Learning from contrasts or sticking to ONE spiritual path?

This post was sparked by a fellow theosophist who apparently hadn’t read the first lines of my review of Susan Blackmore’s Consciousness, an Introduction. He e-mailed me incensed at my reviewing so positively a lady who has decided that parapsychology is a foolish pursuit. To be fair: he turned around totally when I wrote something along the lines of that introduction – because he is not generally one to think one should ignore the truth, just because it’s inconvenient.

I was so planning to not be the minister in this post, but find some metaphysical subject instead. But well, this topic does concern me: there are two opposing tendencies in theosophical circles. The one is to study whatever legible material on interesting topics one can find. The other is to advise people to stick to ONE spiritual path, because the practical teachings may conflict.

Perhaps this second advice is about practical teachings. That is: when one is serious about the spiritual path and seeks enlightenment – it is best to find one spiritual teacher and stick to that teacher untill they have taught you all they can share. This is because jumping from one teacher to the next is going to lead to confusion. Where teachings have very different terminology (and they often do), learning the terminology of the different teachers alone is going to take time. It is a clever mind that can keep terminology from different spiritual systems straight.

Another issue is probably more serious: many people go from one teacher to the next without ever going beyond the most basic teachings of each. It’s like going to university after university for introduction courses in mathematics. There may be differences in the curriculum, but no benefit can be had from going from teacher to teacher – the order of the curriculum gone, confusion will follow.

Again: confusion as the ultimate problem.

As a math tutor I’m very familiar with confusion. Confusion is part of the learning process. There is research to suggest that there is a precise optimum amount of confusion that works best for all students. Too much bewilderment and students will become discouraged. Too little challenge and they will become bored. So what each of us needs, in order to keep on learning, is to feel challenged, but not in over our heads.

Apply this to spiritual studies and you get the following: contrasts are alright, as long as they do not discourage the learning process itself. Having several spiritual inspirations at once is alright, as long as one can devote sufficient time to each to learn what they have to offer. When it comes to meditation training or something practical of that kind it is probably a good idea to stick to having only one teacher at a time.

Back to Susan Blackmore. She has a lot to offer: she is very knowledgeable about the science of consciousness and the latest research is very ably described in her book. She is however not very spiritual. She has decided that parapsychological research is a dead end street. Her conclusions regarding the way consciousness work aren’t that far off from those of Daniel Dennett: another inspiring teacher… but also one I ultimately disagree with.

[If the English in this post was a bit bookish, blame the many costume dramas I’ve been watching on DVD lately. Ive been under the weather.]

8 thoughts on “Learning from contrasts or sticking to ONE spiritual path?”

  1. Katinka, thanks for asking this question. I too have wondered if I should just go deeper into my faith tradition (Catholicism) or explore other traditions like Buddhism to embibe the wisdoms there as well. At the moment I’m including toward the latter, to learn as much as I can about other faiths and to be open to all. I’m not convinced this is the best way but it’s the one I’m drawn to right now.

  2. Blavatsky responded to similar criticism from some readers of her magazine Lucifer in her article “What Is Truth?” –

    “They cannot see why it should not be a purely Theosophical magazine, in other words, why it refuses to be dogmatic and bigoted. Instead of devoting every inch of space to theosophical and occult teachings, it opens its pages ‘to the publication of the most grotesquely heterogeneous elements and conflicting doctrines.’ This is the chief accusation, to which we answer–why not? Theosophy is divine knowledge, and knowledge is truth; every true fact, every sincere word are thus part and parcel of Theosophy.”

  3. Hi Daphne, you could go for Catholic mysticism… But who am I to talk, I’m inspired by so many traditions it’s mind boggling. Of source theosophy helps balance them though.

  4. My opinion: No religion is required to become “spiritual”..Whatever that means..It has different connotations for different individuals..
    All religions aim for the same..being one with God..
    Once one realizes that God is no further than a step away from identification with the mind..or rather ..the ABSENCE of it..And so being one with Life..Religions become unnecessary.


  5. Hi Katinka,
    I agree with you completely, and I advocate the same approach. It is good to hear wisdom and truth from many sources, but also very important to follow one particular path through to the deeper stages. In my blog I frequently write that New Age needs to be grounded in traditional Mysticism whilst being open to new information, thus avoiding the mistakes of black and white thinking of Conservative Religion, and also the Relativist pick and choose aproach of many who follow a New Age approach.

    Katinka, your blog is probably the best I have seen. You write short and concise post’s on significant issues, and you write with great clarity and understanding. Keep up the good work.
    God Bless,
    Hari Om,

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  7. Of course it is up to each person to choose… but another thought on it: whether one studies the etymology of ‘path’ or does a meditation on its meanings one will likely get to the idea that it means ‘law’. Enlightened teachers teach the same law.

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