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DALL·E 2023-05-06 22.09.19 - funny cartoon of someone praying to a giant gold lamb statue.

The Hierarchy of Prayer: Understanding and Overcoming the Prerogative of the Idol

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Introduction


The world of spirituality is filled with diverse perspectives on prayer and meditation. Many people view these practices as distinct from one another, while others see them as complementary. Opinions on prayer and meditation differ not only between individuals but also across cultures and faith traditions. In this complex landscape, Aldous Huxley's seminal work, "The Perennial Philosophy," offers valuable insights that can help us better underst
and the shared wisdom underlying these practices.

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In "The Perennial Philosophy," Huxley proposes that there exists a universal core of wisdom across all religious and spiritual traditions. This underlying wisdom can help bridge the gap between different practices, such as prayer and meditation, and foster greater interfaith understanding.

The Perennial Philosophy" by Aldous Huxley is a comprehensive exploration of spiritual insights that are shared across various religious and spiritual traditions. Chapter 16, titled "Prayer," delves into the significance, purpose, and various forms of prayer as a means of connecting with the divine reality.

Huxley begins by asserting that prayer is a universal practice found in all religious traditions. It is a means for individuals to communicate with the divine reality, seek guidance, express gratitude, and ask for assistance. He identifies three primary forms of prayer: petition, intercession, and mystical.

Petition

This form of prayer involves asking God for personal needs or desires. Huxley acknowledges the importance of petitionary prayer for many believers but criticizes it as being limited in scope. He argues that focusing on personal needs can inhibit spiritual growth, as it may perpetuate a sense of separateness from the divine and an attachment to material concerns.

Intercession

This type of prayer involves praying on behalf of others, asking God to intervene in their lives. While Huxley sees intercessory prayer as more altruistic than petitionary prayer, he still considers it limited. He points out that intercession can often be driven by egoistic motivations, as individuals may pray for others to conform to their own beliefs or desires.

Mystical

 

Mystical prayer is characterized by an inward focus and an intention to commune directly with the divine reality. Huxley argues that this form of prayer transcends the limitations of petition and intercession, as it seeks to dissolve the ego and establish a deep connection with the divine.

Having identified these three forms of prayer, Huxley further explores the concept of mystical prayer. He draws upon numerous religious and spiritual traditions to illustrate its significance and the diverse methods employed to achieve a state of communion with the divine.

“Alright Upaya, but what is this

‘The Divine’ you keep alluding to?”

-You

Hush, I’m speaking for you, but I’m glad you asked. In light of the Foolish Ontology we find the concept of "The Divine" in the realm of Human Nature, the fifth layer of existence. This is the layer of imagination itself, and it encompasses abstract concepts and mental constructs that shape our understanding of the world and guide our actions. "The Divine" represents the myriad ways that different cultures and belief systems attempt to grapple with and give meaning to this important aspect of human experience. Through concepts such as God, Brahman, Nature, Allah, Chaos, dharma, and Tao, among others, people from diverse backgrounds have sought to articulate their understanding of this essential aspect of the human condition.

By exploring the various forms of prayer and their significance in different religious and spiritual traditions, we aim to provide a comprehensive analysis of the role of prayer in personal growth and self-awareness, while maintaining a respectful and inclusive approach to foster interfaith understanding for spiritual seekers from all backgrounds.

Hierarchy of Prayer: Understanding the Layers

We can divide the hierarchy into two main categories: idolatrous practices (confession, petition, and intercession) and meditative practices (adoration and contemplation). Idolatrous practices involve the division of the psyche and communication with a divine being, while meditative practices focus on inner reflection and self-awareness. It's important to understand that the hierarchy of prayer isn't like climbing a ladder, where you move from one rung to another in a linear fashion. Spiritual sophistication doesn't mean exclusively practicing the highest forms of prayer; it is achieved through a balanced combination of all levels, adapting to one's individual spiritual journey.


