Being or believing: how to spiritually transform

In spiritual practice, there seems to be two general approaches to take, namely, being or believing. The "being" approach focuses on mindfulness practices, on being in the present. It utilises meditation as a way to purify the mind, transcend the lower self and attain higher states of being.  To do this, the spiritual aspirant must use the powers of concentration and focus in order to escape the "monkey mind" that debars them from reality. This approach is used in Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism which places extra emphasis on meditation and lived experience.

The "believing" approach, on the other hand, often uses prayer and devotional practices to draw closer to the Divine. This approach relies more on faith and love than on concentration alone. It is about putting one's faith in a Higher Power, surrendering one's will. Effort is often needed to stay devoted to one's Beloved, but essentially it is through grace that the believer is transformed, not through their own efforts. This approach is used in the mystical traditions of Christianity and Islam as well as through the Bhakti practices of Hinduism.

Those mystics who have claimed to have "achieved" enlightenment may promote one of these approaches as the best way to scale the summits of spiritual reality. From where they stand, they may think that they reached the highest point and that it was either through "being" or "believing" that they got there.

But what if both approaches are effective, or both approaches could be used in tandem? There are some spiritual traditions that utilise both practices to aid in spiritual development. One such tradition is Tibetan Buddhism which utilises both meditation and devotion to higher beings. There are also spiritual teachers in India that encourage the practice of meditation alongside chanting and prayer. But how exactly would these two approaches work alongside each other? 

One possibility is that they can in fact support one another. The practice of mindfulness is helpful in clearing the mind and developing concentration. This ability can support a person in their devotional practices such as prayer and chanting. When they are communicating with the Divine they can do so with full attention instead of uttering words while their minds are lost in thought. Conversely, the person who is fully devoted to their Beloved in prayer or service may be so engrossed in devotion that naturally their focus and attention is firmly placed on the Object of devotion, thus improving their ability to concentrate.

From this perspective, being and believing are mutually reinforcing approaches to spiritual growth. Instead of creating divisions between the two approaches and making claims of superiority, it seems more worthwhile to search for commonalities so that we can learn from each others' spiritual traditions which can strengthen our resolve on our own spiritual path.

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