While reading Ken Wilber’s A Sociable God, I learned something that helped me to understand a concept that I have struggled with for many years. I think this is so important that I want to share it with you, even if it doesn’t have much to do with gardening. However, it has everything to do with life. And in these troubled times, it is essential to world peace.
There are 4 stages of religious development. Well, maybe I should back up and define what I mean by “religious”. In this case, I am referring to a person’s worldview. For some people, it includes a traditional religion, but not always. In any case, the 4 stages are belief, faith, experience and adaptation.
Think of it as a pyramid with 4 levels. The largest number of people are at the bottom of the pyramid. These “true believers”, as Ken Wilber calls them, have a set of beliefs, or a “map of reality”, that tells them how to interpret the world. A person on this level is attached to the map. He feels like his very existence is threatened whenever someone questions his beliefs. This is because he has confused the map with who he is. He has not yet experienced himself as the map maker — the person holding the map.
True believers are those enthusiastic souls who are sure they know the truth, and they must tell you their point of view. Of course, they aren’t interested in your point of view, except when they are trying to suck you into an argument in order to convert you to their way of thinking. In extreme cases, the belief system of a group can lead to war or genocide, as people attempt to eradicate those who don’t think like they do.
True believers need enemies to make themselves feel good about their position. Eckhart Tolle says, “Who would the believer be without the unbeliever?”
Remember the parable of the good Samaritan. Samaritans and Jews at that time hated each other. But the good man in the story rises above the prejudice of his group and helps a person from the other group, even at the risk of his own life and at his own expense. This parable is meant to bring our attention to the problem of getting stuck in the group-oriented ego.
All religions are chock-full of paradoxes. Within any religion, different people gravitate towards different ideals. This is why I don’t think that someone’s proclaimed religion is a good basis for judging his character. Rather, I believe that those who live as examples of freedom, compassion and unity are following God, and those who engage in force, hatred and separation are following the course of evil, regardless of their proclaimed religion. The true test of a person’s character is how he treats his fellow human beings, not which church he goes to or which God (if any) he professes to believe in. (read on for more about faith and doubt)
The next stage of development is faith. You might say that faith is the opposite of doubt. But here’s the catch: Did you know that opposites are actually two ends of the same stick? Bill Harris says, “Opposites go together and define each other.” They come as a pair. They are inseparable like the two poles of a magnet. If you cut a magnet in half, it still has both a positive and a negative side. You cannot have joy without pain, up without down, life without death. When you pick up one end of the stick, you also pick up the other end. So you cannot have faith without doubt.
When I realized this, I was stunned. It explains everything! I remember many years ago when I went from being a “true believer” to being a “person of faith”. That was when I developed the ability to take different perspectives. I began to have more empathy for others because I could put myself in their shoes. One thing that helped me to develop this ability was having friends of different religions, including Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and even scientific atheists. I enjoyed the challenge of listening to their different points of view and trying to make sense of it all.
Only an advanced mind can integrate science and religion. Most people either deny religion or deny the facts of science, choosing to remain ignorant and stuck in magical thinking. Advanced minds are able to see paradoxes. When you can’t see the paradoxes, you are stuck in them. When you finally see them, you can rise above them and find a new perspective that deepens your faith and understanding.
There is a beautiful Zen saying that expresses how faith and doubt go together:
Great doubt, great enlightenment.
Small doubt, small enlightenment.
No doubt, no enlightenment.
Small doubt, small enlightenment.
No doubt, no enlightenment.
Ken Wilber says that people of faith frequently suffer from the misconception that their doubts mean that they don’t have faith. This causes intense feelings of guilt, especially if they were shamed in childhood by puritanical parents or other authority figures. If they could only see that their doubt is in proportion to their faith, they might be able to relax. People of faith are always questioning. That’s why they continue to progress.
One of my favorite books is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Because of her painful childhood, Jane begins to ask questions at a young age. She reads books and thinks deeply. Jane’s aunt doesn’t approve of questions, which she interprets as rebellion. So she sends Jane away to a strict religious school where the pupils are abused by the authorities. Throughout her life, Jane has to stand up to many people, including the man she loves. Jane lives by internalized principles, not by external rules and mindless obedience to those who want to control her. This is a story of great faith and courage.
Some of us have suffered like Jane at the hands of true believers. After I broke my jaw, some people said that I must have sinned to deserve such punishment from God. Others said that I obviously didn’t have enough faith to be healed. I suffered because I thought they were right, since they were “righteous” people. I went through many years of doubting and questioning, which I now see was good for me. Eventually, I saw through all the mind games and refused to play them any more. I realized that my persecutors were stuck in the ego, so they had to make everyone else wicked in order to feel good about themselves.
It is human nature to be fearful of the unknown. True believers are afraid of doubt. They run away from it every time it arises. So they are unable to work through it and arrive at a higher level of understanding. I’ve known many otherwise intelligent people who stay on a low level of spiritual development because they run away from doubt. Consequently, they are stuck in magical(pre-rational) thinking in their spiritual lives.
Fear arises with doubt — the ego’s fear of being wrong. This happen when a person is taught that doubt is bad. What’s so bad about doubt? Without doubt, there would be no human progress. Doubt is a natural part of the learning process and the development of the rational mind. Doubt causes you to ask questions. When you ask questions, you find answers.
Genpo Roshi says, “Have faith in your doubt.” The moment you stop asking questions, you stop progressing. Humility is admitting that you don’t have all the answers. Then you become teachable.
During my years of increasing doubt, I experienced profound loneliness. I had to endure persecution from people who said things like, “Stop doubting! What’s wrong with you?” The implication was that I was a wicked person. When you are going through this experience, you can’t expect empathy from true believers, and you can’t expect help from people who are just as confused as you are. Only a person who has transcended Great Doubtcan offer real guidance and support. Those people are extremely rare, as you might have guessed from the pyramid model. But it may cheer you up to know that the greatest people who ever lived also went through Great Doubt.
Meditation is the time-tested way to face doubt, work through it, and come out the other end. I do two types of meditation on a daily basis: Big Mind and Holosync. These methods are extremely effective at increasing awareness. But even though they support you through the process of Great Doubt, you cannot avoid this painful stage completely. It is necessary to experience doubt before you can experience enlightenment.
Faith and doubt motivate a person to seek experience, the next stage of religious development. Experience alleviates the tension of the faith/doubt polarization. A direct experience can be shocking because it is never what you expected. It comes as a flash of insight that forever changes the way you think about things. Knowledge replaces faith. You have a new understanding of reality, a greater awareness, a feeling of peace, a sense of wholeness, and an increased ability to love yourself and others.
Here’s how Ken Wilber describes the experience of enlightenment: “Authentic transformation is not a matter of belief but of the death of the believer; not a matter of translating the world but of transforming the world; not a matter of finding solace but of finding infinity on the other side of death. The self is not made content; the self is made toast.”
The person at this stage doesn’t try to force his views on others. He is more interested in hearing other people’s perspectives because it broadens his own understanding. This is an exciting stage because everything seems new and wonderful.
After many more experiences, a person eventually goes to the stage of adaptation. He now lives from the higher perspective that was previously only an idea. Instead of having a map of reality, he lives in Reality. This stage has been described as “just like normal life, but two inches off the ground.”
Eckhart Tolle says, “Many concepts disappear when the reality to which the concept points arrives. The very mental concept of it is not really necessary any more.” For example, the person who has gone beyond the concept of love doesn’t need to talk or think about love. His life is the embodiment of Love.
Okay, let’s tie this into gardening. The gardener starts out with a belief system. He has read some books, watched some gardening shows, or taken a class. As they say, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” and beginners think they know everything. This can be annoying sometimes. But their enthusiasm is what keeps them going when things get tough.
With enough setbacks and disappointments, the gardener soon finds himself on the level of faith and doubt. He begins to question his early assumptions. This is when real learning begins. If he sticks with it long enough, he will eventually become an experienced gardener. He will learn to accept the reality of nature and work with it, instead of against it. In this experience, he finds his connection to nature. Eventually, he will live his life from that place.
Parenting is another skill that must be learned by experience. Have you ever noticed that people who don’t have children think they know everything about raising kids? I often tell my friends that they have no idea what it’s like to raise teenagers, but they try to give me advice anyway. After raising three teenagers, I’ve dropped my old, unresourceful beliefs about child raising. I now live from a “big picture” perspective that helps me to feel peaceful and happy most of the time, regardless of the kids’ moods, because I have a greater understanding of the process of development and how everything fits together.
Finally, my experience as a spiritual seeker has been different than what I expected based on the concepts of my youth. For most people, God is either the big Santa Claus in the sky who grants wishes, or an angry, punishing parent who causes suffering. I’ve spent the last few years rewriting my map of reality, replacing old beliefs from childhood with what I’ve learned from experience. As the apostle Paul said, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
Whether you are a gardener, a parent, or a spiritual seeker, knowing the stages of development can help you to move through them more easily. Everyone starts at the bottom. With enough perseverance, education and experience, we can eventually get to the top.
To read more of Diane’s articles, please visit her blog.