One of the classic misconceptions that many people have with regard to spiritual progress is that a person needs to join a group – and not just any group – it has to be the ‘right’ group. I once had the curious experience of being told by one particularly zealous so-called ‘spiritualist’, that because I failed to meet his standards of understanding and behaviour I would be condemned to reside in a very hot place forever.
I tried to tell him that although I had many faults and that although my understanding was not perfect, I was still trying to develop spiritually and still trying to improve on my deficient character. I asked him if that effort was not deserving of at least a little credit? Maybe enough to prevent me from being condemned for all eternity? Could I not just receive some appropriate payback, according to the particular misdeeds I had performed in my life? “No. It’s a hot place forever for the likes of you!” – or words to that effect.
It always amazes me how people can simultaneously speak of the Divine as being compassionate and full of love and kindness, and yet they say that this same Divine personality will condemn a person to eternal suffering for the various wrongdoings that they commit in this life. That’s a lot of suffering for not a whole lot of misdeeds. How much bad can a person actually do in 60-100 years? Maybe a significant amount in some cases – but whatever it is, it can never be sufficient to justify eternal condemnation. Can we agree that this would be overkill of monstrous proportions? Or as some people would say, is it my choice of the word “monstrous” that is the overkill? No. Eternity is a very very very long time – so long a time in fact, that it’s beyond time, and to condemn a person to suffer in that eternity, even for the most heinous acts imaginable would certainly be monstrous. It would make the execution of person for stealing a loaf of bread for example, look like compassion on a grand scale.
All this does not mean that a person is not accountable for their actions – the law of karma is real enough, but it is also fair enough. According to ancient Yoga teachings about karma, we receive in return both good and bad results in measured proportion, for the various kinds of good and bad actions that we perform. Will not any truly objective consideration, and a truly compassionate heart confirm that this is surely a logical and fair system? As it is put in the Bible – “As you sow, so shall you reap”. Unfortunately there are those who have felt the need to make changes to this simple teaching. And they have not just tinkered with it around the edges, they have completely altered its original meaning. It is now, “As you have not sown, so shall you reap”.
And how are we supposed to get “saved” from this proposed reaping of what we have not sown? By joining the right group of course. And as if this false idea is in and of itself not damaging enough, the problem is exacerbated because many people actually take it seriously – extremely seriously. What is the effect of this misinformed seriousness? If a person has a tendency to accept the idea of eternal damnation, then by degrees, they will automatically have the tendency to scramble to avoid it, and this inevitably results in the all too often fanatical and obscene rush to “salvation”.
It’s not difficult to see the attractiveness of wanting to avoid the whole tacky business altogether, regardless of its supposed consequences. This avoidance is at least partly due to the fact that many people are instinctively savvy enough to see the absurdity of it, and so whatever the particular brand of fanaticism may be, one of its unfortunate legacies is that it can easily drive people into the waiting arms of atheism.
Nevertheless, and as understandable as this may sometimes be, a truly astute observer of all this will do better. They will discern not only the unpalatable and offensive nature of fanaticism, but they will also discern that it would be a great mistake to give up on the path of spiritual development altogether, simply because some people are fanatics. How about just avoiding the fanatics?
Like so many unlimited sparks emanating from a great fire, we are all children of God. This is the truly ‘right’ group, and we can never actually join or quit it – we are all, naturally, inherently, a part of it already. This is the wonderful vision of the true spiritualist, a vision which precludes any possibility of being sucked in by ‘join a group’ fanaticism of one kind or another.