Idolatry

The term "idolatry" often carries negative connotations, particularly in religious contexts. Colloquially, idolatry refers to the excessive admiration and devotion to someone or something. However, in this exploration, we will approach idolatry from a more non-judgmental, literal perspective, focusing on its role as a descriptive term for certain prayer practices. Academic scholars use the term "idolatry" to describe the way one imagines God or a divine being to be, as distinct from how the divine actually is. As a non-Christian writer, I see no reason to “condemn” anyone for practicing idolatry. In fact, I believe it can be a useful spiritual practice under the right circumstances, as many christians have demonstrated.

“LUE 2:321 “The point is that there is no point in driving yourself mad trying to stop yourself going mad. You might just as well give in and save your sanity for later.” - Praised be Douglas Adams

It's essential to recognize that idolatrous practices, such as confession, petition, and intercession, can serve as necessary steps in our spiritual development. These practices can be especially helpful for individuals working to overcome the five barriers to peace of mind, as discussed in our previous article. Consider the analogy of training wheels on a bicycle: they might seem limiting, and they can create a dependency, but they have educational utility for children learning to ride and provide support for adults who need assistance. The ultimate goal is to ride without them, but their presence can be invaluable during the learning process.

 

These practices are considered less sophisticated, not because they are inherently bad, but because they involve a division of the psyche. The lower forms of prayer are only deemed "worse" than the higher ones for the simple and obvious reason that it feels better to contemplate how well one fits into the universe, rather than feeling guilty and ashamed for making mistakes and feeling compelled to confess. . The ultimate aim of psychological development is integration, however idolatrous practices can serve as crucial stepping stones towards that goal, helping individuals confront and overcome The Five Barriers. Although it may be uncomfortable, and at times even painful, it is a necessary part of the journey towards spiritual growth and integration. Pain and joy are both essential for our spiritual evolution, and we must learn to navigate and appreciate the entire spectrum of prayer practices.

 

By adopting a non-judgmental and descriptive approach to idolatry, we can better understand its role in the hierarchy of prayer and appreciate its value in fostering spiritual development. Recognizing the potential benefits of these practices encourages spiritual seekers to explore and engage with various forms of prayer, ultimately facilitating a deeper connection with the divine and overcoming barriers to inner peace.

 

“SLTF 36:597 “Listen, bud, if I had one Altairian dollar for every time I heard one bit of the Universe look at another bit of the Universe and say ‘That’s terrible’ I wouldn’t be sitting here like a lemon looking for a gin. But I haven’t and I am.”

The Importance of

Spiritual Guidance

 

As we navigate the hierarchy of prayer, the role of spiritual guidance becomes increasingly crucial as we look lower on the hierarchy. Spiritual guidance is particularly crucial for those engaging in idolatrous practices, as they involve the division of the psyche and can lead to potential missteps without proper direction. Authentic "Fake Gurus" can not only help practitioners discern between helpful and harmful practices but also provide insights into how to integrate these experiences from their spiritual journey into their everyday lives.

 

As mentioned in our previous article on distinguishing charlatans from genuine "Fake Gurus", having trustworthy guidance can help us discern the most beneficial practices, avoid potential pitfalls, and foster interfaith understanding and shared spiritual experiences.

Without proper spiritual guidance, individuals may fall prey to charlatans posing as spiritual leaders, who could exploit their vulnerability for personal gain. Charlatans may try to take advantage of people's cognitive dissonance by preying on their guilt during confession or their desires during petition, and offer the practitioner liminoid experiences as a form of escapism. Genuine spiritual gurus can help distinguish between appropriate practices for a given situation and escapism, ensuring that individuals receive the support and guidance they need to navigate this level of prayer effectively and overcome the barriers to peace of mind.

 

By seeking genuine spiritual guidance, individuals can traverse the layers of prayer safely and effectively, ultimately fostering personal growth and a deeper connection with the divine. For a more in-depth exploration of finding trustworthy spiritual guidance and avoiding charlatans, see our previous article.

The Idolatrous Practices: Confession, Petition, and Intercession

 

Idolatrous practices, such as confession, petition, and intercession, play an essential role in spiritual development. Although they involve communicating with a being other than oneself, they should not be seen as negative or immoral, but rather as necessary steps for growth. These practices help individuals divide their psyche and confront their flaws, assess their desires, and reflect on their relationships, often leading to personal transformation and growth.

