Why I Am So Controversial
I was invited to Hawaii a few years ago to give a series of lectures by a student of mine from Duke named Fred who was in the Navy and stationed in Hawaii. On the whole it was a very successful trip but one night while dining with Fred and his friends, his friends suddenly turned on me. Fred was far more surprised than I by the onslaught and flew to my defense. He said, “You just don’t like August’s personality. You got to get past his personal idiosyncrasies and listen to what he is saying."
Later, I thanked Fred for his passionate defense but then said, “Actually, I don’t agree with you. It is NOT my personality people object to. I have always had lots of friends and I maintain friendships with people from grade school, high school, college and from every job I ever had and city I ever lived in. I made my fortune in sales and no one buys from people they don’t like. I am even on friendly terms with every woman I ever dated, and I’m proud to say that, to my knowledge, I don’t have a single enemy. No, it is not my personality -- it is my spiritual philosophy that incenses people.”
My literary agent put it another way, “August, you scare people, and frightened people are dangerous.”
For the record I don’t really like being controversial and I definitely am not trying to scare people. To the extent that I do try to scare people I am only like a doctor showing his patient an X-Ray of his damaged lungs in order to try to get him to quit smoking. In fact, I am so sensitive to criticism that I’ve spent quite a deal of time trying to figure out why I make so many people angry, and so I thought I’d share a few of my conjectures in this regard.
MY ARROGANCE: Today “tolerance” and “acceptance of differences” are all the rage. Everything that used to be matters of principle from sexuality to spirituality have been reduced to matters of taste, and the only truth generally accepted as Truth is that there is no Truth. Only opinion. This is a very comforting and seductive idea. Then I come along and upset this apple cart with two sweeping principles that strike many as “arrogant:” arrogant because I insist they are equally applicable to all and allow for no exceptions. In other words I am insisting that anyone who does not agree with me is wrong. In a world where “wrong” no longer exists I must, therefore, be arrogant. Here are my principles.
Life is a problem for EVERYONE and the only solution to this problem lies in spirituality. All human problems no matter how trivial can be traced back to fear. All fear no matter how trivial can be traced back to the fear of death. The only answers we have to the problem of mortality are spiritual answers. Therefore the only life worth living is a spiritual life that faces the problem of death
As if this position is not arrogant enough, I then maintain that spirituality itself is also not merely a matter of taste. While I am eclectic and have searched all the world’s religions for spiritual answers and came away respecting them all, I also KNOW that there are valid and invalid spiritual paths. There are AUTHENTIC paths that INCREASE the likelihood of a spiritual breakthrough and there are INAUTHENTIC paths that are often little more than nonsense whipped up from a batch of wishful thinking.
These two principles are indeed controversial. They are claustrophobic. They limit options, and bring into question the idea that there are many paths through life with and without spirituality, and that there are many paths within spirituality. Like today’s little leaguers, it is nice to think that everyone will get a trophy in the end even though this flies in the face of both everyday experience and the statistical evidence that an epidemic in depression is ravaging America today.
But my arrogance and controversial stance doesn’t stop with these two principles. As soon as I expand on them a bit things get even worse. Even if you accept my contention that spirituality is the only answer to life’s dilemma, I then introduce my definition of spirituality which, again, I insist is true for one and all. Spirituality is seeing through life. Spirituality is getting past the surface noise that suggests multiplicity to the “Ground of Being,” the unity that underlies all life. This Ground of Being cannot be grasped with the intellect, the emotions, or the senses, but it can be REALIZED through an experience recognized by all the world’s religions through various names like Cosmic Consciousness, Unio Mystico, Enlightenment, Satori, Nirvana, Samadhi, and many, many more.
According to all the world’s mystical traditions as well as Plato, this world we live in is a matrix or dream-like state and we cannot find the answer to dreams from inside a dream. Cosmic Consciousness or Enlightenment is a way of “jumping outside the system” so we can experience the fundamental perfection from which all imperfection originates and ultimately returns to. Through reason and intuition we can hypothesize or even prove that the world is round, but only from outer space where we are “outside the system” can we truly experience the earth as round. Similarly through reason and intuition we can posit a spiritual reality, but only through authentic spiritual experience can we KNOW this REALITY once and for all.
So, according to point A above the WHAT of life is Spirituality. The WHAT of spirituality is a striving for the breakthrough of Spiritual experience. Point B above refers to the HOW of spirituality, and once again I am controversial. The seeds of this controversy start with a very simple concept borrowed from the ancient Alchemists: “As above so below.” Another way of expressing this concept that is used by science is that “the macrocosm is recapitulated in the microcosm.” All this means is that the laws that apply to the largest systems are reduplicated in the smallest. Gravity, for example, holds the stars in place and gravity also holds atoms in place. As above so below.
The reason why this simple concept proves so controversial is that it implies that the same rules that apply to every facet of life apply to a spiritual path as well. Even a cursory look around tells us that results are proportional to energy applied, and according to As Above So Below, this means that spirituality abides by the same rule. The reason this is so controversial is that most people turn to spirituality to escape the harsh playing field of everyday life. We want at least one area of our life where work is not required and may even be counter-productive. We want desperately to believe that spirituality is “all grace” and ironically we actually like the fact that spirituality is so mysterious as long as that mystery keeps us from learning things we’d rather not know.
In contrast, I argue that the spiritual path is akin to building a house, a business or a relationship. While nothing is guaranteed in life, the harder we work the more likely we are to accomplish our goal. As the saying goes, the harder we work the luckier we get.
In summary, these are the reasons I end up pissing people off and it all starts with the fact that I am arrogant enough to disagree with people. The “Strong August Position” is that any life not centered on spirituality is either doomed to fail or only succeed by the standards of self-deception. Further, the only valid spiritual paths are those that help us reach Cosmic Consciousness. Next, the same rules apply to reaching Cosmic Consciousness as apply in all areas of life and therefore, everything else being equal, the harder we work at spirituality the more progress we will make. As in everything, results are proportional to energy applied.
All of these points, individually and especially collectively, have the effect of backing people into a corner. They are constrictive and restrictive and as Rose would say, “play hob” with the sense we all have that we have lots and lots of options for reaching a happy and meaningful life. This claustrophobic sense of being backed into a corner where the only exit depends on a lot of hard work is why people are frightened. Frankly, if it were up to me I wouldn’t ask so much of them. Unfortunately I didn’t invent the game.
What do I do?
Begin to recognize your fears.