Thursday, June 16, 2011

Neither saint nor scholar be

In the current context, academic qualifications are of no relevance. There are no credentials that one can wave about to hold forth on, for the sake of a better world, spirituality. People assume that the possession of a higher knowledge gives that person an aura, supernatural power, or at the least the poise and equanimity of a Mother Theresa. Without having experienced enlightenment, everyone nevertheless insists that they’d recognize the bells and whistles that accompany that state. We’re sure that we’d be able to pick out a person-in-the-know, but is that so? Can we be so sure of that? Isn’t there a risk of being wrong?

I’m no paragon of virtue. If you demand that I perform a miracle or two before you’ll deign to give me the time of day, then I’m going to have to disappoint you. I can’t boast of having lived an exemplary life. I’m not blessed with a saintly soul—there’s no likelihood of my being canonized. Just like you, I have good points and bad. I shine in certain lights, but not in others. I’m no sinner or saint (nor am I interested in drawing a distinction between the two). I cannot pirouette before you and say, “See, this is how you turn out once you learn the secret of life!” For one thing, I haven’t got that sense of balance.

A pity, you counter. So, if I can’t authoritatively pontificate while nonchalantly buffing my halo, couldn’t I impress in some other way? Am I qualified in my field? Have I got the credentials? Am I sanctioned by a higher power? Do I possess the right bit of paper from a suitably accredited institution?

Again I must say no. I’m afraid that I haven’t any laurels to wear. I can’t flaunt any of my own, and I refuse to dream them up either, only for people to find out years later and then for me to have to deny responsibility, “Oh no, it wasn’t me who put those letters behind my name. Must have been a clerical error.”

It’s a pity, but these days you need a credit rating to be read. You need the recommendation of your peers (who have, presumably, been validated by others). You need an academic title to get ahead. The pressure is on. It pays to be published, preferably with a string of best sellers. In short, to avoid the risk of being given short shrift, you need a track record.

Look, the woo-woo stuff that I’ll tackle here isn’t rocket science, so it shouldn’t be necessary for me to establish my credentials. In a perfect world we’d take each other at face value: you’d read what I’d written without bias and consider it on its own terms. You’d receive it from my hands without checking first to see whether they were stained or callused. Yes, I suppose that in this advertising-saturated, media-inundated, information-overloaded, everyone-has-an-opinion-and-a-soapbox-to-spout-it-from age one needs to filter out most of the nonsense. But for now I would suggest that you refrain.

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