Should Spirituality be Organized?

I have considered forming a discussion group of some kind where we can regularly talk about these things, face-to-face, and commune-contemplate-meditate together regularly with like-minded people. Technology being what it is today, we can each do this from wherever we may be anywhere in the world as if we were all sitting together in the same living room!

I have considered forming a discussion group of sorts where we can regularly talk about these things, face-to-face, and commune-contemplate-meditate together regularly with other like-minded people. Technology being what it is today, we can do this from wherever we may each be anywhere in the world as if we were all sitting together in the same living room!

And where “two or three are gathered in my name, I AM there” (Matthew 18:20). Of course, I think Christ is there with only an individual (in that individual), but Christ is even more there with two or three or ten or twenty or thousands more! I think Christ multiplies exponentially with each additional Life that is present together in union and communion. This is the Wedding Feast of the Bridegroom, and it is present even throughout Nature.

But I do not want to form anything that could be construed as a “religion” or a “church,” as these are commonly known. Some may be disturbed by even the suggestion of not forming a “church.” But really, we have multitudes of “churches” already, and many of us already attend one of them (see the World Religions Tree to see just how many).

I enjoy the Mormon tradition and scriptures, even though I no longer congregate with the Latter-day Saints. I think Joseph Smith was a genuine prophet-mystic, when he was actually acting as a prophet-mystic in communion with the Divine. I think Mormonism has a very rich assortment of deep, mystical, spiritual, wise teachings, and insight, being as it is only 187 years out from its own mystical origins. However, it is far from the only spiritual tradition that has many deep and wise spiritual insights, and it is far from the only tradition that has had genuine prophet-mystics, it seems to me. As Joseph Smith himself expressed, we can treasure up truths from all sources. We can also go directly to the Source in contemplation-meditation-communion, which is where we realize Truth for ourselves.

Unfortunately, what can often happen as a result of organization is that egos eventually take charge of things after a while, and the organization loses that mystical fire that it once had, that deeper spiritual insight (see David Steindl-Rast’s excellent essay on this subject). It can regress to a kind of “preparatory gospel,” as perhaps happened with Moses and the Israelites (D&C 84:23-27). This is a common pattern, seen again and again throughout history. Our human nature is so fickle, and spiritual regression is frequent, especially when spirituality meets empire. The real church, the “Body of Christ,” is people anyway, everyday human beings and Life itself, not any institution (1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4).

The spiritual teacher Ram Dass once told a story about organization:

There is a story that as God and Satan were walking down the street one day, the Lord bent down and picked something up.

He gazed at it glowing radiantly in His hand.

Satan, curious, asked: “What’s that?”

“This,” answered the Lord, “is Truth.”

“Here,” replied Satan as he reached for it, “let me have that – I’ll organize it for you.”

(Source: Ram Dass, Journey of Awakening)

Joel S. Goldsmith, another mystical spiritual teacher, may have had very similar things in mind when he discussed his Infinite Way in groups; it seems he never wanted a formal or official central organization to ever be formed around his ideas. Wikipedia notes:

Goldsmith’s insistence on “no organization” insured that his message remained a personal journey with leaders naturally evolving from new generations. There is no service, ritual, dogma, ceremony in the practice of the Infinite Way. Goldsmith students can be found in all walks of life, in all religions.

I like that non-sectarian, non-dogmatic, non-ritualistic, non-moralistic, non-legalistic approach to understanding these deeper truths in a communal environment. There is power in sociality, in community, in sangha, and we can learn a lot from sharing with each other, but there are also many dangers as can be seen in the history of religion. People from all religions can learn from traditional world-wide mystical wisdom and practices and take from their insights to enable a deeper communion in their own particular spiritual persuasion. My background is predominantly Mormon/Christian, but I greatly value the insights of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, and many other traditions, particularly their mystical subsets, and how these may allow us to understand things from many different points of view. Ultimately I think they may be all different fingers pointing at the same moon; each additional vector offers us a better chance of actually reaching that moon and not being distracted or misled along the way.

Joseph Smith may have recognized the downsides of formal organization of spirituality also, and I think originally he may have had no intentions whatsoever of forming a new “church” around his mystical visions and insights. He seemed to realize in his original First Vision that none of the churches were “true,” that they were “all wrong,” that they spoke about God with their “lips,” but didn’t know God with their “hearts.” Later, he seems to have known what can happen when people are placed into positions of authority over others: “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion” (D&C 121:39). This can even happen to those who have had many prophetic mystical visions, even Joseph Smith himself was not immune to human egoic failings! Which I think is partly why he could say such a thing; he experienced it himself. And yet, despite all of this, Joseph still felt called to organize a church.

I perceive that my views are not a unique viewpoint that needs yet another organization, although some organization or “community” is inevitable in human nature and often necessary to perpetuate ideas. Mine is the world-wide universal perennial viewpoint shared by all mystics-prophets-shamans-gurus-buddhas that have ever opened their mouths since the beginning of time, since the foundation of the world! This viewpoint is found everywhere already, and we can cherish the insights from all of them in their own particular ways and with all their particular viewpoints.

God speaks to all nations, and they have written it (2 Nephi 29:7, 12), so let’s read what God has caused to be written through Awakened At-One Humans. What is most important is that these realities are awakened and realized directly within us, each and every one, as this is what fundamentally changes lives and transforms the world around us. Sometimes a community can help guide people towards that inner realization.

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