“Don’t judge a book by its cover”, is easily applied to the spiritual path.
We seek because we want to heal, but the unhealed part doesn’t really know what he or she is looking for except to get out of pain, turning to the outer world to find it in a teacher, path, community, and sets of rites, rituals and uniforms. All these outer things promising peace and happiness.
I went to China in 2014 with my Tai Chi teacher as part of a training camp he put on. On one of our days off, Master George Xu, took us to an ancient monastery where we climbed a half mile of stone steps, and at the top, they served us green tea. Everything about it was ancient, except for the Starbucks in the parking lot. The contradiction struck me. Our spirituality versus theirs.
I went back to China eight more times following my teacher, eating what he ate, going where he went and wearing the outfits he gave me for Tai Chi. I wanted to know the enlightened way of the Chinese culture. And yet, everywhere I went they had copied American culture, often with hilarious results (check out the photos).They copied our road systems, billboards, bargains, fast food, and appetite for material gain. The by-products being the same as here; pollution, traffic, wealth inequality and stress.
When I would visit someone’s home, they would sit me down on a sofa and turn on the TV and get me a drink. I began to see that they saw this as what Americans like. They wanted me to feel at home and perhaps to show me how, they too, had achieved the American dream.
Coming from generations of poverty, I began to see that they viewed American capitalism as a sort of spirituality. They were living the American dream…Chinese style.
We have done the exact same thing with Eastern culture (See my blog on 60s Hippie Spirituality), just like how I wore my Chinese Tai Chi uniform in the park in China. We do Yoga and Tai Chi, read Indian books on spirituality, get tattoos of Chinese calligraphy and the Ohm symbol; our version of Eastern spirituality. My experience in China was that they see it as old fashioned, just like the American dream is for us.
Spirituality isn’t what you see on the outside of a person, a culture, a behavior or tradition. While you can copy the outer parts of someone’s essence, you can only ever really feel your own.