Atheism, Religion, Spotlight

The Parable of an Atheist at a Temple

This is a guest post by atheist philosopher Trent Fowler.

I just finished a three day retreat at a Buddhist monastery nested in the mountains outside Gyeongju, South Korea. I woke at 4 a.m., chanted, and spent several hours a day in meditation. The primary reason I went was for the meditation experience, but it was not heavily emphasized.  I’ve been a meditator for several years and looked forward to advancing my exploration of the mind.

Instead of attending the obvious tourist fluff I meditated my own. I snuck up to the temple on one occasion and meditated in front of a statue of Buddha, bathed in candlelight and silence, with only the eerie and mysterious artwork on the walls to watch me and keep me company.

I think setting is important. At my current level, however, it takes more than art and statues to still my mind at 4 a.m. It takes lots of coffee, and there wasn’t any to be found.  So these meditation sessions were not particularly fruitful. That’s part of what I learned; the time may come when I need to deepen my practice with a retreat, but for now sitting in my apartment is working just fine. The most powerful meditative experience I’ve ever had was in my living room.

You may be asking yourself what use an atheist has for meditation.

Quite a bit. I think much of what we call “religion” needs to be rejected, but religion is complex and sometimes beautiful. To reject a god is not to say that there aren’t threads of great value woven into the tapestry of the world’s faith traditions. There are questions of tremendous importance to human beings, like how to live, which have mostly been addressed by religion and philosophy.

Meditation counts among the handful of useful techniques which are embedded in religion and are worth salvaging. I’m drawn to it in part by two things: one, it can be pursued in a secular context and requires no faith. Two, even brief periods of meditative introspection can shed light on the workings of the mind.

Watch your own thoughts unfolding for a few minutes and you’ll see that your attention is like a hiker and your conscious mind is like an avalanche perpetually bearing down on him. That sentence was composed while I was trying to meditate. First, the metaphor of the hiker and the avalanche.  Then I returned to focusing on my breath. I smiled because the metaphor seemed clever. Back to breathing. Within ten seconds I was casting around different drafts of the sentence, trying out various phrasings. Back to breathing.

Over the span of an hour I waged and lost this war for what seemed like a thousand years. Needless to say, I didn’t check “become enlightened” off my bucket list that day.

What I’ve studied of philosophy suggests that Buddhism and Hinduism begin from a different point of departure than Western science. Buddhism takes introspection as the empirical exploration of the mind. In the millennia since this project began, numerous mental technologies have been developed to foster insights into consciousness, along with much religious baggage.

In the West, by contrast, the role of the observer is minimized and there are thinkers who believe that the introspection itself is incoherent.  I can sympathize.  Psychology has revealed that introspection is profoundly susceptible to error, and of course we must be careful in drawing conclusions about the universe based upon what we find when we turn inward.  But that doesn’t mean meditation is useless.  On the contrary, reports from experienced meditators and a growing body of neuroscientific evidence point to the opposite conclusion. It appears that meditation, stripped of religion, can be pursued to great reward by secularists and atheists.

What’s more, it may indeed turn out that we simply cannot explain how it is that matter gives rise to consciousness. If this is true, then a sophisticated science of first-person exploration will be the only way we have of getting to certain truths about human consciousness.

Regardless, meditation can present a way for a person to more fully be a participant in their own experience. It’s possible to notice and modulate mood more effectively, to better steer oneself towards happiness, and to notice the intricacy and beauty that the world presents us in each waking moment. Though I have yet to find them myself, I also believe meditation to be a compass for navigating the most expansive continents of well-being and happiness to be found in the landscape of the human mind.

Or so I’ve learned while sitting.

Trent publishes at Rulers to the Sky where he explores issues of consciousness, belief, and spiritual practice sans faith.

Is Trent right that most of religion can’t be “salvaged” for use in a scientific worldview? And how do his claims stack up against nature-based, immanent religions? 

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29 thoughts on “The Parable of an Atheist at a Temple

  1. In the interest of saving space, there was a good bit that was left on the cutting room floor. One of those things was a bibliography, a further reading section. Though I didn’t do any traditional research for the essay, there are a number of pieces that have been so influential on my thinking in this area that it would be remiss of me not to point them out. Here they are:

    1) “Dancing with the Gods”, Eric Raymond

    http://www.catb.org/esr/writings/dancing.html

    2) “Drugs and the meaning of life”, Sam Harris

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/drugs-and-the-meaning-of-life/

    3) “What’s the point of transcendance” Sam Harris

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/whats-the-point-of-transcendence/

    4) “On spiritual truths”, Sam Harris

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/on-spiritual-truths/

    5) “Killing the Buddha”, Sam Harris

    http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/killing-the-buddha/

    6) The writings of B. Allan Wallace should be mentioned as well. His books include “Mind in the balance”, “contemplative science”, and “embracing mind”. I don’t endorse his metaphysics, but I’ve found him useful nonetheless.

    http://alanwallace.org/

  2. MercyFire says:

    Yes, there are practices which can be taken out of religious context, measured scientifically and applied beneficially regardless of individual belief. Religious faith is not something which science can measure or explain (unless it is put down as a psychological coping mechanism) so there is a great deal in religion which is not useful scientifically.
    I will add the argument has been made that science is equally unhelpful to religion for the same reason. Personally I find religious logic a bit shaky, but I accept I am not the only one working on a hypothesis for the meaning of life.

  3. Hey Trent, interesting post. I too am an atheist who meditates. I learned meditation techniques in a secular context when I was quite young and still a Catholic. I have always found them useful, but never associated them with religion.

    “There are questions of tremendous importance to human beings, like how to live, which have mostly been addressed by religion and philosophy.”

