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In the introduction to this series of articles, I promised to try to help steer seekers around some of the most treacherous potholes on the spiritual path. Trust me – the road of spiritual discovery does not always benefit from regular maintenance, and as a result I’ve slammed into many a deep crater. Hopefully you can avoid my navigational errors, so please follow along as we try to evade the worst obstacles.
This particular obstruction can grow much larger than a mere pothole – in fact, it can become a sinkhole, ready to swallow entire streets and houses. Watch out for this one with great vigilance:
2. Sincerity is no gauge of the truth.
When you travel on the spiritual path you’ll meet some absolutely wonderful fellow-travelers. People who have embarked on a spiritual search tend to be intelligent, insightful and interesting. These new friends will seem incredibly sincere, and most probably are. But whatever you do, don’t confuse their sincerity with your truth.
Why? Because a genuine, authentic spiritual search questions everything. And I don’t mean just the normal intellectual questions we ask, either. A true search for truth explores the mind, the soul, even the heart.
When you want to know the inner reality of life, you embark on a search to find it. Sometimes, without even knowing you’re doing it, it begins when you start to question what you’ve been taught. Often this process blossoms in adolescence, when we normally differentiate ourselves from our parents and families; when we initiate an independent and autonomous mental and spiritual life and begin to become an adult.
That can be a rocky road. Separating from the assumptions, the prejudices and the concepts we’re all taught as children throws open the floodgates of new and challenging ideas. But how do you judge between them? How do you determine what’s true and what’s false? What standard of measurement do we use to ask our questions and come up with our answers?
It turns out that most people use their instincts.
And what are our instincts? They’re inner impulses that tend to come from our earliest childhood experiences, the behavioral scientists tell us. Our instincts – what some people call their gut feelings or their intuition – may seem to give us an inner, non-rational and often unexplainable flash of illumination. But, as the Baha’i writings explain, relying on gut instincts or traditions or superstitions or even logic are all, by themselves, imperfect ways to make a decision. This remarkable advice from Abdu’l-Baha shows us how to liberate ourselves from the inherent prejudices our opinions, instincts and prejudices impose on us in our search:
If a man would succeed in his search after truth, he must, in the first place, shut his eyes to all the traditional superstitions of the past….
We should, therefore, detach ourselves from the external forms and practices of religion. We must realize that these forms and practices, however beautiful, are but garments clothing the warm heart and the living limbs of Divine truth. We must abandon the prejudices of tradition if we would succeed in finding the truth at the core of all religions.
If five people meet together to seek for truth, they must begin by cutting themselves free from all their own special conditions and renouncing all preconceived ideas. In order to find truth we must give up our prejudices, our own small trivial notions; an open receptive mind is essential. If our chalice is full of self, there is no room in it for the water of life. The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is necessary if we would reach truth, for truth is one.
Therefore it is imperative that we should renounce our own particular prejudices and superstitions if we earnestly desire to seek the truth. Unless we make a distinction in our minds between dogma, superstition and prejudice on the one hand, and truth on the other, we cannot succeed. When we are in earnest in our search for anything we look for it everywhere. This principle we must carry out in our search for truth.
Science must be accepted. No one truth can contradict another truth. Light is good in whatsoever lamp it is burning! A rose is beautiful in whatsoever garden it may bloom! A star has the same radiance if it shines from the East or from the West. Be free from prejudice, so will you love the Sun of Truth from whatsoever point in the horizon it may arise! …It means, also, that we must be willing to clear away all that we have previously learned, all that would clog our steps on the way to truth; we must not shrink if necessary from beginning our education all over again. We must not allow our love for any one religion or any one personality to so blind our eyes that we become fettered by superstition! When we are freed from all these bonds, seeking with liberated minds, then shall we be able to arrive at our goal. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 135-138.