A Vow of Spiritual Poverty
It's a common theme in popular culture, and the “self-help” industry, diet industry, make-up industry, cosmetic surgery and fashion industry are all well established thanks to the idea of self-transformation, or re-inventing yourself.
However superficial these transformations may appear to be, therare other substantial transformations one may undergo. And if one is not careful, they can have devastating effects.
Disclosure: I am neither a syncretist or a theosophist.
The architecture of the soul, is something shaped out of culture. Primarily by language. And language has a very strong effect on the dynamic of the person and their function in society. In this case I think of society as merely a larger construct of language.
The problem is two-fold: One, the culture must support the individual in his time of need or else he is in very real danger of breaking off. Second, every person on this planet is unique, however they must construe their individuality using language of said relative society. And this severely limits the expression of individuality. For all intensive purposes certain aspects of schizophrenia can be thought of as both the breaking off of the individual into a highly-personalized “culture”, and failure to render said thoughts and discoveries with those of us outside, in this case society-at-large.
The mythology of the culture must be able to be rendered to the individual in a way which he directly experiences the culture. Canonical law, rites, and everything else that comes along with it, will be simply rendered at face-value and ultimately will fail the individual in his time of Great Personal Crisis.
The mythology must be able to be rendered in a congruent way with the language of the society, specifically the society-at-large. Creating a spiritual-link to the world outside—and most importantly sharing some sort of correlation with the soul.
For instance, although Sesame Street is not a religion, one may be fairly confident in his ability to go to Sesame Place and name many, if not all, of the characters. This is an example of the language supporting the popular-culture. Although, the failure is, of course, Sesame Street will not support him in his time of Great Personal Crisis.
Now, take the same person, and let's say he is a typical American-Catholic. Take him to Notre Dame in France (although he probably would feel more at home at the football stadium of Notre Dame University) and ask him to name the characters on the outside of the church. I would be astounded if he could, and more-over, if he could—the larger question is: Would they have any sort of impact upon him?
This is the problem that faces Western-Man today: Symbol-lessness.
Now, even the most cold and rational of beings must have a language of symbols at his disposal to render the microcosm—the soul—with the macrocosm of the universe surrounding the body—reality.
Such a person, probably an atheist or agnostic, will still fall prey to things like the consumerism of popular-culture. I would even go as so far as to argue that those of the atheist-culture will cling ferociously to fetishes, empirical reality, and may tend to develop overly-strong feelings about popular-culture.
The soul of the Western-Man craves, so strongly, some sort of symbolic nourishment, Western-Man becomes almost pathologically driven to popular-culture symbols. The very-same said cold, rational being is wearing super-hero shirts. Or being driven to defend some fetish of popular-culture and said fetish triggering real emotional releases: the fetish speaks to them. Although he knows the fetish is simply that: a product of fantasy. It is completely as fabricated as a particular mythology he has aligned himself against. However, the person soon crashes and again needs to grasp or extend the lingering sensation of awe popular-culture has arisen within him.
So puzzling is the irrational behavior, one can only throw their hands up and surmise Western society's lament as thus: Centuries-ago societies had art. And today we have popular-culture.
“I hope movies don't pass as religion.” - George Lucas.
As bad as this seems, the language and story structure are still fundamentally Western in most movies—thanks to the American dispersion of its culture. These stories still strike the same chords as the now defunct mythology once did, although nowhere near the same depth.
Now there are those Western-Individuals who are not so easily sedated by popular-culture. They see it for what is it, a mere facade of the human drama playing deeply within their unconscious. And they are right. So they turn else-where: The Orient.
However, this “Oriental-Palace” is not at all compatible with the Western-Individual. They rarely speak the language of the culture, and even so they are not shaped to hold Oriental mythology. And often mistake the facade of Oriental mythology for the thing itself. This is often disastrous, and even The Dalai Lama, whom I rarely agree with, advises against. “Sometimes switching religions is not a good idea.”
One would surely not rip out the pages of a book to fit it in the bookcase. And this is the exact mistake the Western-Man makes when he embraces the Oriental mythology. The mistranslation of misunderstood notions of “empty-mind” and the lack of individualism in the Orient is surely something that may get him into big trouble when his moment of Great Personal Crisis arrives.
And, unlike the cold and rational atheist who still feels the pang of symbol-lessness and thus aware of the need to better prepare himself for the arrival of the dreaded moment. The Western-Man might find all his teachings ultimately failing him at the same universal moment of Crisis. As opposed to the Oriental, who is able to both embrace and handle his Great Personal Crisis with the very same instruction the Western-Man, now in Oriental robes, has received in the “Oriental-Palace”.