasticism, Manhood, and Initiation Into the Ordinary”