The word “spiritual” has almost no meaning, but since it is used by many people to indicate something extra to everyday life, I will use it to brand all such ambitions with the same iron. And let’s not forget that notions of spiritual work, spiritual progress, spiritual powers, and so on, are just another form of ambition. Most people embark upon such quests because they are dissatisfied with life. This dissatisfaction often derives from some kind of emotional pain. Of course, most people do not realize this, but life beats us all up is some way and the pain that results calls to be addressed. The most common method of relieving oneself from pain is to seek pleasure. Heroin addicts tend to be people with deep emotional pains which are temporarily relived through the ecstatic state that heroin brings about. Alcohol is another option, delivering oblivion in a low cost and socially accepted manner, provided alcoholism doesn’t result. It goes without saying that a person whose existence is largely pleasurable will not go seeking for pleasure.
And so we come to spiritual quests. Someone who is dissatisfied with life, either because they are in pain, or because they read or heard somewhere that more pleasurable states are available, will often gravitate toward spiritual practices and traditions that promise increased pleasure. No one would seek a “spiritual” discipline that resulted in greater pain. People will endure pain if there is a promise of pleasure, but it would be a truly perverse person who practiced a spiritual discipline that only promised pain. Even Gurdjieff, the man who didn’t disguise that his methods would cause pain, promised an immortal soul at the end of the torment – a very good selling point. That spiritual quests might be nothing more than pleasure seeking is of course insulting to many people. But what else might they be after?
It might be worth analyzing a few “spiritual” pursuits – going from the most shallow to the most esoteric. “The Secret” is hardly spiritual, but new age types are very often drawn to it. One just has to imagine a situation (more money, power, fame or whatever) and it will happen. It is pleasure seeking in its most explicit form, and the notion that the bounty of the universe is available simply by imagining it proved to be a very powerful idea – even if it is somewhat deranged. Then we have religion, and as an example we have the Christian Church of Abundance, a crass perversion of Biblical doctrine that is not wholly dissimilar from The Secret. People pray for stuff, seeing God as the big Santa Claus in the sky. After this it starts to get more subtle. People will meditate in the belief that meditation will yield serenity and deliver them from pain – pleasure seeking in other words. And I should add here that there is absolutely nothing wrong with pleasure seeking – all sentient creatures seek pleasure. But let’s not pretend that so called “spiritual” activities are anything but this. Moving on we get to traditions such as Buddhism, which is at least honest enough to proclaim that the aim is to escape suffering.
As UG Krishnamurti says, all the so called spiritual pursuits have no greater inherent virtue than working to acquire money. Both have pleasure as their aim. It’s just that one is dishonest and the other isn’t. This is why I personally find business people more pleasant and more honest than so called “spiritual” people. Business people are just interested in money, because they believe that money will bring them pleasure, and most don’t try to disguise it. Spiritual people on the other hand – layers and layers of obfuscation. Abandon hope all ye who try to get a spiritual person to be honest.
Finally a quote from Spinoza:
… we see that it is particularly those who greedily covet fortune’s favours who are the readiest victims of superstition of every kind …