The Difference Between New-Age Spirituality & Authentic Spirituality in 3 Paragraphs.

Via on Sep 15, 2011

New-Age vs. Non-New Agey.

Both, readers and writers alike, often inquire as to why elephant journal labels its spirituality section “non-new agey spirituality.” Well, obviously the answer is that we try not to endorse new-age spirituality, which begs the question, “What is the difference between new-age spirituality and non-new agey spirituality? Here is my answer:

Simply put, spirituality is not about changing yourself or creating a newer-better you. It is not a rejection of yourself, but a getting to know yourself in the most intimate way possible. Authentic spirituality is about mindful participation in your own life. While, new-age spirituality is concerned with carving out a new, more exotic role for the ego to play.

The tendency to “change ourselves” manifest in varying degrees, from the subtle to the extreme, but regardless of the severity this business of changing ourselves is always violent. In order to change ourselves, we must divide ourselves and reject the less desirable half. Then, we must force the “bad half” to conform to the dictates of the “good half.” This process of “divide, reject, and change” transforms life into a struggle and carries on indefinitely, leaving in its wake a reservoir of pain, fear, and aggression.

True spirituality is the subtlest expression of non-violence. It is learning to Love, which is difficult. We must be willing to move into the darkest areas of our life and Love ourselves out of the darkness through mindfulness and patience. We have to see our naked body, with all of its perfections and imperfections, and patiently resist the violent urge to reject it. This takes an immense amount of courage. We are terrified of seeing ourselves without any clothes on. We insist upon avoiding ourselves by thinking about ourselves; rather than being our Self. True spirituality is about rediscovering the indestructible dignity of being through the practice of Love.

True spirituality is not limited to religious traditions, and fake spirituality can emerge under a religious guise… Here are a couple of bonuses from a couple of pretty well-known guys that convey the same message:

“The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life.

That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ—all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ.

But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself—that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness—that I myself am the enemy who must be loved—what then? As a rule, the Christian’s attitude is then reversed; there is no longer any question of love or long-suffering; we say to the brother within us “Raca,” and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide it from the world; we refuse to admit ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves.” ~Carl Jung

“But who prays for Satan? Who in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most, our one fellow and brother who most needed a friend yet had not a single one, the one sinner among us all who had the highest and clearest right to every Christian’s daily and nightly prayers, for the plain and unassailable reason that his was the first and greatest need, he being among sinners the supremest?” ~ Mark Twain’s Autobiography, via Waylon Lewis

 

~

Elephant Spirituality is now on twitter… Click here to follow us!

Elephant Spirituality is an example of Elephant Journal’s commitment to the Mindful Life. We look to provide a fresh and practical perspective on traditional spirituality. If you would like to follow Elephant Spirituality on FaceBook click here and become a fan of Elephant Spirituality by clicking the “Like” tab at the top of the page.

About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist & Christian spirituality and politics for The Good Men Project, Elephant Journal, The Web of Enlightenment, and is the editor & chief for Henry Harbor--an online magazine concerned with art, culture, spirituality, & politics in the deep South. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Looking for a real bio? Click here to read my story....

13,171 views

Appreciate this article? Support indie media!

(We use super-secure PayPal - but don't worry - you don't need an account with PayPal.)

105 Responses to “The Difference Between New-Age Spirituality & Authentic Spirituality in 3 Paragraphs.”

  1. Priscilla says:

    Excellent, I've been looking for these answers for a while.

  2. YogaSteve says:

    Cool. I can be a raging angry alcoholic leaving a path of destruction wherever I go as long as do it mindfully and with total acceptance. I like it!

    That said, I mostly agree.

    • Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

      I think we might find, if we look deep enough, that raging alcoholics who lead a path of destruction wherever they go, do so in an attempt to avoid themselves…that is why alcoholism is often thought of an a means to escape… I think it might fall under the the more sever examples of trying to change themselves. In fact, once the alcoholic takes a deep survey of who they are and accepts some facts about themselves you often times see this person recover from their alcoholism… Would you agree?

      • YogaSteve says:

        I think new-agey is about the intention of changing oneself vs. naturally occurring change that happens when living a reflective life. Does that make sense?

        I am, BTW, a skeptic of new age spirituality while arguably living in new age spirituality. :)

        • Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

          Yes, I agree. Change occurs naturally. New-Age spirituality seems to try to control the pace and rhythm of this change, which is, of course, what we call ego-centric. So, instead of confronting this self-centered dynamic, new-age spirituality validates it.

          Enjoyed the discussion Steve. Hope to hear from you again.

      • Guest says:

        "Recover" from their alcoholism? That sounds like a change. You want the alcoholic to change?

  3. Ben, Ben.

    To me this is an utterly absurd notion–that true spirituality is defined by a rejection of all self-improvement. It's such an absurd notion that I have trouble even taking it seriously.

    It doesn't even work on pure logic basis. Aren't you trying to improve yourself by accepting yourself more? If so, why is accepting yourself more the only acceptable kind of self-improvement?

    What if the true me is highly competitive by nature and has wanted to be the best at whatever I do from the time I was a little kid. Do I have to reject that side of me? If I accept that side of me, am I not embracing self-improvement?

    What if the Bhagavad Gita has helped me change and grow and improve myself? Does that mean that my spirituality is, by your definition, inauthentic?

    You see, it's a logical nightmare to say that spirituality cannot embrace self-improvement.

    Everyone wants to improve and develop themselves, even if what they want to improve is accepting themselves more. That natural impulse for growth is as spiritual as anything else.

    And I guess self-improvement could be confused with self-rejection for some, but, good God, Ben, speak for yourself!

    For some of us spiritual self improvement is an exciting life-affirming process. It makes us feel vibrant and alive.

    Ben, I love you. But you struck out with me on this one.

