Let us look at ‘goodness’ within the context of western culture, which is largely Christian. Although these concepts about goodness exist in other cultures, and also exist as distortions of the teachings of great spiritual masters around whom great world religions have been formed, they are distortions nonetheless.
You may be wondering ‘why such an emphasis on religion’? The simple answer is that religion has dominated day-to-day life for countless millions across the planet for many generations. In the mid to late 20th century we may not have been raised in a particularly religious environment, however, it is true to say that it is only the generations post WWII that have not lived with religion as a focal point in their day to day lives – movements, habits, diet, traditions, and concepts of good and bad dictated from the pulpit.
It is important to say here that all of the world’s religions, and even traditional forms of spirituality such as Shamanism, point towards something that is greater than ourselves. Each of the great teachers that have come forth, that have become manifest within humanity have also pointed towards that which is far greater than we are as individuals.
Nestled within the core of each religious tradition is a collection of seemingly universal truths that would appear to be hidden in plain sight, seemingly shrouded in layers of doctrine and notions of the good and bad and who has more rights to goodness than others. It is also important to recognize that as fear is one of the primal motivations of all human beings imprinted with the will to survive, it is a challenge for us to live without any doctrine, conventions or formulas for belief.
As we begin to awaken and search for deeper truth we may indeed leave the religion of our childhood behind and simply find ourselves habitually swapping one set of doctrine for another. The new doctrine may not have been imposed upon us from a pulpit or a canon, but our habit to search for safety is so ingrained that we can easy adapt anything we hear to fit into the notion that one belief is better than another and certain actions will summon more redemption than others.
Our underlying fear is one of total annihilation. The fear that when this corporeal existence comes to an abrupt end with the demise of our physical body we will simply cease to exist. The lights will go out and there will be nothing. Nothing at all. It is this very existential fear that underpins many of our belief systems and also keeps us in avoidance of facing self-hatred and the belief we are in some way bad.
As we explore this fear, and become willing to surrender to it, we can begin to pierce the barrier around it and witness our own silent awareness that exists outside of fear, and also deep within it, and yet untouched by it.
What is needed to be understood and communicated here is that these teachings of separation have been with us for many generations and whether or not we consciously give them any power, credence or belief, from a cultural perspective they have left an indelible mark on our collective and individual psyche. We have been told and have been telling others that there is something wrong with human beings.
These ideas of goodness, worthiness and value have become the underpinning and foundation of western thinking and western culture. They’ve become the foundation of how we view ourselves. People are divided into good people or bad people. Bad people need to be punished, and we need to do certain things in order to be good. It is not that these things do not happen in the east, for they certainly do.
In India many are subjected to having their value as a person assessed by the caste they are born to and hardship is very often simply seen as a kind of retribution for bad deeds in a past life. Reincarnation itself has become a system of merit for many. If born into a wealthy family, then of course you are good, for the Gods have given you an easy life. The distortions around the teachings of karma and past lives often leads to horrendous acts of cruelty, indifference and hard-heartedness in India and other places.
There is no part in this in which I am saying that good manners are not worthwhile. There certainly needs to be some guidelines, rules and structures in place in order to assist us to relate to one another. There needs to be some sort of agreed upon structure and common behaviour as it assists with relating as a communal being. It is good to have laid down regulations regarding not taking what doesn’t belong to us, etc.
However, I’m not really talking about that level of teaching. What is being presented here is a much deeper and more fundamental level at which the greater portion of our societies and culture on the entire planet has lived with this notion that we’re bad and that there’s something wrong with us.
Even if we venture into Eastern culture, there is this idea that if you’re suffering, then it’s because you did something really bad in a past life. It’s your karma, and therefore, it’s your fault. Just as in quite conservative Christian communities there can be a view that if you’re poor, it’s your fault because you’re lazy. There’s that belief system. In the east we see a belief that says if one is suffering in poverty that just means that we were in some way bad or culpable.