Confession

Confession is the first level of idolatrous practices, where individuals confront their flaws and seek forgiveness. This process can be compared to a "come to Jesus moment," an expression that denotes a pivotal point in one's life when one must face a difficult truth or make a significant decision. In this context, confession is a means of rebreaking a psychological "bone" so it can be reset and healed properly.

 

The importance of proper spiritual guidance during the confession stage cannot be overstated. Without proper spiritual guidance it is all too easy for a practitioner to delude themselves into facing mere phantom of their actual problem and go off chasing windmills like Don Quixote. On the other hand, though this is less frequent, a truly sincere and genuine practitioner may well go down into the depths alone, and find themselves confronted with Cthulhu, as happened to Nietzsche. A genuine spiritual guide can help practitioners navigate the challenging process of confronting their inner "demons" without being overwhelmed. They can also protect seekers from charlatans who might exploit their vulnerability for personal gain. It is important to note that a true spiritual guide will not be interested in hearing specific confessions but will instead help individuals navigate their discussions with the divine. They may be willing to listen to you tell them the specifics if you feel the need to do so, however, if they are wasting time, try to get you to enumerate your sins, this should be seen as a red flag, and a good sign but you’re likely dealing with a Charlatan looking to pray on your guilt. An omniscient God already knows exactly what all of your sins are, so the act of confession is a means for us to come to understand our actions ourselves, not a means for the practitioner to convey information to the divine.

 

When facing a proverbial "come to Jesus moment," individuals often feel overwhelmed by their flaws and the gravity of their decisions. In such situations, Christians may find solace and guidance in the concept of "What Would Jesus Do?" (WWJD). This phrase, which has gained popularity as a reminder of Christian values and principles, serves as a practical antidote to the challenges that accompany these pivotal moments.

 

The idea behind "What Would Jesus Do?" encourages individuals to reflect on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as a moral compass during moments of personal crisis. By contemplating Jesus' actions and decisions in similar situations, one can gain insight into how to handle their own circumstances with grace, compassion, and integrity.

 

For example, when struggling with feelings of guilt and shame during the confession process, one might consider how Jesus offered love, understanding, and forgiveness to those who sought redemption. By asking "What Would Jesus Do?" in this context, an individual can be inspired to not only admit and learn from their mistakes, but also to adopt a more compassionate and forgiving approach towards themselves, recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and that growth comes from acknowledging and learning from them. (For more in depth discussion on interpreting the parables of Jesus, see "Can a Spherical Cow Walk on Water?)


"...Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with your self. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be Here.." -Desiderata

Petition Prayer

Petition prayer, often viewed as creating a wish list for a divine Santa Claus, may indeed appear somewhat childish. However, in spiritual practice, this perception can be helpful as it reminds us that we are still children in relation to the divine. As it is said, "one must become again like a child to enter the kingdom." While we might not use petitionary prayers as a divine wishlist, admitting our desires and reflecting on them is a necessary and useful process.

 

Similar to how children's Christmas lists can help them develop their desires and priorities throughout the year, petition prayer serves a similar purpose for adults in their spiritual journey. For instance, a child might desire an action figure for a week in the middle of summer but realize it is not a genuine desire if their interest fades quickly. However, if they consistently desire the same gift for six months leading up to Christmas, it indicates a more genuine longing. This process, although seemingly childish and materialistic, mirrors the way adults utilize petition prayer to reflect on their desires over an extended period.

 

Petition prayer is not about asking for material possessions or favors but serves as a tool for self-reflection, helping individuals discern their genuine desires. By reflecting on their desires, individuals can gain insight into their deepest values and priorities, better understand themselves, and work towards achieving their goals.

 

Petition prayer is not an attempt to change God's plans, but a means for us to align our will with His. God already knows our desires and provides us with resources and opportunities accordingly. The "struggle" or effort involved in aligning our will with the divine is where the importance of the term "jihad" originates.