    Affectionately,

    Bob

  4. Stig Edwardson says:

    I think I agree with the concept of this piece, but the wording leaves some confusion in my mind. I see true spirituality as acceptance of one's "self" (lower case), while recognizing that the true Self is unchanging, and is not identified with the ego. Any work invested on the ego-identified self is ultimately futile, and not of the realm of spirituality.

    • Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

      I am not sure I see the distinction that you are making???

      • Josh Lively says:

        I think the distinction is simply one of the ego vs. the quality that is truly self and purely reflective of the divine. The higher, or "true" self could be thought of as something like Atman — in eastern terms.

        I have come to see the ego as a house or temple; it's where our concious attention tends to dwell — it is like a shrine to our higher self that we unknowlingly make and subsequently manifest by allowing our mentality to be dictated by its nature.

  5. I think the spiritual search is about genuine happiness, and the new-age or self-help search is about feeling better. There's a huge difference, in that what we often think will make us feel better ends up being opposed to real happiness. Feeling better is the goal of the ego; happiness lies in the recognition that we are not egos. And in one way or another, every spiritual discipline is about learning to release the ego — not to destroy, demean, or subjugate it, but simply to recognize that it isn't there, despite all delusory evidence to the contrary!

    • Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

      I would agree completely, Patrick. I avoided using the word "happiness" only because of its popular association with comfort.

    • Ben Ralston Ben Ralston says:

      There is a positive ‘New Age’ movement, and a crappy one.

      The positive one is opening up large swathes of people to a new way of life. Yoga is a great example of this.

      The crappy one is full of get-rich-quick schemes and self-styled (sex / abundance / health) ‘gurus’. Yoga is perhaps also a great example of *this* too! Toesox anyone?!

      I do think that there is an important distinction to make though, and I for one am very happy that EJ is making it. One of the reasons I choose to write here is that the distinction is made at the top of the page.

      D. Patrick Miller says it perfectly above, so I’ll just copy and paste what he wrote to emphasize it again:

      “I think the spiritual search is about genuine happiness, and the new-age or self-help search is about feeling better. There’s a huge difference, in that what we often think will make us feel better ends up being opposed to real happiness. Feeling better is the goal of the ego; happiness lies in the recognition that we are not egos. And in one way or another, every spiritual discipline is about learning to release the ego — not to destroy, demean, or subjugate it, but simply to recognize that it isn’t there, despite all delusory evidence to the contrary!”

      Feeling better is futile. We cannot ever feel better permanently. At some point, our bubble will burst. Death, disease, old age – they’re gonna catch up to you sooner or later, and the feeling better will be overtaken by reality.

      On the other hand, when we search deeper (than the feel-better new-age ‘Gurus’ want us to search, because they don’t want us to be free and independent, they want us to be hooked on feeling better so that we buy their Angel Cards, or their books, or their whatever it is that they sell to help us temporarily feel better!) we recognize that our essential nature is happiness itself, and there is no *need* to feel better. Actually, this kind of new age spirituality is, ironically, very much based on materialism.

      It’s the difference between escapism (which our society hell-bent on) and acceptance of reality.

      I think it’s a crucial distinction.

      On the other hand, I also see that many people, and clearly Bob you are one of them, don’t see this aspect of New Age – you see the positive aspects of it. And there are positive aspects too, as you and PhilAmerVeda point out.

      Anyway, interesting debate, and thanks for inviting me to contribute Bob.

      • Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

        Yes, I agree, Ben.

        I do not deny that there are positive trends that classified as "new-age." Hell, Buddhism and Yoga (as you said) are often classified as new-age. Also, you will find the likes of Ken Wilber and the whole Integral movement in this category as I mentioned below. That is why I went to great lengths to define what I meant when I used the vague term, "new-age."

  6. To this, I say RIGHT ON!

    "Authentic spirituality is about mindful participation in your own life. While, new-age spirituality is concerned with carving out a new, more exotic role for the ego to play."

    I've never thought of it in that way before, but as I read it, I thought, simply, yes.

    Accepting ourselves as ourselves and not the perfect (and therefore non-attainable) version of ourselves is the only way to cut the dangling carrot from the string and finally eat the damn thing.

    At least that's how it feels to me. Well written article, and very much appreciated.

    peace,
    ~T

  7. A couple of other thoughts, Ben.

    I dislike attempts to narrow spirituality into "only this or that" in general. I think they do a disservice to spirituality's awesome diversity and scope. Different strokes for different folks.

    The other huge problem I have is that I know some truly wonderful, highly spiritual people who got to be that way by following the teachings of Norman Vincent Peale or Eckhart Tolle or Wayne Dyer or Deepak Chopra or…–what the heck does "New-Age" really mean anyway?

    To make matters even fuzzier, much of the New Age philosophy I am familiar with is about exactly what you say it is not–radical self acceptance.

    "New Age" is way too deep and diverse and effective for millions to be dismissed so unceremoniously as you do here. It means so many things to so many different people that it's an almost meaningless term without identifying the specific teachers and teachings you are talking about.

    Why do we have to stoop to the level of gross stereo-typing here? I would say there is deep and meaningful New Age philosophy and there is fatuous New Age philosophy, same as any other religion, even Buddhism.

    Bob

    • Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

      Sure, that term is nebulous… So what? I could use your argument against someone who was arguing in favor of new-age spirituality…

      That is why I defined the word in the article.

      "I would say there is deep and meaningful New Age philosophy and there is fatuous New Age philosophy, same as any other religion, even Buddhism. "

      You could say that, but you do not have to, because I said it in the article…

      "To make matters even fuzzier, much of the New Age philosophy I am familiar with is about exactly what you say it is not–radical self acceptance."

      Bob, you seemed to have been triggered by the wording of this article and missed the whole thing.

