A successful practice doesn’t require a good theory
The questions that logically arise at this point basically all ask “how”, in regard to the mechanics and physics of the spiritual. If something exists and functions, there must be a mechanism that makes it so, the underlying laws of some layer of nature, on which this functionality is defined, as gravity is defined within the material universe.
Gravity is actually a good example, since we have a very good example of “how” it works, because all the mechanisms are known, we have the formulae that work completely reliably and perfectly anticipate the behavior of matter even in the most extreme of conditions, but despite all that we still don’t know “what” gravity really is, or how this force actually functions. In fact, we don’t even know whether it is a force at all, or simply geometric curvature of the universe, where gravity isn’t as much a force as mass is a coordinate axis, like width, breadth and depth. It is therefore quite possible that even in the material universe there is a force so fundamental that nothing in the known universe would exist without it, it permeates the entirety of our material existence and is its necessary prerequisite, its behavior is completely understood and predictable, and yet on a theoretical level we don’t know what it is. I’m telling you this so that you would understand that it isn’t necessary to understand the exact “why” as long as you know “how”. You don’t need to understand the exact underlying mechanism. NASA didn’t have to know what gravity is in order to send satellites into orbit and men onto the Moon; what was important is to understand “how” gravity works, in a sense of having the precise formulae that describe the behavior of massive objects in a gravity field. Those formulae are known, which is why we have no problem planning and executing spaceflight, despite the fact that the physicists are still trying to figure out whether there is some exotic form of boson called “graviton” which produces the gravitational attraction, or Feynman was right to speak of gravity as a geometric property of space, which would explain why we can’t make a unified theory that would encompass both gravity and other forces.
If this can be the state of things with the physical universe and physical matter, which is a tangible domain subject to simple sensory verification and experimentation, imagine how much more sensitive the things become in the spiritual sphere. To establish that something exists at all is very difficult. To establish the general rules according to which something works is immeasurably more difficult. To establish “what” something is exactly, is practically impossible. As a matter of fact, it appears that the modern physics found itself in a bit of a tight spot, because its theories can be experimentally tested only up to a point. When it reached concepts according to which the entire material manifestation is but a tiny fragment of a far more complex picture, such as the n-dimensional strings, it managed to find itself in a position that was commonly reserved for the spiritual sciences.
Due to the aforementioned difficulties, the various religious or spiritual systems are traditionally more accustomed to describing the actions that give favorable results, than they are describing the inner workings of the system according to which things work as they do. This is because it is easier to apply the scientific method to establishing what works and what doesn’t – you make several attempts, see what works and after a few generations you end up with a decent system, which has foundations, walls and roof, and gives repeatable results. Admittedly, it’s mostly an attempt to map the unknown while working blindly, which often gives the results with very narrow applicability, and with poor ability to generalize.
It is therefore no wonder that the religions are most similar on the layer of the recommended actions, while their “whys” can differ wildly. This is so because it’s reasonably easy to empirically establish what kind of activity results in favorable spiritual changes, and when it comes to figuring out why that may be, everyone had an idea, and none of those could be successfully falsified.
This, of course, has a very likely corollary that everybody is in fact operating on a level on which astronomy was studied in ancient Babylonia – there is observation of the phenomenon, but without true understanding, which resulted in some kind of astrology, where watching the animal entrails and watching the motion of the planets served the same purpose: attempting to anticipate what the harvest will be like. Obviously, without a correct theoretical model, attempts at predicting the future result in some form of divination. This, I’m afraid, is the level at which most religious systems, including the best ones, seem to be firmly anchored.
You will probably expect me, like all other systems, to cite myself as a great exception to that rule, but I have no such intention. On the contrary, I can cite my own experience and practice as a great illustration of that principle, with the notable exception that I, unlike most, am aware of my position.