 

In Islam, the concept of jihad refers to the spiritual struggle to go within oneself, find our egos, and "behead our inner apostate" so to speak. Although islamic texts can be particularly violent, they are not radically so when compared to other traditions, and the core message is about self-transformation and overcoming our ego is the same. The inner battle, often called the "Greater Jihad," is similar to the Buddhist practice of "getting rid of ones ego." Sufi mystics and Buddhist practitioners agree that this spiritual practice is essential for personal growth and aligning oneself with the divine.


“The one who has conquered himself is a far greater hero than he who has defeated a thousand times a thousand men.” -Buddha (allegedly)

When discussing spiritual guidance in this section, it is worth mentioning the popular "law of attraction" concept. The law of attraction is a popular concept suggesting that our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs can influence our reality. In essence, it posits that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, one can bring about corresponding positive or negative experiences. The idea is that by aligning our thoughts and emotions with our desires, we can manifest them into our lives.

 

However useful this idea might be as a catalysis for self reflection and mindfulness, the law of attraction is often misunderstood and misrepresented as magical process, leading people to believe in pseudoscientific concepts such as Panpsychism (no link necessary, I refuse to provide one). This misinterpretation can distract spiritual seekers from genuine spiritual development and lead them down unproductive YouTube rabbit holes filled with charlatans claiming quantum cosmic consciousness, rather than focusing on genuine spiritual development.

 

This pitfall is analogous to the Hindu concept of "siddhi," where practitioners of yoga may become enthralled with the idea of obtaining supernatural powers instead of persisting on the spiritual journey of overcoming illusion. It is crucial, therefore, to have proper spiritual guidance when engaging in petition prayer to prevent distractions and maintain focus on the ultimate goal of spiritual growth.

 

By approaching petition prayer as a means of self-reflection and aligning our will with the divine, we can better understand its role in spiritual development and appreciate its value in fostering spiritual growth.

Intercession Prayer

 

Intercession prayer represents a transition from idolatrous practices to more sophisticated spiritual techniques. By praying for the well-being of others, individuals cultivate compassion and empathy. This practice encourages individuals to think beyond their own needs and wants, fostering a deeper spiritual connection with others.

As spiritual seekers progress through the idolatrous practices and begin to engage in intercession prayer, they start to develop a more sophisticated understanding of their spiritual path. This progression ultimately leads to the higher levels of prayer, such as adoration and contemplation, which bring about a more profound connection with the divine and a greater sense of inner peace and joy.

 

One example of intercession prayer in Buddhist practice is invoking the idol of Amitabha Buddha to obtain bodhichitta. Amitabha Buddha, also known as the Buddha of Infinite Light, represents boundless compassion, wisdom, and enlightenment. By invoking his name and qualities, practitioners aspire to develop these same attributes within themselves.

 

This Buddhist practice demonstrates intercession prayer by directing one's thoughts, prayers, and intentions towards love and compassion for all beings, not just themselves or their loved ones. They recite mantras or prayers, visualizing the Amitabha Buddha and the qualities they wish to embody. Through this practice, they strive to attain bodhichitta, which helps them transcend their own desires and needs, fostering a genuine concern for the well-being of others.


Atonement and Repentance: Two Sides of the Spiritual Coin

 

Atonement, a central concept in Christianity, is often misunderstood. It is important to distinguish between atonement and repentance for sins. Repentance refers to feeling remorse for one's sins, seeking forgiveness, and turning away from wrong actions. While repentance can feel negative, atonement represents the positive side of the spiritual coin. Atonement, derived from "at-one-ment," signifies becoming one with the Godhead, transcending idolatry, and establishing a direct connection with the divine. This process mends the spiritual rift caused by sin and idolatry, ultimately fostering a deeper relationship with the divine.


The Holy Spirit Within and the Kingdom of Heaven Without

In Christianity, the Holy Spirit within each individual is often misconstrued with the Kingdom of Heaven. As mentioned in Luke 17:20-21, Jesus states that the Kingdom of Heaven is within or among us. However, this does not imply looking within oneself to find the Kingdom; rather, it means recognizing the Holy Spirit within. By acknowledging the Holy Spirit within and realizing its presence in others, one experiences a fellowship of interconnectedness, ultimately manifesting the Kingdom of Heaven "without."