      So, I am not talking about some "fuzzy" category at Barnes and Noble…At Books-a-Million, here in Louisiana, you will find the Dalai Lama's books under new-age spirituality!

      I am talking about a dynamic or a belief system that may manifest in The Secret or Tibetan Buddhism. Hell, often times we see the doctrine of Original Sin turned into a baseball bat that beats people to death with this very idea. This violent dynamic is set in motion by insecurity and self-hatred. It divides us against our self in an attempt to force the unconscious mind (including the body) to conform to the dictates of the socially programmed conscious mind, all the while ignoring the fact that it is the life of a single organism. This leads to all sorts of repressed energy and neurosis.

      If someone, who considers themselves a "New-Age" writer, writes about "radical self-acceptance" then maybe they do not fall into the category of "new-age" as it is defined here… An example from the wikipedia "new-age" page:
      "The author Ken Wilber posits that most New Age thought falls into what he termed the pre/trans fallacy.[91] According to Wilber, human developmental psychology moves from the pre-personal, through the personal, then to the transpersonal (spiritually advanced or enlightened) level.[92] He regards 80 percent of New Age spirituality as pre-rational (pre-conventional) and as relying primarily on mythic-magical thinking; this contrasts with a post-rational (including and transcending rational) genuinely world-centric consciousness.[91][92] Despite his criticism of most New Age thought, Wilber has been categorized as New Age due to his emphasis on a transpersonal view,[93] and more recently, as a philosopher.[94]."

      • Ben, you're making my point for me. If New Age is such a broad and fuzzy term, meaning lots of different things to different people, why would one choose to use that term in a disparaging manner in the main menu of one's website, or in the title of an article?

        Bob

        • Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

          Bob, I disagree. If your argument applies to me then it also applies to you. If I cannot use the term in a "disparaging manner" then you nor any other writer can use it in a positive way.

          This is the reason I defined the word myself in the article.

  8. Eblue says:

    It is the difference in Christianity of grace versus legalism.

    Grace means that the sacrifice God made for us, moves through us and because of what God did, we are moved to do good, walk meakly, love our enemy.

    Legalism, it is what we do for God that saves us, thus giving us a good platform for judging and condeming.

    I wish there was a quote by Ken Wilber that breaks down the definition of new age narcissism which is mostly self serving, not something that catches on in the name of ending suffering for all beings.

    I like you Ben.

    • Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

      The author Ken Wilber posits that most New Age thought falls into what he termed the pre/trans fallacy.[91] According to Wilber, human developmental psychology moves from the pre-personal, through the personal, then to the transpersonal (spiritually advanced or enlightened) level.[92] He regards 80 percent of New Age spirituality as pre-rational (pre-conventional) and as relying primarily on mythic-magical thinking; this contrasts with a post-rational (including and transcending rational) genuinely world-centric consciousness.[91][92] Despite his criticism of most New Age thought, Wilber has been categorized as New Age due to his emphasis on a transpersonal view,[93] and more recently, as a philosopher.[94] (from the wikipedia page of "new-age."

  9. Emmablue says:

    Also the absolute basis of Spirituality is first agreeing we have a Spirit, which most people don't agree with.

    The Latin word for Spiritus means of breath. And life is open as and passes like the breath.

  10. Rebecca says:

    "Love ourselves out of the darkness." That is beautiful, and so scary hard.

  11. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    i feel that the distinction between new age nonsense and authentic spirituality is a very important and much needed one – this article does not live up to it's title!

    new age spirituality is to my mind defined by magical beliefs, literalized mythology, superficial narcissism, cultural appropriation, denial of emotions, suffering, trauma, and injustice, addiction to delusions of grandeur and superstitious nonsense, a complete lack of critical thinking, anti-intellect, anti-science but pro pseudoscience and it's inflated magical thinking, pretentiousness etc…

    authentic spirituality on the other hand is about nuanced metaphorical interpretation of mythology, engaged, intelligent and compassionate spiritual practice that uncovers the shadow, acknowledges suffering and seeks to be more honest about the nature of reality, eschews childish magical thinking and superstition, is in touch with science and psychology, and looks at every spiritual claim through the healthy lens of critical thinking, common sense and a desire not to just buy into another coping mechanism, system of denial or pretentious, culturally appropriated in-group clique.

    not sure about the emphasis on whether or not anything needs to change – spirituality is about change or transformation, or process, but of course yes also about embrace and acceptance.

  12. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    many are mentioning how we define "new age"

    new age spirituality is a postmodern phenomenon that arises out of the 60's counterculture in the west. shot through with well intentioned white liberal notions of a multicultural embrace of ancient and exotic wisdom, it is a smorgasbord of astrology, psychics, channeling, angels, crystals, aliens etc served up as if on the same level as buddhism, yoga and various pseudoscience attempts to validate magical thinking and narcissistic grandiosity.

    the new age gets it's name from the core belief that we are entering the age of aquarius and the song of that name from the musical "hair" is as good a theme tune as any for the movement. central to this new age zeitgeist are feelings that we are in a special time, that time/evolution is speeding up, that children being born right now are somehow magical and enlightened, that aliens are about to make contact, that everyone will one day be psychic and in touch with ascended masters etc….. this gets put in the blender with mangled quantum physics and fantasies about magical powers of manifestation, redeeming otherworldly gurus who have paranormal abilities and a secret synchronicity to the universe that borders on a kind of OCD/paranoid schizophrenic pre-occupation with hidden signs and meaningful coincidences..

    the new age worldview tends to deny anything unpleasant, rationalize any injustice and turn any situation into some patty-cake expression of karma, mind-manifested illusion or lessons that the universe is teaching us so as to help us ascend to the realm of pure light and love.

    in short it is a wild and wooly postmodern tapestry of fanciful nonsense that stunts real spiritual growth, defends against authentic psychological maturity, confuses more than it illuminates and spreads the BS on so thick there is hardly any way to find the well-meaning and perhaps even profound treasures buried within the stench. :)

  13. matt says:

    damn sure is a lot of ego investment in this argument…….

