It really hurts me to write this, but one of the biggest dangers on the spiritual path is magical beliefs.
I mean things like psychic phenomena, astrology, crystal/energy/angel healing, the so called ‘siddhis’, “Law” of Attraction (yuck) to name a few.
The reason it hurts me is: The belief in God or a Divine Intelligence (or your Higher Self or whatever you believe) is itself a supernatural belief, so it sounds a bit stupid of me to claim that magical beliefs are bad. But I want to show you that most magical beliefs can hurt you and you have to be
But let me try to explain.
The Locus of Control
Locus of Control means the degree to which people believe they have control over their own lives.
Inner Locus means people believe they are in control of their lives. External means they believe other forces– the government, big corporations, other people, aliens, God/angels/luck controls their life. From Wikipedia:
Individuals with a strong internal locus of control believe events in their life are primarily a result of their own actions: for example, when receiving exam results, people with an internal locus of control tend to praise or blame themselves and their abilities. People with a strong external locus of control tend to praise or blame external factors such as the teacher or the difficulty of the exam.
This is a well known phenomena in psychology, and one I have personally tested and seen in my own life: People who have an inner locus of control are happier, healthier and cope well with challenges. People with an external locus feel hopeless and powerless.
And why wouldn’t they? At the worst times in my life, I felt hopeless and ran to psychics/astrologers to give me guidance. All I got was my wallet lightened, and in one psychic’s case, advice that was so bad it harmed my career (at least in the short term).
People with an inner locus of control take responsibility for their actions. Sometimes, things will be out of your control and there will be nothing you can do. But as the Stoics said, we can still control our thoughts and emotions.
So when I learnt of the locus of control, I stopped blaming karma/destiny/my evil boss/evil corporations for my misery. I was still stuck in a crappy job I couldn’t quit for Visa reasons; so I took control by learning new skills, so I could get a better job once the Visa situation resolved.
I have to emphasise: This took years and a lot of struggle. So it wasn’t like the idiotic Law of Attraction people say where you just think positive and shit happens.
But from a spiritual point of view: I gave up on all magical beliefs, including God/spirituality. And for several years I was a hard core atheist.
And that’s why I say magical beliefs hurt us.
Magical Beliefs are harmful
All magical beliefs do is make us think our power lies outside of us– in the stars, in psychics, in invisible forces science cannot detect.
And the worst part is– none of this shit is even reliable. Psychics / “healers” / astrology / whatever is hit and miss. Why would you trust something that sorta works, but not really, not when you really want it to?
I did, and all it did was make me more angry. When my magcial beliefs didn’t work, I ended up feeling more hopeless, an example of learned helplessness.
Learned helplessness is a term used in psychology to describe a negative state of mind in which an individual believes they have no control over their situation and thus does not try to alter it. Someone in a state of helplessness may feel, for example, that nothing they do matters.
Belief in magical things like astrology or psychics or chakra crystal healing is like trusting buying lottery tickets will help solve your financial issues. I know many people do this, but they are usually poor.
Let’s talk about the G word
So what about God? There are 2 ways to look at this:
1. God controls my destiny, everything that happens is planned by God — the hopeless view (but sadly the common one)
2. God gives me the freedom to choose my life. God supports me in whatever I want to do.
My own belief about God is described here so I won’t go over it again, but the tldr is: God is the underlying Spirit, the Universal Intelligence we can all tap into for support. But It not our boss or micromanager, and we are free to ignore God. We can call on the Spirit for support if we want to live the best version of ourselves.
And so God (or Universal Intelligence or Spirit, the terms I prefer) allow me to have an inner locus of control, so it is the one magical belief I am okay with.
Other magical beliefs, like Karma/life after death etc– I would only talk about them in purely spiritual discussions, and only to make a spiritual point. This is a very fine line and I have to be careful.
As an example: I believe that we are all Spiritual Beings made of Divine Light. That we are deathless and infinite. This is a spiritual belief.
But that doesn’t mean in the physical world I can create a million dollars just by wishing for it, or I can beat disease just by thinking happy clappy thoughts. Many spiritual teachers have lost credibility when they boasted about how they could heal people by just “spiritual thoughts” but then died of cancer themselves.
This is in fact a good tentant of Vedant as well. Our True Self is immortal and beyond suffering and lacks nothing; but this limited ego self isn’t. And just repeating the mantra “I am already enlightned” doesn’t make you so.
Read about more Traps on the Spiritual Path