When people that claim they are spiritual, are seen arguing, yelling, or being outrageous (basically, behaving like an average human), they are deemed to have faked their awakening. After all, how can someone spiritual be so insensible? As much as we’d like to think our growth is exemplary, today I want to unpack the truth of spiritual bypassing.
What is spiritual bypassing?
Spiritual bypassing happens when people logically “get” things but haven’t integrated the knowledge in a way that is embodied. In other words, their actions are not congruent to their words.
This is one of the many dark sides of a spiritual journey. And whether someone is new to the path or has been doing their inner work for a while, it’s possible that they’re not truly living a spiritual life. It’s still only intellectualized for them.
For example, when you listen to a spiritual discourse, sometimes, you’ll find the answer to your latest problem and begin to put the speaker on a pedestal. Something we call a “positive projection” in psychological terms.
Unfortunately, as soon as we hear something questionable about this person, or observe a subtle flaw (arrogance, pride, or mockery are good examples) we become clouded by the authenticity of this person speaking. We then move the scale against them and convert our projection into a negative, looking-down-at one.
We wonder, is this just another fakir faking it?
In that, we lose our focus from the true purpose of attending this discourse.
And there have been many real-life examples of this. When I first started reading the book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, I had no clue that something so wonderful could be written by a monk accused of sexual abuse. It really threw me off and I ended up not wanting to read the book at all.
But why do the best of the best get caught up in spiritual bypassing?
And who are we to believe if we’re constantly repelled by reading such stories?
It can be such a plight for a spiritual seeker who is already feeling disconnected from the rest of the world and experiencing spiritual loneliness, to then find out that there’s a bunch of hocus-pocus happening behind the scenes.
All of this took me a while to navigate, but here’s the bigger picture.
It shouldn’t matter who spoke to you, only that what was spoken could benefit you or not. We’re not here to judge other people’s progress. We’re here to grow conscious of our own.
I also like to think of our temptations (that lead us to spiritually bypass) as tests of our consciousness.
A temptation to gossip. A temptation to binge. To pick a fight with someone. To create drama. Or something seemingly more serious and jarring like sexual abuse, using fame to deceitfully fulfill your hunger for money. And so on.
And at some point in life, everyone is reintroduced to the temptations they are trying to curb, to see if they can pass the test this time around.
So if you’re not conscious of what you’re doing or desiring, you won’t even know what’s happening. You’ll just keep falling into the trap, and it’ll become a vicious cycle.
How can you tell if you’re spiritual bypassing in your life?
I loved what renowned trauma specialist, Dr Gabor Mate shared in one of his retreats recently. And I quote:
“I’ve seen people have beautiful experiences with psychedelics or beautiful experiences sitting on a meditation couch. They get unity, they get the oneness, they get the connection…on a cushion.
And then somebody looks at them in the wrong way, next day, at a bus stop and they get all upset. What happened to all the unity?
So, if you want to know whether you’ve been practicing spiritual bypass or not, look at yourself the next time you’re upset. Or the next time something will happen that would ordinarily get you upset.
If you can stay present and hold your experience, that’s genuine spiritual work. If you can’t, you’ve been doing a bypass.”
And while yes, there’s hypocrisy, there’s also a great opportunity for us to practice compassion and non-judgement for those that have lost their way.
In essence, we’re all just on varying levels of consciousness, awareness.
Your temptation is different from mine, but in no way is one temptation better or worse than the other. They’re all a test for us to overcome our humane attachments.
Buddha’s Story of Overcoming Temptations
The legend is that when Buddha was working towards enlightenment, he was assaulted by the armies of Mara. In the legend, Mara is considered the devil – the representation of evil, aggression, violence, sexual temptation, lust, etc.
And because Buddha maintained self-awareness, he was able to “fight” the demons away.
In reality, the demons are nothing but the temptations that you and I are fighting. So knowing and understanding that everyone’s a work-in-progress and not taking their “enlightenment” at face value can help ease off our own judgements about them.
And how can you prevent yourself from further spiritual bypass?
There’s an overload of spiritual knowledge out there, but if reading books alone could enlighten us, we would not be having this conversation. So, focus on integrating, or what I call internalizing this knowledge.
Here’s a detailed article that I’ve written on the subject:
The second point to consider is that sometimes, those that have been on the path for a while develop a spiritual ego which prevents them from staying conscious.
But the crux of it all is that it’s every spiritual practitioner’s endeavour to overcome these temptations. And the only way we can do that is to not fixate over our ways, but to continually reflect and remain open to being challenged to change.
Something I like reminding myself of often, is to “always be a student, never a master”. Adapting the attitude of “student for life” can really help keep the spiritual ego in check and overcome any possible spiritual bypass that you are unconsciously indulging in.
Having said all that, spirituality, or the expansion of our consciousness is not something that can be faked.
There will always be people whose temptations overshadow their wisdom, claiming they know better than they really do. But isn’t that true for every face of life – there’s always someone too smart. And I agree, it’s difficult to take such people seriously. But still, hear me out.
Learn from everyone. Only use your discernment to gauge the credibility of the message, not the messenger. Are you doing something because you’re placing blind faith in someone else, or because what they said made sense?
And last but not the least, don’t focus on the temptation, whether it’s yours or another’s – focus on the wisdom.
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