  14. Naomi Levine Naomi Levine says:

    I think this debate is really relevant but I have often thought that the term spirituality doesn't have any meaning for me anymore. I understand why it is used but I cannot relate to it as a word. It seems to be tied up with notions of good and mystical and metaphysical. Everything we put into words to describe the state of being free from ego becomes a concept, so I prefer to think of it as Thatness or Suchness, or As It Isness and leave the original nature completely free.

    • elephantjournal says:

      Love that. I don't like the term "Spirituality" generally…it doesn't mean much. It doesn't satisfy the Christian or Jewish or Muslim issues and subjects and contemplations we cover, and it doesn't ring true for Buddhists. It is in itself a rather "new agey" term. Problem is, it connotes something…more and less than "thatness or suchness or religion or wisdom traditions or sacred path" or any of the dozens of terms I've contemplated using over the years.

      I love however that its very vagueness encourages such wonderful discussions as this. ~ Waylon

  15. Padma Kadag says:

    Generalizations are not constructive ..ever. First of all any spiritual path should remain private. Should be practiced privately. If you are constantly defending Buddhism, the Gita, Yogas, or any other "Path" then you have stepped off of the path either temporarily or permanently or you never set foot on the path to begin with. Some debate is good, but only on specific points of misunderstanding or misinterpretation. The inner journey without your advertizing your inner journey can be more authentic. Just practice…no one needs to know.

    Now Ben…Please provide two lists…ONe which is Legitimate Spiritual Paths and the other New Age paths

    • Roger Wolsey Roger Wolsey says:

      Well, speaking as a Christian, Christianity is not something that "should remain private" or "should be practiced privately."
      There are no such things as lone wolf/lone ranger Christians – it's not a solo endeavor, but rather, an inherently social/corporate one. We are called to participate in the living body of Christ. Following Christ's teachings and following the way of the cross is not something that one can do alone.

      • Padma Kadag says:

        Of course you feel that way….christianity, in my view, is about spreading the good word….whatever that word is

        • Roger Wolsey Roger Wolsey says:

          well, Americanized evangelical Christianity has reduced christianity to merely being about informing as many people as possible about the evangelion; i.e. the gospel (literally good news) of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, a) the good news is more than merely that, it's primarily about calling forth and manifesting the Kingdom of God here and now (i.e. a compassionate and just social order); and b) christianity is more about living in a certain way than it is believing certain truth claims. Living in that way is a team effort.

    • Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

      I have no intention of providing a list. Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hindusim, Taoism, and Integral theory would be in both categories if I did.

      • Roger Wolsey Roger Wolsey says:

        IMO, Intregral is less of a religion or a spirituality and more of a metatheory that is an attempt at providing a Grand Unified Field Theory for religions and philosophies.

        • Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

          Yeah, I agree, Roger. Was trying to find something that was non-traditional to add to my non-list :)

          @Padma– Do you really think that is all Christianity is about? Have you read Merton? St. John of the Cross? St. Teresa of Avila? Meister Echart?

  16. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  17. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    "True spirituality is the subtlest expression of non-violence. It is learning to Love, which is difficult. We must be willing to move into the darkest areas of our life and Love ourselves out of the darkness through mindfulness and patience. We have to see our naked body, with all of its perfections and imperfections, and patiently resist the violent urge to reject it. This takes an immense amount of courage. We are terrified of seeing ourselves without any clothes on. We insist upon avoiding ourselves by thinking about ourselves; rather than being our Self. True spirituality is about rediscovering the indestructible dignity of being through the practice of Love."

    Ben, this is so beautiful. Thank you so much.

  18. Well, a lot has been said, and I could agree with much of it and take issue with some of it. But the only thing I can really address with any authority is my own experience.

    After a lifetime of religious practice, I first became really serious about my spirituality when I finally stopped trying to improve myself because all I really wanted was to be happy and at peace. So in a Chödrön-esque, “Start Where You Are” sort of way, I decided to accept myself for what I was and where I was at, and go forward from there. Like the old revival hymn says, “If you tarry till you’re better, / You will never come at all.” And I began practicing in earnest.

    Of course, it didn’t take long before, judging by what other people have told me, noticeable change for the better did begin to occur in me–but not because I was trying to “improve” myself. As Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you.”

    One more thing: one of the hallmarks of New Agery, for me, is fundamentalism–by which I mean the literalizing of language and concepts that are meant metaphorically. For instance, when my wife is teaching sailing, she says things like “OK, the boat is thinking about jibing now.” Ridiculous on a literal level, but a great way of succinctly communicating what is happening and what needs to be done. Likewise, when I hear people say things like “Let the negative energy flow out of yourself into the ground,” I know that that is gibberish from the point of view of physics and biology, but a useful way of efficiently describing a way to dispose oneself mentally/spiritually. Genuine spirituality knows that; New Age fundamentalism, like any other religious fundamentalism, flies in the face of the facts and insists on a literal interpretation.

    • Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

      I do not deny that change takes place, but as you said, only once I stop trying to control the process. "As Jesus said, "Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you."" This is exactly how I think it goes down.

      I would also agree that fundamentalism is the epitome of "New-Agery," but there is also an undeniable connection between self-improvement and fundamentalism…Fundamentalists reek of that "pull your self up by your boot straps and be more like this" attitude. Pat Robertson is an extreme example of this, while Rick Warren is a bit more moderate in his approach. The Purpose Driven Life reads like a biblical version of The Secret (I got it for Christmas one year, because my mom doesn't know the difference between a Buddhist and Baptist :) And, of course, there are ton's of Buddhist just like this.

