Ilya Shambat

Ilya Shambat
Melbourne, VIC, Australia
November 21
Adda Enterprises
Born in Russia, family moved to America when I was 12. Got a degree from University of Virginia at 18. Worked for Oracle, translated four books of classical Russian poety, was part of San Francisco and Washington, DC poetry and music scene. Good friends with San Francisco's own Persephone's Bees and acquainted with Patch Adams. Currently married with children, residing in Australia and working on a clean energy technology implementation.


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MAY 10, 2012 6:00AM

Active and Passive Spiritual Experience

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A claim frequently made in psychology is that real spiritual experiences lead to humility, whereas false (or psychotic) experiences lead to arrogance. Instead the difference that we see is the difference between what I call passive spiritual experiences and active spiritual experiences.

When one is contacted by a spiritual force external to oneself, then humility is the logical response. One hasn't done anything to bring about the experience, and the experience that one has had is that of a higher power than one's own. Passive spiritual experiences lead rationally to humility because their meaning is that there are higher powers than oneself. And a person who has had such experiences is going to be humble if he correctly interprets the meaning and implications of the experience.

With active spiritual experiences, the opposite takes place. If one has come to realizations that nobody has had before, or if one comes to a place of high understanding through anything ranging from litarary inspiration to meditative practice to philosophical discourse to scientific inquiry, then one has had an active role in the experiences attained and the realizations achieved. This, logically, leads to the person having higher view of himself than he had had previously.

With active spiritual experiences, as with philosophy, self-appraisal grows for having been smart enough to have figured out what other people have not. With passive spiritual experience, humility grows for having been put in touch with forces smarter than oneself. This is a major reason for philosophers being known for being arrogant, and it is also a major reason for spiritual practicioners preaching (though not necessarily practicing) humility. In the first case, one has used his intelligence to get to a high place. In the second case, one has been put in touch with a higher intelligence than one's own through something that was not his effort or his will.

In case of science, we see both forces at play. Anyone who's been involved in science for any length of time develops profound awe and humility before the complexity and richness of the universe - a richness and a complexity that he did not create, that he cannot recreate, and for which he cannot hold himself responsible. At the same time he would be likely to look with contempt upon any number of follies that are in people, that are a result of them not having his level of knowledge and that motivate them to act in any kind and sundry of ignorant, destructive or contemptible ways. With the scientist, we will see humility before the universe and pride in the face of many other people. The latter gets many people angry at scientists to the point that they want to defund them; at which point the rightful response that needs to be made is that their lifestyle is based on science, and without science they would be living till age 30 and having none of the comforts and conveniences that they presently have.

The psychological concept as to what constitutes a valid spiritual experience therefore needs to be reworked. Active spiritual experiences enhance pride; passive spiritual experiences reduce it. In both cases the results are logical outcomes of the forces at play; and a valid way to see the experiences for what they are is seeing and understanding this distinction.

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