Many people prefer to be called “spiritual” and not “religious.” Most of us are familiar with the toxic nature of bad religions. But there are also many toxic spiritual beliefs, which are fallacies. I am compiling a list. Here are a few for starters:
1. The mind is ego: This is totally baseless. Critical thinking requires the mind. Philosophy requires the mind. Science requires the mind. To bash the mind is the most idiotic thing I have seen among “spiritual” people.
2. You see people as evil because you are projecting your own shadow. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung are two of the prominent psychologists who have talked about projections and the shadow. Yes, SOME of the evil we see in others have to do with our projections. But not all. The evil of Hitler, for example, is not my projection.
3. Once you are enlightened, you won’t suffer. This is another dangerous nonsense. Yes, there are self-created suffering. But there are also suffering due to external factors. Some people suffer racial discrimination. Some people suffer due to bad policies. All of us suffer the ill effects of environmental pollution. All of us are also suffering from the Coronavirus pandemic and the mismanagement of that situation. If you attribute all suffering to the mind, then you are effectively condoning the social evils caused by poor governance and incompetent politicians.
4. Enlightened people don’t get angry. Another very common and very dangerous fallacy. Have you seen how the Dalai Lama responded to the instances of sexual abuse within Tibetan Buddhist institutions? Whenever there are instances of abuse of power and social injustice, it is our responsibility as spiritual people to express our anger and criticism. Just as Edmund Burke said, all that it takes for evil to thrive is for good people to do nothing.
5. Enlightened people are desireless. Certainly not true, but very prevalent belief in Buddhist circles. Even the desire to be desireless is a desire. There are many different desires and there are many ways to express a desire. Desires, as long as they are natural, are neither good nor bad. But mindful people choose ways to express their desires in a non-violent and non-harmful manner.
6. Social bonds are attachments that cause suffering and are obstacles for enlightenment. A healthy society depends on strong social bonds to thrive. As a writer, I prefer to be alone in order to think or write. As a spiritual person, I also need silence and solitude to meditate. But we certainly don’t need to forsake the world in order to practice spirituality. As Robert Pirsig said, “The only Zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.”
There are many more. We should criticize bad spiritual teachings just as we should criticize bad religious teachings. Yes, these are the occasions when we can put our critical thinking skills to good use.