Bodhisattvas and Pratyekabuddhas

In Buddhism, the concept of the pratyekabuddha represent a less mature or initial form of enlightenment. These individuals attain spiritual awakening independently but do not actively engage in helping others achieve the same realization. Drawing a parallel to Christianity, Pratyekabuddhas can be compared to those who have discovered the Holy Spirit within themselves but have not yet recognized its presence in others, limiting their contribution to the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

On the other hand, Bodhisattva represents a spiritually mature individual who, having attained enlightenment, chooses to remain in the world to help others achieve the same. This level of spiritual maturity can be compared to recognizing the Holy Spirit within oneself and in others, subsequently contributing to the manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

In Islam, the concept of inner jihad refers to the struggle to submit to the will of Allah. This spiritual struggle allows believers to align their will with the divine, ultimately leading to a deeper connection with God. The recognition of this alignment results in a greater understanding of our interconnectedness with others and the world around us.

 

Hinduism offers the concept of moksha, which represents liberation from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth by seeing through the illusion of Maya and recognizing the ultimate reality of Brahman. By understanding that the individual soul (Atman) is one with the universal soul (Brahman), Hindus can overcome the limitations of the material world and experience spiritual liberation.

 

By exploring these religious concepts, we can see that the journey towards spiritual growth involves a shift away from idolatrous practices and towards a deeper, more meaningful relationship with the divine. This transition is marked by recognizing the interconnectedness of all things, striving for inner peace and liberation, and ultimately experiencing a profound sense of unity with the divine.


Adoration Prayer

Adoration is a meditative practice that fosters gratitude and appreciation for the divine and the blessings in one's life. A familiar example of adoration prayer might be saying Grace before dinner in Christianity. By cultivating an attitude of gratitude, mental well-being, happiness, and life satisfaction can be enhanced.

 

The importance of gratitude and appreciation, as promoted in adoration prayer, is also emphasized in contemporary self-help literature. For example, Rhonda Byrne's first book, "The Secret," has been criticized for its pseudo-charlatanry explanation of the Law of Attraction, leading to the pitfalls discussed in the petition section. However, she began to redeem herself by her third book, "The Magic," which emphasizes the cultivation of an attitude of gratitude. In this book, readers are encouraged to recognize and appreciate the blessings they have already received, rather than solely focusing on manifesting new desires.

 

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is essential for personal growth and spiritual development. Recognizing the blessings already present in our lives allows us to shift our focus from what we lack to what we already have, leading to increased contentment and happiness. This shift in perspective aligns well with the teachings of various religious traditions, emphasizing the importance of gratitude in fostering a deeper connection with the divine and a greater sense of inner peace and joy.

 

One practical example of cultivating gratitude in daily life is the use of a "Gratitude Stone." This can be any type of stone, crystal, or token, whether purchased or found on the side of the street. While it is important to note that people selling “spiritual” rocks and crystals are charlatans, there is something to be said for the idea that you only value what you pay for. Investing a little bit of money in a stone or token for the practice may make you less likely to lose it or give up on the practice. With all of this said, going on a hike to the top of a mountian to choose a stone, or otherwise setting some similar arduous journey between yourself and the amulet of your choice will achieve the same effect.

 

The idea behind the Gratitude Stone is simple, anytime something positive happens or you experience a moment of joy, hold the stone and silently say "thank you" to the universe. This act of acknowledgment and appreciation helps to reinforce the habit of gratitude in your daily life.

 

Over time, this consistent practice will "charge up" the stone, creating a Pavlovian conditioning that associates the stone with feelings of gratitude. Eventually, even during moments of negativity or stress, simply holding the stone can trigger the conditioned response, prompting you to automatically consider the things for which you are grateful.

 

The Gratitude Stone serves as a tangible reminder of the importance of maintaining an attitude of gratitude. By regularly practicing gratitude, we can transform our outlook on life, foster a deeper connection with the divine, and cultivate greater inner peace and joy, which aligns with the principles of adoration prayer and other spiritual practices.