Let’s take the example of the techniques of yoga that I formulated in their final form in year 1997. I created them by figuring out what worked in practice. I knew exactly what had to be done in order to get a certain result, I knew how the energies behave when the consciousness is directed in a certain way, and I formulated it into a technical system. But had one asked me “what” exactly is going on, I would of course have an explanation ready, but I was acutely aware that the explanation was far from the accurate understanding of the underlying mechanisms, since I didn’t know what those were, really. I knew what had to be done in order to get from point A to point B, the way a cook knows how to make a cake, but if you asked him what physical and chemical processes take place during certain phases of admixture and thermal processing of the ingredients, the explanation he could give you would leave much to be desired. That, however, doesn’t mean that the cake isn’t good and that he’s not a good cook. It’s just that full understanding of the theory and the underlying principles of a phenomenon doesn’t belong to the same skillset as the understanding of the practice that is based on those principles. They are two separate things. For example, a world champion rally driver uses physics while driving, but don’t expect him to express it in terms of a tensor of forces at the wheel or to express distance as a definite integral of velocity. What he does know is how to get through that bend at the highest velocity possible for the given terrain and in a given vehicle. On the other hand, you can have a physicist who will be able to calculate those things formally and accurately, but don’t expect him to sit in the car and drive like a rally champion. Those are the two separate and unrelated skillsets, and you would really have to be a really bad asshole to tell the physicist that his formulae are worthless because he can’t drive worth a damn, or to tell the driver that his skill is shit because he can’t explain what he’s doing in terms of mathematics. Those are not legitimate objections, but pure sophistry and nefarious wordplay. Do you know when it was that I came to really understand the majority of the theoretical background of my inner space technique? Quite recently; in the year 2010. That’s 13 years since I originally formulated the technique. And you know what I would change now in the original formulation of the technique? Absolutely nothing. It’s perfect from start to finish. Understanding of what exactly is going on with the kalapas and their aggregations is completely irrelevant for the formulation and functionality of the technique. Likewise, I could have spent 13 years playing tennis and only in the last year learn enough physics to completely understand and calculate the path of the ball, its elastic deformation and release of the stored energy, and this knowledge would change nothing, except being a nice thing to know. It’s great to have a theory, but doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with practice; furthermore, you can have dramatically different theories, even in a sense where one of them is completely wrong and one is completely right, and the choice between them can have very little effect on the practical situation, such as it happened with the celestial mechanics. Up until Newton (or, more accurately, until Laplace), the completely theoretically wrong Ptolemaic system was giving more accurate predictions of the celestial body motions and eclipses than the principally more accurate heliocentric one, because the mathematics necessary to do calculus on a n-body system wasn’t invented yet, and a purely scientific test that compared the accuracy of predictions made by the respective systems would have had to choose the Ptolemaic one. If you have two systems, of which one makes better predictions, it’s obvious that you are going to favor it. It is thus possible for a better theory to give worse results, at least in its early phase of development, and too much scientific rigidity can get you stuck with a theory that is completely wrong, simply because you judged the results at too early a phase, and you didn’t allow the new theory to limp along until its maturity.
What is to be noted in my case is that practical experience doesn’t immediately provide you with a good theory. An intellectually watertight theoretical system doesn’t automatically follow from the practical knowledge, spiritual experience and understanding which things are useful and which are harmful – a theory is something entirely other, and a talent for formulating one is as different from the “feeling” for the spiritual practice, as the talent for driving a rally car from the talent for computing the phycical parameters of the drive. Those things are as separate as night and day, as separate as the capacity for love and the ability to formulate love in terms of biochemistry, by measuring the concentration of endorphins and mapping the activity of the sections in the brain, as separate as it is to experience orgasm and to make a quantitative lab analysis of the ejaculate.
For some reason, people expected me to provide some theory, and that’s what I did. I figured something out, because that’s what I’m good at, but I kept modifying it depending on the evolution of my understanding of things. On the other hand, I hardly ever changed the recommended practice, which was the first thing I formulated, a long time ago. I didn’t add anything since 1998, although what I personally do is much different now, because of my greater skill and power, but the way I would recommend one to go about acquiring those skills did not change. The practical techniques from 1997 proved themselves as good, flexible and effective, simply because I came up with them in a feedback loop with reality, by spending a few years figuring out what exactly works, I identified the mechanisms and they work as such, and the fact that I didn’t understand the theory behind it had absolutely no detrimental effect. When I read my old writings in which I explained to students what they were to do, I find them to be the same things I would say today, with my current knowledge, despite the fact that I now have a better understanding of the underlying theory. I simply worked by instinct, and I knew what had to be done despite not knowing why. I knew what would work, and I was fully within my right expecting to be obeyed without question. It’s like having a master kickboxer tell you how to kick a bag. If you do exactly as he told you, you will learn the correct technique, regardless of the fact that he can’t name all the muscles, ligaments and bones in your arms and legs. Those things are unrelated to the degree of his practical skill. A kickboxer doesn’t have to pass an anatomy exam in order to know how to hit one in the head so that he passes out. When I look at the things I taught people in hindsight, absolutely all of it would have excellent results had they literally and diligently applied it. The fact that my theoretical understanding evolved doesn’t mean that the past instructions were inferior.
This however doesn’t mean that everything the religions are bombarding their followers with is good and useful; on the contrary, a lot of it is a product of rationalizations and poor interpretations. I recently read an excellent example in a modern children’s book based on ancient Greek myths, where a satyr, a goat-man, seeks his lost god Pan, and in an instant he senses “the breath of the wild” which is an unmistakable sign of his god. Later, as he attempted to understand what caused the experience, he mistakenly concluded that it was the coffee he was having at the moment, and kept saturating himself with coffee for months, in attempts to re-create the experience. The religious sphere shows us more examples of this form of logical error, than they do of correct understanding of the phenomena. It often happens that a person has a spiritual experience for one reason, or without any reason whatsoever, and later attributes the experience to something he happened to do at the moment, which doesn’t necessarily have any causal relationship with the experience – was it because I was a vegetarian, or because I was celibate, or because I walked barefoot, or because I faced North, or because I prayed to the right God, or because I made the right kind of sacrifice, because I smoked the right kind of weed, had sex with the right person, or had coffee at exactly right time in the morning? It’s something to have in mind when analyzing the “holy scriptures” and writings of people who had spiritual experiences, who then built a theoretical framework around it in order to explain what happened to them and attempt to re-create it. Because, for the most part, they are barking at the wrong tree.