  19. Padma Kadag says:

    Bob…I wrote this originally as a reply but I placed it here for you to see so you wouldnt miss it.
    "highly ambivalent about striving for goals"….This could not be further from the truth for Buddhism. Yes the term "goal" is not used. The similar term which has been translated into english is "aspiration". I think you would agree that even though we as westerners set goals for ourselves they are rarely achieved exactly how we had envisioned them and usually when we do set them our resolve to reach them is rarely 100%. In Buddhism there are many many "Aspiration Prayers" to aspire to "be" with the deity, to be always with the Lama, to progress on the path, to bring all mother sentient beings to the realization of dharmakaya. These aspiration prayers are essential for the practitioner to progress beyond our subject/object concepts. We read the Biographies of previous masters for inspiration and make the aspiration or goal to follow in their footsteps. These are goals to which we are always committed and each sadhana will carry Aspiration Prayers. So on some level in order for Buddhist teaching and enlightenment to be achieved we must act out dualistically with aspiration and motivation.

    • elephantjournal says:

      http://www.elephantjournal.com/2009/02/buddhadhar

      Great read: Journey without Goal..? We are not striving again out of a sense of improving ourselves, which is a sort of subtle aggression toward who we are and what is…but rather to wake up to what is and be of service. It's a fundamental difference.

      Yes, it's semantics on some level. It's also the difference between decades of wasted and even unhealthy practice and decades of becoming softer, more relaxed, humorous about imperfection, devoted and joyful in service, more raw, more ourselves.

      • Padma Kadag says:

        Dont really get what it is you are trying to say…"to be of service"? "fundamental difference"? I was merely commenting on the idea that "aspiration", which is really a prayerful goal, can be interpreted as having a goal. Nothing more

  20. Andy says:

    So many ideas, concepts, views – most of which simply add to the problem. ( in my view ) Pun Intended

  21. Andy says:

    Ken Wilber has an article you might enjoy – A spirituality that transforms. I would love to get some opinions on the article.
    Just google: Wilber – Spirituality that transforms.

  22. Andy says:

    This is a topic I spent my last six years thinking ( or non thinking about .) I have concluded ( for my life ) that Master Dogen hit the nail on the head:

    Zen is the study of self, to study the self is to forget the self, to forget the self is to enter the vast endless universe . – Master Dogen.

    Your thoughts?

  23. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    I am not so close-minded as to think that self-improvement is not some how a part of EVERY individual's journey…Why else would we have come to spirituality in the first place? Persisting in this endeavor often leads to renunciation or repentance (change in direction). As the saying goes, "The fool who persist in his folly will become wise." Once we realize the futility of our attempts to create enlightenment, salvation, or genuine happiness we submit to natural order and wisdom dawns.

    I do not deny that change takes place, but only once I stop trying to control the process.

    Scott Robinson hit the nail on the head when he quoted:
    "As Jesus said, "Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you.""

    • What wrong with seeking happiness? In my opinion that IS the "natural order"!

      I'm with the Dalai Lama. Here's blog I wrote about this a couple of years ago:

      The Dalai Lama, when asked the purpose of life, unequivocally and unabashedly answers, “to find happiness.”

      Some would argue that happiness is not the purpose of life at all, rather some higher calling, such as achieving one’s full potential, or making the world a better place, or doing God’s will, or getting to heaven.

      Seeking happiness is a day-to-day manifestation of our universal urge to insure our long-term survival. It drives everything we do.

      This purpose is not inconsistent with any other life purpose. For example, the golden rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) is a near universal religious principle. But it’s also a critical ingredient to our long-term success as a species. (Darwinists would say that even anti-Darwinist fundamentalism is an unconscious effort to perpetuate the species!)

      People seek happiness in many ways. If someone thinks life’s purpose is to “achieve one’s full potential”, it’s because they believe it will bring them happiness. Likewise with “making the world a better place”, or “doing God’s will”, or certainly “getting to heaven”.

      Even someone as selfless as Mother Theresa is seeking her own happiness, or at least “fulfillment”. Even artists who feel they need to be unhappy to fuel their creativity are expecting a long-term payoff in the happiness of artistic success.

      With this explanation, we can fully appreciate the Dalai Lama’s simple truth–the purpose of life is to find happiness. What seems at first like narrow selfishness is really a cosmic biological imperative.

      I know that the Dalai Lama would support many of your ideas about what works and what doesn't work in achieving happiness.

      But I think his statements about self-improvement are far more nuanced, i.e, situational. Different people need different things at different times in their lives. Radical self-acceptance is not the answer to every problem, only some.

      Thanks to you, Ben, and everyone for creating one of the best discussions ever on Elephant.

      Bob

  24. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  25. Letswalk23 says:

    Is writing…such as this article…not just another way to feed the ego? To justify what is and is not true/real for the self? To ascribe a label to that which the ego determines need be? We enter into the territory of the hypocrite when we attempt to explain what cannot be explained. I am guilty…for here I write.
    Lest we forget that we are entering into the age of Aquarius…indeed, it is a "new age". It is said that ALL must shed the old age. Do not forget that it was Moses who ushered in the age of Aries, the Ram. It was his return from receiving the Ten Commandments that he found his followers worshipping the Golden Calf (Taurus, the Bull). The Rams horn is still blown by Orthodox Jews to this day. And for Pisces, the Fish we have the "Fisher of Men". I believe it would be foolhardy to allow the ego to decide what is and is not acceptable under the label of "spirituality" for the coming age. You speak truths in your article, but the truths are negated by a willful manifestation of the ego to label and divide what is and what is not. Peace my brothers and sisters.

    • Letswalk23 says:

      Or as Carl Sagan said about nature (paraphrasing): Everything in nature is wavy…nothing is still, things are constantly vibrating and moving and nothing is at rest. When you enter into a virgin rain forest there is chaos and that chaos is beautiful. It is only mankind that comes in and begins to "fix" things. It is only mankind that believes he can "improve" what is naturally beautiful. So, he goes about trying to make things permanent. He begins to attempt to make the waviness of nature into straight lines that make more sense to his ego.

    • Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

      "You speak truths in your article, but the truths are negated by a willful manifestation of the ego to label and divide what is and what is not."

      Are you trying to become the first member of our species to not have an ego?

      "Is writing…such as this article…not just another way to feed the ego?"

      Don't know, don't care…on some level every thing that is articulated is an expression of the ego…why does this bother you?

  26. Ben Ralston Ben Ralston says:

    Argh. It’s a wonderful discussion – thank you for inviting me Bob – and I tried to comment but my comment was lost in cyberspace. I’m still by the seaside, and my mobile connection is somewhat unreliable. For what it’s worth – I love the debate, and I agree with both sides: probably more with Ben, because I am averse to the whole ‘New Age’ movement which is often more about materialism than it is about spirituality IMO. And many people use it to satisfy a certain need, like an addiction (whilst many others are making a lot of money out of the first group). That said, it’s a better addiction than most, and probably leads to a deeper introspection, which in itself is a part of the process of evolution towards a higher awareness.

    (copied from Facebook in the hope that it sticks this time!)

  27. Tom Rapsas trapsas1 says:

    The labels new age and non-new agey spiritualty are really, really open for interpretation. As Bob W. points out, where do people like Deepak Chopra or Wayne Dyer fall? I think many would label them as leaders of the current new age movement, yet they actually have some very wise things to say, the origins of which are often rooted in classical religious and spiritual traditions. (See Dyer's "Learning the Wisdom of the Tao" as one example.)

    When it comes to spirituality, as "Brian" alluded to in a previous comment, we really should be inclusive and not exclusive. It just seems to me that setting up an "us versus them" scenario, or saying that some methods of spirituality are better than others, seems contrary to the message "God is love" found in all spiritual traditions.

    For me the bottom line is this: does the teaching bring you closer to God, Buddha, the divine source or whatever you call the great force that is present in your life. if "The Secret" works for you and puts you on the path to that destination, then that's a wonderful thing.

  28. Brian Sullivan says:

    So, I've read the article and all the comments. Several people have asked, "what spiritual teachers fall under the category of new agey", with no response from the author. I sense a reluctance to label anyone as new agey. My question is, if you don't want to put anyone in the box of new agey, why create the box?
    Many Blessings!

  29. [...] The Difference Between New-Age Spirituality & Authentic Spirituality in 3 Paragraphs. [...]

  30. …spirituality is not about changing yourself or creating a newer-better you…this business of changing ourselves is always violent. In order to change ourselves, we must divide ourselves and reject the less desirable half….True spirituality is the subtlest expression of non-violence

    I'd like to propose a middle way. We can change ourselves through accepting all parts of our being. This is non-violence in action.

    There are many methods for achieving this: Internal Family Systems Therapy, Core Transformation, Hakomi, Gestalt Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Non-Violent Communication, Metta Bhavana, etc.

  31. [...] treacherous, the loss potentially too great, the unknown an abyss of anxiety. So what do we do? Most of us typically give in and allow ourselves to be disarmed with fear, doubt, self-serving behav…. We deny ourselves our very own [...]

  32. [...] The Difference Between New-Age Spirituality & Authentic Spirituality in 3 Paragraphs. [...]

  33. Jay says:

    check out http://www.shamanhelpservices.webs.com, the site helps a lot!

  34. [...] The state of yoga is one in which the practitioner is no longer at the mercy of the endless spinning of the mind and instead experiences deep awareness of and an identification with a consciousness much greater than the individual ego. [...]

  35. [...] The Difference Between New-Age Spirituality & Authentic Spirituality in 3 Paragraphs.. Share this:EmailLinkedInFacebookMoreTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

  36. Woah this weblog is magnificent i really like studying your articles. Keep up the good work! You recognize, lots of individuals are hunting around for this information, you could aid them greatly.

  37. Skylar Starks says:

    "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths."

    "Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first."

    "But what I am doing, I will continue to do, that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds"

  38. source says:

    When I start your Feed it appears to be to be a lot of nonsense, is the problem on my part?

  39. [...] Yoga | Portable Player▷▷▷▷▷ Stamina Pilates Double Power Cord for Extra Resistance …The Difference Between New-Age Spirituality and Authentic … Tags: percent, Toesox, YogaMad Random Products Pro X820s Sport Treadmill – Operating Ma.. STOTT [...]

  40. [...] True spirituality is the subtlest expression of non-violence. [...]

  41. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    Brilliant, John. I have also noticed that Tonglen, when directed at one's self, is a powerful practice along the lines discussed in this article.

  42. "Hey, don't knock masturbation. It's sex with someone I love."
    Woody Allen (as Alvy Singer, in Annie Hall)

  43. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    @Jay– Never heard that quote before, but I love it!

    @Kate– The ego is a natural phenomena, but it is also a fragile phenomena. It is a relative idea about who we are. So, as our circumstances change this idea changes… If you identify with this image then change is experienced as a sort of death, and it is very uncomfortable. The ego's empire then becomes obsessed with the creation and maintenance of comfort…the avoidance of discomfort.

    New-age spirituality is a brand of thinking that validates this dynamic by calling it "spiritual." Authentic spirituality invites us to relate to our discomfort, and in doing so we discover a deeper dimension of our life. This opens the whole thing up. We are "raptured" by curiosity. Eventually we realize our true Self to be the space that accommodates the change that is our small self…

  44. "Authentic spirituality invites us to relate to our discomfort, and in doing so we discover a deeper dimension of our life. This opens the whole thing up. We are "raptured" by curiosity. Eventually we realize our true Self to be the space that accommodates the change that is our small self… "

    Discovering, being "raptured," realizing…gotta say that does sound an awful lot like self-improvement (or, at least, small-self improvement).

