Initiating Considerations On
Five Minute Life Changers
Spiritual Correctness and BEYOND
On Telescopes and Religious Means

Beyond Spiritual Correctness
excerpt from

Beyond Spiritual Correctness
Book 7 of The Practical Spirituality Series

by Chris Tong, Ph.D.
Dr. Chris Tong

There is an analog of "political correctness" that we might call "spiritual correctness". It goes something like this:

All religions or spiritual paths are equal; and anyone who suggests otherwise risks seriously offending or insulting whomever they are speaking with.

But just as with "political correctness", "spiritual correctness" can be carried too far, and cause us to throw discrimination to the winds.

Equality relative to political and social freedom, right, and respect should absolutely be guaranteed for all groups, religious, spiritual, or otherwise. Never again should there be a "Crusade" or a "religious war" that justifies killing people or depriving them of their basic human rights, in the name of some religion or in the name of any group or nation whatsoever.

That is the sense in which all paths, ways, groups, sects, etc. are equal: in their social and political and human rights.

But this in no way implies that the religious means for actually, tangibly linking up with the Divine that accompany paths, ways, groups, or sects are all equally powerful, reliable, or revelatory. Let's consider an analogy drawn from the world of science. (While science has its liabilities, one of the great things about science is its demand for genuine discrimination.)

Everybody knows that all telescopes are not created equal! In other words, not all telescopes are equally effective for determining the nature of stars and other distant phenomena. And even at the same time, the full variety of telescopes are available for the variety of purposes they serve they are equal in the social or political sense of availability; there are no laws prohibiting the creation or use of a radio telescope, for instance.

It's worth examining the variety of telescopes in detail, because they provide a useful analogy with the variety of religious means!

religious means

Play telescopes. Some toy stores sell toy "telescopes" that don't actually magnify.

toy telescope
"Non-magnifying for safety and durability"

Like toy stoves that don't heat, or toy computers that only ring bells and make clicking sounds, toy telescopes don't actually work as real telescopes do (not even a little) -- but this entire style of toys was never intended to actually achieve the purposes of the real things (astronomy, cooking, or word processing); the purpose is for kids to play by themselves or with each other using these accessories to give them the feeling that they are like their adult counterparts. It's all fantasy, of course, but kids really enjoy it!

Purely exoteric religions. In this category are "religions" that provide social interaction, belief systems, principles for moral living, and so forth, but do not actually provide a tangible means for locating and connecting with the Divine for real.

That such groups may not provide such means is of course fine. The human and civil rights of all such sects should be guaranteed absolutely, just like the human and civil rights of our local Lions Club, our bowling alleys, or our beautiful National Parks.

But if we are truly and very specifically seeking "re-ligio" re-connection with the Divine we must ask ourselves whether a given sect provides us with "the right stuff" for doing so. It's a serious question for those who want more than social consolation out of religion or spirituality.

Now it is important to note that many such sects did indeed have a genuine, esoteric origin at one point in their history, and did provide working means for locating the Divine (generally through the Transmission of the Spiritual Master who was the source of the religion). But in many cases, the actual Transmission and means for connecting with It got lost, diffused, or replaced by mere rituals over the centuries.

Weak but real telescopes, impressive to the newcomer, because they actually work! When I was a kid, I received a telescope as a gift: my first real telescope! It was a wonderful gift for a 10-year old. I think it had a magnification of 10 -- which allowed me to see the details of the markings on the moon.

full moon

It didn't help a whole lot in seeing the stars, but it sure helped in being able to see down the block! And made me wonder what I'd be able to see if I were looking through an even more powerful telescope . . .

Weak but real religious means, impressive to the newcomer, because they actually work! Everyone experiences the Revelation of the Divine, the "Shock of God", in moments of their life, in some form that is tangible (although possibly rather "diluted", or filtered through one's own viewpoint or background): a "near death" experience, a vision (perhaps as the result of a "vision quest"), an extraordinarily tangible feeling of non-separation from all it could take many forms.

But these means are "weak", in the sense that (a) they are a product of uncommon circumstance everything just happened to be exactly "right" in order for this Revelation to occur; and (b) for this reason, they can't be the basis for a moment-to-moment life of communion with the Divine Being, although they can certainly inspire one to look for such a moment-to-moment means.

Genuinely powerful and steadily reliable telescopes. Let's consider some other telescopes. These ones have magnifications on the order of "1000 times" on up.

