Self-described Spiritual Wanker Mark Walsh takes us through diagnosing a spiritual wanker and some potential cures. It reminded me a bit of my recent review of the wonderful book, Dispirited (blog here). Walsh criticizes ‘spiritual’ people for using insider language, dropping Tibetan, Sanskrit, (and he even mentions Pali!), when common English terms would clearly suffice, and more importantly, the normal English terms would be understood by everyone.
I like the video because he is humble enough to admit that he does this too at times (along with the other things he mentions…). I too do this, though I do consciously try not to. When introducing Buddhist terms I try to give the nearest English term, or a longer description of what it means. But, to be fair, many Buddhist terms cannot be easily translated into simple English, and in fact doing so has been a big part of our ongoing misunderstanding of the religion.
The irritating thing is when the terminology is used jerkishly (I’m not sure if wankerly or wankerishly is correct). There is plenty of technical business terminology that could fit in here (the British seem to have this down particularly well):
Next, he talks about using spirituality to boost your ego and suggests that putting your spirituality in to some form of service is a good solution to that. This is another point I agree on wholeheartedly. Though I have long been a skeptic, I have always admired those whose faith leads them to service. In my own case this has been primarily with a long list of Catholic friends and acquaintances.
Then he talks about being vague – another symptom of spiritual or Buddhist wankerishness (I’m coining that term if it’s not already out there). In my experience this is more an issue of ignorance. It occurs when people feel like what they are doing is superior (as above) or what others do is wrong and just how it’s superior or wrong is… well… vague. It just, ya know, is. Or it feels like it is. Which is, like, vague. And wankerish.
Walsh next talks about the fact that your spirituality may just be about getting high – either by drugs, meditation, endorphins, or whatnot. In Buddhist circles I’ve heard talk of ‘jhana-junkies’ – people who meditate to attain the states of bliss and rapture that come with a little practice in calming meditation. But to be fair I don’t think I’ve met one.
The next point is that spiritual wankers can often be losers. They don’t do well in life and use spirituality as their excuse, claiming perhaps that success is just a result of selling out to the system. And then on the other hand, these are often the same people talking about ‘visualizing’ abundance and wealth as a way to actually getting it. This, Walsh goes on to suggest, is connected with the wanker’s belief that we have magic powers. I’ll come back to that in a moment.
Finally, he suggests that a symptom of being a spiritual wanker is: being a dick, throwing out ethics (because they’re “above all of that”). This in particular caught my eye. It seems to be a major issue, for example, in certain Zen communities. Poor Adam Tebbe over at Sweeping Zen is doing a wonderful job of keeping a tab on recent scandals in the face of many who seem to object to the whole idea of ethical violation, “because it’s so dualistic.” That’s just being a dick. Telling people who have been harmed that they should just meditate on their own failures is callous, to say the least. Covering up or simply ignoring harmful teachers is no better than ignoring a mugger beating an old woman in front of you. This is no time to just “focus on the breath” or the “oneness of all beings” (valid and wonderful as those instructions are in their proper context). I’ll rant more about this in an upcoming post.
Until then, Namaste.
Oh, and what I was going to come back to (being a loser and visualizing stuff…)… I think there’s a point at which that stuff is actually true. Being successful as a human being and being successful in our dysfunctional society are often very different things. This doesn’t mean they are mutually exclusive, though. And ‘visualizing’ as a practice is common in many religions, so if it’s done with an authentic religious impulse and understanding of the religious ethics that must be involved, then it’s not necessarily a bad or wankerish thing. Wildmind just posted a study that showed that writing our negative thoughts on paper and throwing them away actually makes us feel better. There are in fact long lists of studies showing that meditation and similar activities have verifiable effects on physical health. To some, this is just magic-thinking – but since our well-being, including many physical traits, is obviously connected to our thoughts, why wouldn’t something like this have some effect?
All important, to me, is 1) ethics. We have to be grounded in being good to others. No amount of spirituality will get us over this hurdle. And 2) humility and openness to new ideas. Science is changing. Buddhism is changing. Our understanding of just what Buddhism is is changing. As all of these complex systems interact, it does us no good to become dogmatic about what one or another really is or says.