  45. Yes…for me, I think the discomfort is where real learning & growth usually happen.

  46. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    If discovery is self-improvement then realizing that I have an attic or an extra storage space, which I was previously unaware of, could be considered home improvement.

  47. Hi, JohnW. Thanks for commenting.

    Please tell us exactly who you're talking about here.

    Which New Age teacher does not tell people to enjoy and experience the Garden as we're walking through it?

    Bob

  48. Very imprecise metaphor.
    I'd say that realizing you had an attic or extra storage space would definitely constitute homeowner improvement.
    If the house itself became conscious enough to realize that it had an attic or extra storage space, that might consitute home improvement (thought I'm not really sure what a house would be able to do with that consciousness–and this constitutes one major difference between homeowners and the homes they own).

  49. Thanks for this rich and nuanced comment, Jody.

    I don't say this much any more, because it tends to get Buddhists mad, but one of reasons I prefer Yoga philosophy to Buddhist philosophy is that Yoga philosophy is very clear that goals and striving are good and necessary aspects of a highly spiritual life.

    Obviously Arjuna is not going to win the battle Krishna is urging to him to passionately fight in the Gita without goals and objectives and passionate striving.

    Yoga philosophy doesn't see any contradiction in the least between vigorous striving and radical self-acceptance. In fact, these two go hand in hand, just like they do on a tennis court.

    Buddhism, on the other hand, to me seems to be at best highly ambivalent about striving for goals, and at worst anti-achievement in general.

    Bob

  50. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment.

    I would agree completely that a desire for transformation is what brings us to spirituality…hell, I would even drop the $500 word and call it self-help.

    However, just as you noted, the reality of what takes place on the cushion, mat, or couch (of a good therapist) is not a matter of transformation or improvement; rather, a process of discovery. There are huge distinctions between change and discovery. As I said above, If discovery is self-improvement then realizing that I have an extra storage space, which I was previously unaware of, could be considered home improvement.

    Furthermore, discovery is not only different from transformation in means (if I am looking for some huge change I will miss my life as it unfolds, so stay right here) it is also different in texture (dividing myself against myself–a prerequisite for self improvement–is a very subtle expression of confusion or suffering in its infantile stage–1st skandha/tree of knowledge).

    So Jody, my question is do you agree with the following thread: Would you agree with the connection between the 1st skandha/ Tree of Knowledge and dividing your self against its self? If so, isn't division a necessary condition for self-improvement? This would make self-help/ new-age spirituality a more efficient, socially acceptable model of the same old game, no?

  51. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    Ha! That sounds like a bad science fiction horror movie.

    But seriously, your argument sounds like an overt attempt to be objectionable. In no shape, way, form, or fashion am I improved by newly discovered storage space.

  52. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    Yes, but once you realize that you are not limited to the small self or discover the attic, you stop taking all that home/self-improvement stuff so seriously, no?

  53. yogiclarebear says:

    Right. And THAT is an improvement. No? LOL! :) :)

  54. What Phil said…That's exactly what I was trying to say, only he said it a lot better. Thanks, Phil.

    Bob

  55. Hi, Thaddeus. No problem. I don't have any problem with you sticking up for Ben or finding problems with my approach. I always welcome your comments. Thanks for being here.

    Let me make it clear that I don't contest Ben's ideas for himself and other followers of this particular type of spirituality. I share some of those ideas. I only contest his attempt to define authentic spirituality for everyone else in the world, many of whom experience it in a very different way.

    See Phil Goldberg's (PhilAmerVeda) comment for a clearer, more complete, nuanced, and less emotionally charged version of my point of view. Phil of course, literally wrote the book on how much of New Age Spirituality was influenced by ancient Vedic spirituality in his book American Veda (See:

    True or False? Physical Yoga Has Influenced America More than Spiritual Yoga.

    and

    How Yoga Has Transformed American Spirituality: An Interview with Phil Goldberg, “American Veda”

    Bob

  56. Padma Kadag says:

    The problem with spiritual experience is verification…Most of you will argue that there should be no Verification through what you would term "authority"…the Man…Big Brother"…However just because Tolle says this or that and it sounds like Buddhism here and there or mystic christanity does not validate the authenticity. You cannot know one's mind unless of course you have completely realized the nature of your own mind. IF you are blessed with a spiritual life or experience there is no need to tell the world. We have a tendency to identify authentic spiritual experience with either successful marketing or intellectual noise.

  57. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    Yeah, but Tom, I do not think at any point in the article was time used as a qualifying factor in my definition of new-age…

  58. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    Your situation maybe improved, I don't know…but you are not improved one iota. You were it all along. It goes back to the nature of discovery vs. the nature of improvement. Discovery is precipitated by exploration. Improvement is a matter of division, judgement, and conditioning. Exploration leads to the realization that you are not broken and therefore in need of no repairs. While, self-improvement is a type of business that is obsessed with repairing that is sustained by our poverty mentality or belief that we are broken. Does this make sense?

  59. Scott Robinson YesuDas says:

    Bob: I feel exactly the same way.

  60. Padma Kadag says:

    "highly ambivalent about striving for goals"….This could not be further from the truth. Yes the term "goal" is not used. The similar term which has been translated into english is "aspiration". I think you would agree that even though we as westerners set goals for ourselves they are rarely achieved exactly how we had envisioned them and usually when we do set them our resolve to reach them is rarely 100%. In Buddhism there are many many "Aspiration Prayers" to aspire to "be" with the deity, to be always with the Lama, to progress on the path, to bring all mother sentient beings to the realization of dharmakaya. These aspiration prayers are essential for the practitioner to progress beyond our subject/object concepts. We read the Biographies of previous masters for inspiration and make the aspiration or goal to follow in their footsteps.