  • Conventional telescopes work on the principle of the magnification of visible light. One of the problems with using conventional telescopes, however powerful, is the distraction from other sources of light (cities, etc.) So the best conventional telescopes tend to be somewhat removed from urban areas, and located on the tops of mountains. The Mount Palomar Observatory's "200-inch Hale telescope" is a good example of this type, and is situated 3 hours drive away from Los Angeles, and 2 hours drive from San Diego.

    Mt. Palomar
    Mt. Palomar Observatory

    Crab Nebula
    Crab Nebula,
    via Palomar telescope

  • Unconventional telescopes use other frequencies than visible light. The best known are the giant radio telescopes, whose gargantuan dishes can be several hundred feet across. The virtue over conventional telescopes is that these telescopes are not affected by other sources of visible light. A well-known example is the Arecibo Telescope, located on Puerto Rico, whose dish is a thousand feet wide.

    Arecibo radio dish
    Arecibo radio dish
    ( 1000 ft. across

    However, you can guess their liability: they are affected by other sources of radio waves!

    "I thought we had discovered extraterrestrial life, but it turned out to be the local rock station."

  • Telescopes that "transcend" all limitations. Well, here's where our analogy breaks down, because there is no such thing as perfection, or freedom from limitation in this place. But we can at least point to certain other efforts in telescopy that have some rough analogy for instance the Hubble Space Telescope, which, being in orbit above the atmosphere, provides a "viewpoint" that is free of all the ordinary limitations of trying to see stars through an interfering (light-distorting) atmosphere.

    Hubble space telescope
    Hubble space telescope

    image from Hubble telescope
    image produced by
    the Hubble space telescope

    But actually the Hubble telescope is more analogous to a spiritual seeker who moves into a cave so he or she can better contemplate the Divine, free of ordinary worldly distractions. A truer analogy would be a telescope that doesn't involve going anywhere else (e.g., into orbit), and can obtain whatever information you are looking for without any limitations on the type or the accuracy of information.


Genuinely powerful and steadily reliable religious means. In order for a religious means to truly enable a life in the Divine, moment to moment, that "means" must provide an unrelenting, always accessible "doorway" to the Divine. In the world's traditions of "religious means", the only means of this kind are the great Spiritual Masters.

A genuine Spiritual Master is a "Transmission Master", himself or herself literally a doorway through which the Divine Revelation is transmitted in a tangible form. Spiritual practice is then primarily a matter of becoming better and better at tuning into the Divine Transmission of one's Spiritual Master.

The nature and strength of that Transmission depends on the 'transparency" (the Spiritual Realization) of the one serving as the "doorway":

  • Spiritual Masters whose Realization of God is the fourth stage of life.

  • Spiritual Masters whose Realization of God is the fifth stage of life.

  • Spiritual Masters whose Realization of God is the sixth or the seventh stage.

For more about the "seven stages of life", click here.

A final note on "spiritual correctness". If we really think about it, to say "all spiritual paths are equal" is basically a tip of the hat to that non-path, materialism. Here's why that is so.

Any spiritual paths that come into contact with something that is Real, can actually be assessed and compared in terms of What they come into contact with and how well, how direct, etc. they do it isn't that obvious? To say that they cannot be so compared is basically to imply that none of them actually come into contact with anything Real (beyond one's own personal subjectivity). Religions, in such a view, are merely means for feeling better using consoling stories and belief systems about the purpose of life and what happens after life, and, for this reason, should not be assessed or compared, any more than I should say "my favorite color is orange, your favorite color is blue, and my choice is better." That's ridiculous, of course, unless we discover that there is some other means for assessing these choices, like having orange as your favorite color gives you an edge in the natural selection game (because it helps me spot tigers who are about to pounce on me, just a fraction of a second faster), or something very specific like that.

So in general, it is materialists who say "all spiritual paths are equal", because the underlying assumptions are (a) there is no non-material reality; and (b) "spiritual" paths or religions are exclusively about belief, consolation, and the satisfaction that comes from social groups and so in that sense they are all equal.

But do you truly believe that no spiritual path comes into contact with a dimension of Reality other than the merely material? Or, perhaps better put, do you know this for certain about all spiritual paths? Is it your considered opinion that religions and spiritual paths are all merely subjective, nebulous, unverifiable, and none of them contain any substance as a basis for comparison?

If we know differently, or if we don't know for certain, then let us not, in effect, imply it, by making the pronouncement that all spiritual paths are equal.

This excerpt is taken from Book 7 of The Practical Spirituality Series.
For more information about this series, click here.
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