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Spiritual Naturalism

By Paul So ~

It is often believed among Christians that non-believers who have no religion cannot have true spirituality; the reasoning behind this is not mere bigotry, rather it is the assumption that spiritual life is wholly dependent on a relationship with God. However I want to go beyond this assumption by arguing that spirituality can be independent of religion (including Christianity). I will argue this by expounding on a naturalistic/atheistic world-view in which Nature is the source of spirituality, not God. However before I do this I want to define or elaborate on what spirituality is; I know that spirituality cannot be thoroughly defined in an exhaustive manner, but at the very least I want to elaborate on the general idea on what spirituality is in order to further explain why it is possible without God. I also want to elaborate on what Nature is in the most simplest way possible…after that I want to relate them together to see how the pieces fall together.

Spirituality is the cultivation of the mind through the activity of the mind that leads to tranquility or equanimity (I’ll use the word equanimity), and this cultivation lies in understanding who we are and understanding our relation to Nature. By Nature, I don’t mean “Gaia” or “Mother Earth”, I mean the entire face of the cosmos which the Atheist French Philosopher Andre-Comte Sponville called “The All”. Spinoza called it “Eternal Substance” or “God”, and Einstein also called it “God” but we can just call it Nature (with the capital “N”). Nature is “The All”, according to Sponville, in that it is a totality of existence that is “unconditioned” (does not require a cause) where as all little nature (planets, stars, universe, multi-universe) are conditioned by the totality of existence (in other words, by conditioned, it means it is dependent on Nature). What this means is that all thing are dependent on Nature, but Nature itself is independent; all things are part of Nature, but Nature is not part of anything else.

To be spiritual is to practice a way of life that brings equanimity to the mind, and I believe that this practice is trying to understand ourselves by understanding Nature. By understanding Nature, we understand ourselves as a part of Nature, as a contingent or dependent individual beings on of whole reality itself. Without Nature, we wouldn’t exist to occupy any reality. By understanding Nature, we see ourselves as being part of something that is exceedingly greater than us; Because Nature contains all things that exist, and there are almost infinity of things that exist, Nature is just so vast and ineffable…there are over trillions of trillions of atoms in the universe, which make up those trillions of stars in the universe, and there are still more billions of galaxies that are made up by those same stars…When we compare ourselves to this universe, we are just a speck that is part of a whole greater reality, and who knows maybe our universe is part of a chain of multiverses that is part of a chaotic inflation. If this is true, then we are infinitely finite compare to the “Totality of All Existence”.

“It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.”How does this bring a peace of mind? By accepting reality, I think we become less intimidated and insecure; we tend to see ourselves separately from Nature by being preoccupied with our daily lives; there is nothing intrinsically wrong with living our daily life, but to live our life without realizing how vast the universe is, our mind will tend to be more unsettled by events in our lives that are pale in comparison to infinite reality. Our mind is always occupied with the more limited aspect of our life, and in this preoccupation all we ever see are things that are right in front of our eyes. What we tend to forget is that both the things that are right in front of our eyes and ourselves are also part of something greater in the perspective of Nature. By shifting our perspective from the ordinary life to reality as a whole, I think we will see our own ordinary life into a different perspective. All our mental events is part of the totality of events that are dependent on Nature; our sorrows, jealousy, hatred, anger, fear, hope, love, joy, laughter are all part of Nature. Not only are they connected with each other, but connected to everything else around it. We affect things around us, and things around us effect us. The Self is nothing more than a transient feature of a persisting reality; it is a chain of physical and mental events, and underneath this chain of event is a substratum of Nature, or the “Ground of Being

In other words, we accept death as a part of life, because life, by being part of Nature, is a transient feature of Nature, since everything that exist in Nature is impermanent in Nature, while Nature as a whole remains strangely permanent in so far as it still exist. I am not saying that by accepting death we should kill ourselves or allow things to kill us; we should avoid death when it is in our finite power to do so, but precisely because our agency is finite within the mist of infinite causes we cannot always avoid death. When death comes to us in inescapable circumstances, we should try to face it with equanimity and courage. A Stoic Philosopher once said that “Philosophy is really about learning to accept Death”. I agree with this, although I humbly admit that I am far from achieving this.

But it is precisely because of this acceptance that life can be lived fully. We being to see that life is an opportunity to spend our lifetime wisely in order to achieve equanimity and happiness. Life is spent wisely to achieve happiness and equanimity by loving one another and loving humanity. It is spent wisely when we love Nature itself by understanding it, but want nothing in return from Nature; likewise we love other people selflessly without wanting anything in return. But instead we waste our lifetime in prejudices, superstition, hatred, violence, envy, selfishness, and many other vices; by wasting our life in our vices we are making other people’s life miserable (or letting their lives remain miserable). Seneca, a Roman Stoic Philosopher, once said this “It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested.”

This quote seems to imply another important message…instead of being discontent with the brevity of our life, we should be accept that life is sufficient enough for us to spend it wisely rather than waste it. We should be content with ourselves rather than being merely discontent. We should realize that Nature in its capacity has only produced intelligent life that can only live in a certain period of time; instead of complaining how futile or meaningless life is, we should try to spend it wisely to make our life worth living, as well as making other people’s life more bearable.

So how does this apply to my life? I admit that I do not always see myself as a part of Nature, but many times when I examine myself, that is my thoughts and emotions, I realize that by understanding and examining them I become more calm and accepting. By understanding myself, I realize that I am part of a contingent history that is related to other things that circumscribe it. I also try to understand other people sometimes, and it helps me see things from their perspective, from their contingent history, and that calms me down too. Now that is somewhat close enough to seeing myself as a part of Nature, but not exactly there yet to be honest. However I strongly believe that by understanding myself in relation to Nature, I can develop equanimity. Understanding consists in accepting reality, and acceptance of reality leads to the stability of the mind that use to be unstable because of its ignorance. But since understanding minimizes ignorance, it optimizes equanimity as it ingrains the understanding of reality into the mind to the point that it accepts it more. This is when I realize that True Love is Understanding; True Love also consist in being selfless and accepting, and Understanding seems to fit into this description; it fits in because by understanding ourselves we ironically become detached from ourselves (selfless), and by becoming detached from ourselves, we become less biased about our self-conception and see ourselves as who we are (acceptance).

So how does this relate to spirituality and Nature? Well, to understand our place in Nature we also accept it, and by accepting it we become content with it, and by becoming content with it we achieve equanimity and practical wisdom that motivates us to treat other people in kindness, and this way of life is a life well spent. This is my own spiritual view on Naturalism, but I don’t always practice it because nobody is perfect. I use to think that life is meaningless without God, and the peace of mind is impossible without God. I realize that I was wrong; peacefulness is not found from beyond, but it is found within; it is found not in heaven, but here on earth, in this reality, and more specifically it deeply lies within the capacity of our mind to achieve it. So, I want to spend my life achieving equanimity to see life differently, rather than being discontent and unhappy just because there is no cosmic sky father.