  61. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    Chris, I believe the point of the whole article was to say that the essence of authentic spirituality is, "I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness…"

    It was not to say that Buddhism is the ultimate most awesome path to enlightenment–everyone else suck it!

    I think there are many forms of Buddhism that fall in the category you described above, but there are many expressions of Buddhism that spring forth from the statement, "I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness…"

  62. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    thanks ben.

    yea i hear that the key distinction you are making centers on self-improvement.

    i think that this is a red herring.

    all spirituality is about self-improvement, healing and growth – some just deal with the process more honestly than others.

    i disagree with a kind of radical non-dual idea that we are already pure spirit and it is all part of the illusion to think we need to work on ourselves, do any kind of healing, integration etc…. all of this is simply "lipstick on the pig" – so transcend your ego now and stop seeking!

    this perspective actually commits the subtle dualism of our lives, our psyches, our bodies, our sense of self all being less real or less worthy of attention and therefore not the point of spirituality; as if somehow spirituality is just going beyond all of that…. not sure if you mean this, but i think it is an easy next step from what you are saying.

    i think a better distinction is between spirituality that is concerned with what is true, versus spirituality that encourages further delusion. either your spirituality helps you to see both inner and outer reality more clearly and gradually dismantles illusions and defenses/coping mechanisms – helping you to be more integrated, honest and in touch with the magic of reality as-it-is, OR ir perpetuates defenses, delusion, denial, magical thinking, grasping after empty promises of supernaturalism, eternal life, permanent enlightenment, special holy teachers, secret hidden metaphysical patterns or paranormal powers etc…

    this is the place where the rubber meets the road in terms of talking about authentic vs new age spirituality: authentic spirituality has depth and substance and invites you into an integrative process of inquiry, healing and growth – which will include a lot of actual measurable self-improvement, while new age spirituality tends to wave a relativist magic wand that elevates all manner of silly nonsense, superstition, psychological and existential dishonesty and distortions of reality to the level of spirituality.

  63. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    "i disagree with a kind of radical non-dual idea that we are already pure spirit and it is all part of the illusion to think we need to work on ourselves, do any kind of healing, integration etc…. all of this is simply "lipstick on the pig" – so transcend your ego now and stop seeking!"

    What do you mean by transcend my ego? Are you saying that there is a natural duality that exists between the ego and the true Self?

  64. yogiclarebear says:

    Oh Ben of course! I'm just ribbing you now. Sorry! :)

  65. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    "Are you saying that there is a natural duality that exists between the ego and the true Self?"

    i think that is a widely revered metaphysical belief/article of faith that demonizes 'the ego," perpetuates a lot of self-violence in the name of spirituality and sets up and impossible task that ensures ongoing dualistic struggle and posturing.

    i think it is better to talk about ego-defenses (which spiritual practices can help us to dismantle as we heal/resolve the issues beneath them) and the healthier ego that is revealed/developed in the process. this is a process oriented language rather than a dualistic some-part-of-me-needs-to-be-killed ideology.

    though they used to impress the hell out of me, ultimate claims about complete transcendence, radical non-dual enlightenment, god-realization etc nowadays just sounds about as plausible to me as going to heaven after you die or having your prayers to the virgin mary answered.

    one of wilber's real weaknesses is his being enamored of such macho spiritual BS – thus leading him to endorse folks like adi da and andy cohen in the name of their being "rude boy teachers who fry your ego" – when actually they are just narcissistic sociopaths who degrade, humiliate and violate their needy and wounded students.

  66. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    ben i like your nuanced and eloquent description here and the attempt to integrate a kind of Jungian and Vedantic/Buddhist model – clearly a Wilberian.. :)

    phil i applaud the general tone of what you are saying and the pointing out of the condescending tendency to use that kind of faux non-dual move as a way of avoiding doing a lot of the important work….. but i would go one step further:

    no offense, but i personally wanna just call "bullshit!" on any posturing involving terms like "the Absolute" or claiming to know what the "perspective of the Absolute" is – we may as well be invoking Yahweh, Zeus, or Shiva…..

    it is an empty category – a fabrication of a mind seeking to grab onto something ultimate, eternal and all-encompassing. there is no such thing. for me the real authentic spirituality is having the courage to go beyond such illusions and find meaning in the real world, in our work and relationships, and in developing interior awareness in a way that is not based on falsehoods, category errors and pretentiousness.

  67. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    oh and your above long comment was well received y the way – i get what you are gesturing at and it has merit in my opinion!

  68. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    "i think that is a widely revered metaphysical belief/article of faith that demonizes 'the ego," perpetuates a lot of self-violence in the name of spirituality and sets up and impossible task that ensures ongoing dualistic struggle and posturing."

    Totally agree. I thought that was what my article said. I even hinted at this being the birth of the devil!

    "i think it is better to talk about ego-defenses (which spiritual practices can help us to dismantle as we heal/resolve the issues beneath them)"

    Yeah, I would say that this is the general movement of any form of authentic spirituality…

    What the hell are you arguing with me about? Besides how I defined new-age spirituality…

    And I have never been able to finish a Wilber book! Though I do not have any particular problems with his views (what I know of them)…just do not like the way he writes, and what you call his "macho spiritual BS" urks me.

  69. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    "authentic spirituality is having the courage to go beyond such illusions and find meaning in the real world, in our work and relationships, and in developing interior awareness in a way that is not based on falsehoods, category errors and pretentiousness."

    I do not disagree on any level with this, but do fail to see how it contradicts a notion of the absolute. I do not think that hinting at the absolute is the same as talking about some alternative spiritual-verse. There is no distinction to be made between the absolute and daily life…if there is, then I would be forced to ask what the hell we were talking about.

  70. Julian Walker yogijulian says:

    fair enough :) have a great weekend brother..

Leave a Reply