The essence of spirituality

The next buddha will be a collective

Michel Bauwens writes in The Next Buddha Will Be a Collective, “As society evolves towards distributed networks, with peer to peer based social relations, it will affect spiritual expression in fundamental ways.”

He concludes, “The outcome of that process will be a co-created reality that is unpredictable and will create new, as yet unpredictable spiritual formats. But one thing is sure: it will be an open, participatory, approach leading to a commons of spiritual knowledge, from which all humanity can draw.”

This reminded me of something:

“Men are free when they belong to a living, organic, believing community, active in fulfilling some unfulfilled, perhaps unrealized purpose.” ― D.H. Lawrence

Personally, I am increasingly persuaded that neuroscience and psychology promise progressively materialistic explanations of the vast majority of spiritual and mystical experiences. The sciences are teasing out a lot of what goes on in creative processes like music and art, and now for spiritual practices and experiences as well. But every individual instance of creative and spiritual experience recursively combines two things in a complex and unique, one-time-only mixture: 1) the influence of environment (especially cultural context and personal history), and 2) the original contribution (or value added) of the individual in the moment-by-moment process. This is both a social and a personal reality, swirling and intermixing as in fluid dynamics.

What spirituality means to me is something separate from either the creative process or what is usually considered the spiritual practice, process, or experience per se. In my view, the essence of spirituality consists in the affirmation of, openness to, and respect for the uniqueness of every subjective creative and spiritual experience, regardless of its probably deterministic and natural correlates or causes.

Causality (no matter how natural, material, and deterministic we may reasonably infer it to be) is also irreducibly complex and thus in some measure forever beyond the scope of complete human scrutiny and interpretation. In other words–ultimately mysterious. And thus, in effect, sacred.  The positive affirmation of that practical “cloud of unknowing” at both the personal and the social level is the essence of spirituality for me.

On the other hand, relatively few people (even among scientists and naturalists) will agree with me that the weight of evidence supports a default assumption that everything is material until proved otherwise.

For example, can we really explain love through its material correlates (hormones and stuff like that)?

In my opinion that’s the only credible explanation we have at this point. The rest is speculation. I encourage everyone to convert their speculations into hypotheses that can be tested, and to think about designing experiments for that purpose. The experimental paradigm can be used with any evidentiary regime we choose, including the subjective and anecdotal. But all the rest is simply creative fiction and armchair philosophy.

Ultimately, everyone will and should have their own private definitions of spirituality. One thing I hope that all personal definitions might agree on is that spirituality should not be a euphemism for magical thinking.

Poor Richard

Cloud of Unknowing, Copyright © Dan Hillier (

7 Responses to “The essence of spirituality”

  1. slowborg Says:

    Well I like that your point that you hope everyone has their own private definitions of spirituality.
    When I had decided about ten years ago I didn’t believe in a Christian God anymore, I was left really empty and lost because obviously I needed somewhere to place my faith – even if it was that I didn’t have one.
    I happened to befriend a girl at work who told me to read everything that interested me about other belief and faith systems and pick and choose what resonated with me. It was so liberating, almost like I’d been given permission to create my own definition and belief system. Faith is another story though 🙂
    Great post!

    • Poor Richard Says:

      Thanks, slowborg. I’m glad you liked the post. How’d you happen to come across it?

      Good luck with constructing your a la carte belief system. You might also like Is spiritual the new supernatural?


      • slowborg Says:

        I’ve been following you for a little while, I’m pretty sure I found you by searching tags. You possibly came up under sustainability, spirituality or downshifting?
        I will click over to the other post now 🙂
        I must admit you are a far deeper thinker and far more articulate and philosophical than I am, but that’s precisely why I followed your blog. I want to learn more about the topics you blog about and I’m sure your big words and intelligent paragraphs will sink in eventually! Like study!

        • Poor Richard Says:


          I try to put Wikipedia links on most of the big words and ideas. If you clicked all of them you could spend days getting through some of my posts. I can see from the blog stats that very few of those inline links in my text ever get clicked, but its pretty easy to add them so if they are only used occasionally that’s OK.

          You didn’t find PRA 2010 looking for downshifting — I don’t think I ever used the term but it sounds interesting!

          On the other hand I’m all up in sustainability.

          Thanks for your interest and your feedback!



  2. The essence of spirituality | Peer2Politics | Says:

    […] Michel Bauwens writes in The Next Buddha Will Be a Collective, “As society evolves towards distributed networks, with peer to peer based social relations, it will affect spiritual expression in fundamental ways.”  […]

  3. P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » From the P2P expressions of spirituality to the spiritual expression of P2P Says:

    […] Richard comments on my essay, “The Next Buddha Will Be A Collective“, which appeared in Reality Sandwich […]

  4. The essence of spirituality | Spirituality, Shamanism and Magic | Says:

    […] Michel Bauwens writes in The Next Buddha Will Be a Collective, “As society evolves towards distributed networks, with peer to peer based social relations, it will affect spiritual expression …  […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: