Travel in the Spiritual Worlds
The Comet Flying Through the Darkness of Space Attracted to the Infinite Spiritual Sun
The facets of spiritual travel are many and varied. They range from near-death experience to mystical union, from immersion in states of spiritual light to shamanic journeys to the ancestor world, from soaring through skies filled with celestial music to riding mantric waves of sound, from encountering spiritual landscapes to rocketing through the tunnel that connects the physical world to higher worlds of being.
In the past, spiritual travel might have been classified as an obscure form of mysticism on one hand, or as "astral projection" (as defined by Theosophy, the turn of the century spiritualist philosophy) on the other. The interest in it was very limited.
But the recent interest in the indigenous religions of tribal peoples, which includes shamanic experience, has added a new class of experience to the list, and a certain respectability to the category. Also, the enormous interest in near-death experience has greatly expanded the awareness of spiritual travel and out-of-body experience as a valuable form of spiritual exploration.
However, despite these developments, the fundamental question arises:Why is spiritual travel not a wider topic in human conversation? Why is it unknown to the vast majority of humanity?One explanation is that it is not an easy path, and inducing spiritual travel experience usually involves discipline, effort, time, inner experimentation, and even some good fortune since this ability is in some respects a gift. This is true to the extent that it is easier for some to leave the physical body than others. Therefore those who are not predisposed to this kind of experience might have to work harder and spend more time than those who have this predisposition to bring about out-of-body experience. As stated earlier, for most people (including the author), it is quite difficult to leave the physical body and some regard it with a certain amount of fear.
Another explanation is that the physical world offers so many challenges and distractions that it fills the entirety of mankind's consciousness.
But the pain of the death of a loved one, the dissatisfaction with the shallowness of the media-saturated consumer culture of the modern world, the sense of limitation that seems inherent in the makeup of the physical body, the knowledge that one's own old age and death are inevitable would seem to be enough motivation to counter at least some of life's distractions.
In the West, there are other cultural and historical reasons for this lack of interest in and awareness of spiritual travel. In addition to the obvious wide acceptance of the philosophy of materialism, and a scientific world view that reduces both the universe and the mind of man to complex machines, spiritual travel is a radical notion which goes against several centuries of religious belief, and most interpretations of the Bible and Muslim Quran.
In Hinduism and Buddhism, it is generally believed that a person can enter the highest or holiest states of religious consciousness while still alive in the physical body. If you are not a Buddha or an enlightened sage (siddha) with insight into the nature of reality, it is your limitation. The universe is infinite even if you cannot perceive its infinity because of your limited perspective. Each person has a unique set of barriers to overcome to get beyond his or her own limited view of the world.
In mainstream Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, however, it is believed that the soul can only experience heaven after the physical death of the body. These areas are thought to be inaccessible to living people in the Western traditions, except perhaps for a rare saint or prophet chosen by God to reveal something specific to mankind. No individual can see religious visions of the world of God or visit heavenly worlds by his or her own choice. The person must wait for God's grace. Exploration is forbidden and attempts to explore are a sign of vanity.
It is in this context of alienation from the spiritual world that some Christians look forward to and even seek to bring about the end of the world in order that they be "raptured" or taken into heaven. Similarly, some Muslims commit suicide as an act of religious war to reach heaven. Even when such events bring about so much obvious death, suffering, and destruction, they are desirable because they are believed to also bring about transcendent spiritual experience and immediate heavenly salvation. The motivations for both groups are complex but certainly one primary motivation is the desperate desire for the spiritual experience of heaven, and destruction of the earth and/or the physical body is only a means to this heavenly end.
In addition, these are religions of surrender to a "higher power" that will take care of the individual like a parent caring for a child. At death, God, Jesus, or an angelic intercessor will take the soul of the individual and control its movements and destination. For Catholics, there is also the hope that prayer will move Mary or a Catholic saint to petition Christ to be charitable, and through grace give the dying individual a better afterlife than he or she might otherwise deserve.
In mainstream Protestant theology, much of which is based on Martin Luther's doctrine of "justification by faith", the individual is subject to sin, and therefore cannot be saved by imperfect works and gains heaven by faith alone. Curiously, having faith is not classified as "a work" even though serious Protestants both now and in the past seem to work very hard at having faith. But it is clear that without access to deeper spiritual experiences during life in these traditions, maintaining such faith becomes a Herculean exercise.
In each tradition, the unwritten religious contract states: "Once I am saved or have faith or live a good life according to the principles of my religion, I am guaranteed eternal life in a heavenly paradise". I sincerely hope this is true because so many religious people are depending on it.
Spiritual travel certainly has an element of trust and surrender, but is really more like yoga in that its major focus is self-mastery rather than surrender. It is a kind of continuing vision quest in which the arena of the quest is the mind instead of going out into nature to seek a vision. Spiritual travel makes individuals responsible for their own limitations, and their spiritual perception or the lack of it. It is for those who are not quite able to trust the glowing promises of the mainstream religions, or at least those who would like some additional evidence for the existence of a spiritual world in the afterlife now instead of waiting until death.
Taking the concept of spiritual travel seriously means extending and expanding the helpful and valuable Christian virtue of faith beyond a strong belief in God and his inspired word, and the equally important virtue of works beyond prayer, charity, good will, and helpful action towards one's neighbor.
For the spiritual traveler, faith must be more than confidence in a distant deity which can only be encountered after death. It must also be faith in one's own ability to see and know the heavenly worlds and this ultimate reality here and now. Faith is also not the end of the individual's spiritual journey on earth. It is rather an important beginning of the spiritual journey because it provides a solid foundation for developing and pursuing a spiritual practice which leads to spiritual realization. Many in the West believe that faith divorced from works, spiritual practice, and the deeper study of a spiritual tradition is a ticket to heaven, and that salvation can come at the last moment of life after a long history of misdeeds. For these individuals, investment professionals have some valuable advice which can be applied to the spiritual path as well:If something sounds to good to be true, it probably is.
The doctrine of "justification by faith" if wrongly understood could even be dangerous because it can be used to avoid living a spiritual life and to avoid doing any spiritual practice. While many mainstream religious traditions are strong in the areas of encouraging ethical action and religious community in their members, as educational institutions, they have a serious limitation. That is that they have low expectations of their members. The religious leaders or teachers who are many times very sincere in their desire to help others unfortunately have so little faith in their members (and also in themselves) that there is virtually no mention that such members are capable of having transcendent spiritual experience prior to death. If there is some glimmer of experience, it has to fit a narrow mold so as not to threaten the prevailing view of what is acceptable and possible.
The concept of spiritual travel shows this view to be unnecessarily pessimistic, and substitutes for it a view of an individual who should have great expectations and great optimism about his or her spiritual potential. It further shows that spiritual experience is wide-ranging and that the universe is a very big place with many rooms in God's mansion, and that spiritual experience should be encouraged rather than feared.
In the context of spiritual travel, works means adopting a spiritual practice that leads the individual step by step to mystical knowledge, and experimenting with such a practice and changing it if it does not produce results after extended effort. Works also means taking whatever religion one is currently part of and searching for the transcendent and esoteric elements in that tradition. This includes examining the lives of the saints, prophets, and saviors to uncover the core of transcendent religious experience that is at the heart of these great religious traditions. Spiritual travel as a practice is like mysticism. Both are largely nondenominational. They can be a part of almost any religious tradition.
The philosophy of spiritual travel as outlined at this site asserts that the individual is not trapped in the body while living in the body. He or she is capable of making voyages into the inner worlds and returning to report on the experience.
We can use various analogies to describe our identity during spiritual travel. The spiritual seeker becomes the comet flying through the darkness of space (the pictorial theme of this web site) attracted to the infinite spiritual sun which is its ultimate destination.
But the change in how we view ourselves during spiritual travel goes beyond a simple analogy. We are all literally sailors on a cosmic sea. Even though our current home port is the physical body, there is no reason to insist on staying moored at home port indefinitely. Sailors are safe while in port but their role requires them to leave and explore the sea. At physical death, we must move out on the ocean again anyway, so why not do some exploring now? Sailing is always smoother when the boat is controlled by an experienced seaman who has navigated in a broad variety of waters and weather conditions.
Through spiritual travel, we can become the captains of our vessels and master the inner sea of awareness. This mastery comes with a process of spiritual purification, and as it occurs, the inner sea of thought, space, imagery and emotion gradually becomes a sea of sacred light, sound, and Truth. When this occurs, the spiritual traveler can only echo the words of the Indian medieval poet Kabir:
I have drunk from the Cup of the Ineffable,
I have found the Key to the Mystery,
I have reached the Root of Union.
Traveling by no track, I have found that Sorrowless Land ...
There I have seen joy filled to the brim,
Perfection of Joy;
There I have witnessed the sport of One Bliss! ...
The inward and outward are become one sky,
The Infinite and finite are united:
I am drunken with the sight of this All! ...
Kabir says:"My heart is frenzied, and I disclose in my soul what is hidden.
I am immersed in that one great bliss which transcends all pleasure and pain."
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