The invitation and challenge here is to venture into the unknown territory of living outside of belief and outside of dogma. This is not an invitation to ignore your own inner moral compass – the natural impulse we have to avoid harming others and taking from others.
However, it is an invitation to consider a world without belief. Our culture is so set up with reward systems it is very difficult not to have the idea that if we set about climbing some spiritual ladder that the higher we go then the greater chance there will be that we will be redeemed of everything we fear to be bad, ugly, dirty, worthless and disgusting about ourselves.
When we suspend belief and dogma one of the first fears that will probably arise is: who will save me now? What will save me now? How can I know that I’m good? How will I measure my worthiness? As this arises we are being called to surrender to those feelings in order to expose the deeper wound of separation from ourselves.
As we traverse the unknown territory of no belief and no dogma and no teaching to help us be good, we will notice that not only do we really start to be more gentle with ourselves but our judgments of others also begins to fade. The territory of no belief and no dogma can be quite frightening for most.
However, what I’m speaking of here is not the discounting of there being something greater than ourselves, some greater force in the Universe, but this is a call to the very idea that we must do something, or become something in order to win favour from that which is inherently benevolent.
Many westerners who have ventured into Eastern philosophy have now distorted the teachings of non-attachment by creating a new desire to not desire anything, a new belief that non-attachment and non-duality are somehow more worthy of our adherence, obedience and devotion than actually wanting something or having strong feelings about any given topic. Non-attachment has become the new vehicle to take us to enlightenment, it has become the new vehicle that makes us ‘good’, ‘pure’ and ‘more devoted’ than others.
Once we truly face the hidden feelings, that which is to be avoided at all costs, we begin to see a greater and broader truth that unequivocally reveals that no sets of beliefs, or actions motivated by beliefs, can make us good.
Only the realization of our innate goodness, a manifestation of the immense sacred cave that is our heart can do that. We must have the courage to stop creating new belief systems for only the heart can fathom that which the mind cannot understand.
As we cling to belief systems about what makes us ‘good’ and what makes us ‘bad’, even our most precious experiences of expanded awareness and expanded consciousness, or elevation through an exquisite heart opening, can be either subjected to scrutiny after the fact, or run through the filter of our updated dogmas or childhood programming.
When we avoid that which terrifies us we can create a hunger for blissful experience, none of which satisfies in the long run, so we must have more and more and more in order to assuage the constant nagging whisper that we are fundamentally flawed.
Another new dogma or belief system that has developed in recent years is the belief that ‘negativity’ is somehow the enemy. Whilst I would agree that it can be unpleasant and even hard work to be around someone who is constantly complaining, there are those who have stepped onto a spiritual, healing or ‘metaphysical’ path who see all negativity as the enemy.
They seek to ‘increase their vibration’ and it is, from my observation, yet another form of self-deception and the avoidance of what is deeper. Part of the path of an awakening heart is the sure knowledge and experience that our heart can truly bear it all. Somehow, so many of us have taken on this belief that in our pursuit of happiness there can be no room for suffering or pain.
However, when we ask the deeper question: What makes you happy? We begin to see, feel and hear that there are defences and belief systems standing in the way and In addition to that, the stated future happiness is about getting something or achieving something instead of surrendering to what is already present in the heart. Each time we reject or turn away from someone else’s pain it behooves to ask ourselves if we are prepared to meet our pain?
Another great new dogma is the belief that all it takes place in the mind. What I mean by ‘all of it’ is the notion that it is simply a matter of understanding our issues, their source, how we got them or created and then to choose a new set of beliefs that will resolve everything.
In this new dogma there is no room for suffering, there is no pain, accidents illnesses and even the death of a loved one can all be met with immediate admonitions to ‘get the lesson’ or to realize ‘that it is not supposed to be’ or that somehow we are ‘wrong’ to mourn the loss of a beloved as we should already know that they are in a far better place.
All dogmas and belief systems have the potential to be both abusive and self-abusive.