 

However, it is essential to recognize that adoration, while valuable, still isn't the highest form of prayer, as it retains a shade of idolatry. The act of saying "thank you" in specific moments still implies addressing something "other," however more to the point, it only recognizes certain aspects of life as blessings. To truly appreciate the miracle of life in its entirety, one must move beyond adoration and into contemplative prayer.


Contemplation: The Pinnacle of Meditation and Spiritual Sophistication

 

At the highest level of the hierarchy, we find contemplation, a practice revered across various religious and spiritual traditions as the epitome of human activity. Contemplation transcends the idolatrous practices and even gratitude as it delves into a deeper understanding of our place in the world and the interconnectedness of all things. It encourages us to explore the mysteries of existence, our purpose, and our roles as sentient beings in this vast universe.

 

Contemplation refers to the act of thoughtful, prolonged and deep consideration of a particular idea, concept, or subject. It is a type of focused and reflective thinking that involves the use of one's imagination, intuition, and perception to gain a deeper understanding of something.

 

The word "contemplation" comes from the Latin word "contemplatio," which means "a looking at, viewing, or beholding." The root word "templum" means "temple" or "a place for observation." In ancient times, people would go to a temple or a Sacred Space to contemplate or meditate on spiritual matters.

 

Through contemplation, we are invited to engage in introspection and self-examination. We begin to understand our own nature, our motivations, and the role we play in the grand scheme of things. This heightened awareness often leads to spiritual enlightenment, a sense of inner peace, and a deeper connection with the divine, however one may perceive it.

 

It is fascinating to see that, despite the significant differences among various religions, there is a consensus on the importance of contemplation. From Christian mystics to Buddhist monks, contemplative practices have been an integral part of spiritual growth and development. This universality speaks volumes about the power of contemplation and its ability to connect us with something greater than ourselves.

 

The concept of contemplation has been present in various cultures and religions throughout history. In Greek philosophy, contemplation was seen as a way to reach wisdom and truth. In Christian theology, contemplation is a form of prayerful reflection that can deepen one's relationship with God. In Eastern spiritual traditions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, contemplation is a means of attaining spiritual enlightenment and inner peace.


“The unexamined life is not worth living”  -Socrates

In Hinduism, the practice of yoga is a form of contemplation that aims to unite the individual with the divine through physical postures, breath control, and meditation. Similarly, Zen Buddhism emphasizes the importance of Zazen, or seated meditation, as a means of attaining spiritual awakening and a deeper understanding of the self.

 

Adoration and contemplation are pivotal practices that contribute to the journey of spiritual growth in both Western and Eastern religious traditions. These meditative practices ultimately facilitate a transition from external representations of the divine to an internal recognition of the divine within oneself, thereby fostering a direct connection with the divine. By engaging in adoration and contemplation, individuals can cultivate gratitude, appreciation, self-reflection, and introspection, which can lead to spiritual growth, inner peace, and liberation from illusions.


Conclusion: Embracing the Full Spectrum of Prayer for Spiritual Growth

 

The hierarchy of prayer, ranging from idolatrous practices that require dividing the psyche to sophisticated meditation practices, offers a valuable framework for understanding various religious practices and promoting personal growth. By embracing the full spectrum of prayer practices, we can cultivate a well-rounded spiritual life that leads to a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

 

As we journey through the different levels of prayer, we can appreciate the beauty and complexity of our spiritual lives and foster a sense of interconnectedness with all living beings.

 

So, the next time you find yourself wondering about prayer, embrace the hierarchy of prayer as a guide, while remembering that it is a multifaceted and diverse practice that transcends simplistic categorizations and this model isn’t an absolute. In navigating these levels of prayer, it is essential to seek proper spiritual guidance and maintain an open mind towards different faiths and spiritual practices. This openness can lead to a greater appreciation of the shared spiritual wisdom that transcends religious boundaries, fostering interfaith understanding and harmony.

 

As you progress through the levels of prayer, experience the transformative power of spiritual growth and deepen your connection with IT. Embracing the spiritual journey with humility, curiosity, and a commitment to growth will lead to profound insights, personal transformation, and a more fulfilling, purposeful life. Explore the richness of spiritual growth that the world has to offer, and Enjoy your Self!

 

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