Great video interview with Ethan Nicthern
. I think what he is doing is fantastic, and that he’s bringing a younger perspective to the Buddhist scene is great. Also, it’s clear that Ethan is a bright, and well spoken guy. Always good to see.
In the video above he shares an interesting perspective with regards to the word “spiritual,” which he is taking a stand against (and really more importantly the misconceptions he sees coming along with the word). His reasoning is two-fold: 1) The word often denotes a sense of “other-worldliness”, that is a world which is separate from our normal existence. This is a problem, presumably, because what we are living is this life, in this world. 2) When something (or someone) is considered spiritual it’s held to an extreme degree of purity, much more so than other things. The problem here is that our ideals, which are in almost all cases off the mark, are being projected onto the object, which can then never possibly live up to them.
This is a prescient critique and one that as a
spiritual teacher (of sorts), Ethan must have some 1st hand experience with. That being said, I’d like to explore some other ways of looking at this issue, one’s that may lead us not to simply reject the word spiritual, and problems that it is pointing to, but to actually re-contextualize the problem in such a way that basically eliminates it altogether.
If we take the original problems of other-worldliness and saintly ideals, we can see that these are projections onto the word spiritual, and really onto ideas we have about spiritual development. Another word for spiritual development is enlightenment, and so what we are dealing with are people’s models of enlightenment or spiritual development and authority. What my friend and teacher Daniel Ingram has demonstrated, in a brilliant examination of the different Models of Enlightenment that have existed, is that there are many different ideals that one may have of the spiritual journey, and its fruit, but that are pretty much only a couple that get close at actually, in extremely human and down-to-earth ways, describing what it’s actually about. In that section Daniel presents over 20 models that people can have–including God models, Emotional models, Radiance models, Transcendence models, and Social models to name a few. But only model, he claims that is accurate from beginning to end, are the non-duality models:
those models having to do with eliminating or seeing through the sense that there is a fundamentally separate or continuous center-point, agent, watcher, doer, perceiver, subject, observer or similar entity.
As you may already see, the two things that Ethan doesn’t like about the word spiritual, have to do with two models (namely the God and Transcendence models) that are being projected onto the word itself. And what this meta-view (or meta-model) allows us to do is not just reject these two models, but to actually identify that there are many other such models, each of which tell us something about he spiritual path, but only one of which can tell us what it is ultimately about.
So we take what Ethan’s said and add a whole host of other views that are projected onto the word spiritual, and then using the non-duality models, actually clarify what the word spiritual (or enlightenment if you please) is actually about. By teasing this apart at least two things happen:
- We can see everything that is not the spiritual path, and which are our ideals about what we think it should be, and then begin to re-contextualize spirituality altogether.
- By doing that we are now able to become extremely pragmatic about the goal of spiritual path, and begin to talk about the actual methods and technologies which may help us achieve it. This pragmatic view is so much more empowering for teachers and students, and if we diligently reject the other models this allows us to avoid the extreme projection and weirdness that Ethan was hinting at, then we don’t end up with as much of the personal issues and can focus solely on what should be focused on.
What is so interesting is that once one is able step far enough away from their models about what “spiritual” is, and see all of the common ways that people answer the question, “What is enlightenment?” then common patterns are seen. Seeing the patterns is the first step towards adopting the best of these models consciously, and then from there the words which used to point to so many conflated models can be consciously crafted into more empowering and helpful meanings. Or, we can drop the word, and come up with new ones, but I ain’t go nothing against “spiritual”.