Is it possible to be a Spiritual Atheist

Religion or rather, spirituality, is a side of personal development which I often discuss with friends and family, but my most recent conversation was with my Doctor who asked me, "Is it possible to be a spiritual Atheist?" I asserted that it was, and it mostly boils down to... Compassion.

Suppose you had the opportunity to ask world-renowned Zen Master & peace activist, Thich Naht Hanh, "How to be more spiritual?" His essential instructions would include: developing the courage to look deeply at suffering and learning to act more compassionately. I doubt he'd mention God at all. It's more about staying centered in the midst of crisis, so that you can react to the situation with a clear mind and take intelligent, compassionate action.

Putting it back in terms of personal development, spiritual growth is about transcending the tendency to be ego-centric and care only about yourself and your immediate family.

Contemporary Philosopher and highly acclaimed Psychologist Ken Wilber often points to a map of spiritual development, which starts at Ego-centric and graduates through Tribal-centric, and on to Cosmo-centric. According to him, the wider your circle of care, the more spiritually developed you are. If you can be a highly functional and contributing member of society on top of that.... We'll you might just be enlightened.

Since this all started as a conversation with a Doctor, it seemed appropriate to mention the Hippocratic oath. I interpret the taking such an oath as a benchmark moment in a person's life; when a person declares that they will hold themselves to a higher standard of caring and make an unconditional commitment to serving humanity.

Even if you don't agree, maybe you can understand how I'd see taking the Hippocratic oath as something somewhat spiritual. If the oath itself isn't spiritual, one's commitment to it surely is.

So is it possible to be a spiritual Atheist? I certainly think so. Next time you go to see the Doctor, you might honor or even thank them for having made a personal commitment to help alleviate the suffering of humanity. Sure sounds spiritual to me.

Zachary Perlman
Executive Director
Monks Without Borders

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