    I honestly disagree. How to live never needed religion to answer it. Religion co-opted these questions to better survive when people figured out that trying to influence the universe by petitioning the gods was a fruitless endevor. Buddhism started as a rejection of Hinduism because either the gods cannot help us deal with suffering, or they are non-existant.

    How to live is an easy question to answer. Do what makes you happy as long as you aren’t harming anyone else without their consent (if you’re into that). Let your natural empathy guide your choices instead of listening to someone else dictate how you should behave. Help create a better world.

    As for the other common question attributed to philosophy and religion, “What is the meaning of Life?” Well, first you have to prove that life has meaning in the first place. And so what if it doesn’t. Why is this an important question? It does nothing to contribute to a better quality of life or an increase in the happiness of humanity.

    • Thanks for the comments, I’m glad to hear that you’re an atheist who meditates.

      As for religion and philosophy answering the most important questions of life, let me expand. For one thing, I wasn’t necessarily trying to say that religious or philosophical answers to those questions are satisfactory; to some people they are, and to some people they aren’t. What I was trying to get across in limited space is that atheists are free to take from religion the useful bits which don’t require they abuse logic. As religions are old and complicated, we wouldn’t expect them to be wrong about everything!

      Would you agree with me that answers to these questions were at least more often than not thought about in the context of religion and philosophy?

      Concerning whether or not life has meaning, it appears as though we think about the idea differently. You say that the first step is to prove life has meaning. If I read you correctly, you’re skeptical of the claim that life has objective meaning, that it’s meaningful outside the context of our lives. I don’t think meaning works that way. Meaning is something constructed out of our lives, our relationships, and our experiences. It is wholly instantiated in and contingent upon our conscious awareness. If humans had never existed three would still be a prime number, but there would be no meaning to life. Human subjectivity does exist, however, and is part of the universe. Meaning, in my view, is an objective fact about the subjectivity of human beings, and there will be better and worse ways of seeking it.

      If this is true, then science, philosophy, and maybe even religion will definitely have some things to say about living happier and more meaningful lives.

      You can see we’re poised on the brink of some pretty deep topics :) Did that help to clear my position up?

      • “Would you agree with me that answers to these questions were at least more often than not thought about in the context of religion and philosophy?”

        Definitely, especially before the industrial age. The religious and noble classes were the only ones with the luxury of having both the time and education to think about those questions.

        “What I was trying to get across in limited space is that atheists are free to take from religion the useful bits which don’t require they abuse logic.”

        I agree, but only because every single idea should be debated on its own merits, regardless of its source.

        “As religions are old and complicated, we wouldn’t expect them to be wrong about everything!” or in other words, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. We also wouldn’t expect them to be right about anything. As I said before, every idea should be debated on its own merits.

        “Concerning whether or not life has meaning, it appears as though we think about the idea differently. You say that the first step is to prove life has meaning. If I read you correctly, you’re skeptical of the claim that life has objective meaning, that it’s meaningful outside the context of our lives. I don’t think meaning works that way. Meaning is something constructed out of our lives, our relationships, and our experiences. It is wholly instantiated in and contingent upon our conscious awareness. If humans had never existed three would still be a prime number, but there would be no meaning to life. Human subjectivity does exist, however, and is part of the universe. Meaning, in my view, is an objective fact about the subjectivity of human beings, and there will be better and worse ways of seeking it.”

        You have clarified your position, allow me to clarify mine. When most people and religions address the question of the meaning of life, they are looking for something external. I see no evidence that life has any meaning other than what we assign to it. That is what I meant when I said that, “Well, first you have to prove that life has meaning in the first place.” Now, on to the second part. I do not think that it is important to assign a meaning to life. I do not see the benefit to my own happiness or quality of life, and I do not see how it could benefit any one else if I were to assign a meaning to life for myself. Life being meaningless is not a reason to not try to be happy, or increase the happiness of others. In other words, life having meaning is irrelevant to my worldview.

        “If this is true, then science, philosophy, and maybe even religion will definitely have some things to say about living happier and more meaningful lives.”

        Well first you have to prove that it is true. You have to prove that meaning is an objective fact, that we do not just create our own meaning. To be objective, it has to first be outside of human opinion. In other words, it has to be universal. Do you have any evidence that it is in fact universal? I would counter with the fact that many religions disagree with each other about the meaning of life, and therefore, it is completely subjective. That also shows how useless using religions to understand the meaning of life is.

        Science, philosophy, and religion have plenty to say on the subject of happiness, but only the first two use logic and reason to get there, and only the first one provides evidence.

        Now, that is a completely different subject than how these different things can increase happiness, and at what cost.

        Also, as I said above, I think that meaning is irrelevant to happiness, so having a more meaningful in the sense of “what is the meaning of life?” is unimportant. By the way the meaning of life, the universe, and everything is 42.

        “You can see we’re poised on the brink of some pretty deep topics :) Did that help to clear my position up?”

        Perfectly, I hope I was clear enough. And yes, we are poised on the brink of many different deep topics.

        • When most people and religions address the question of the meaning of life, they are looking for something external. I see no evidence that life has any meaning other than what we assign to it.

          Glad to see that “most” at the beginning. My religion (the Old Belief) teaches that one’s life purpose is self-assigned.

          It also teaches that identifying (choosing) one’s purpose is beneficial, and here’s why. Generally, you are going to choose a passion, strength or talent as your life purpose. When you identify your strengths and passions and start to focus on then, you tend to enjoy it so you are happier. And since they are your passions and strengths, you tend to be good at them, so you also become successful.

          In other words we see a clear progression: identifying a life purpose makes you happier and more successful. This is on top of the inherent sense of satisfaction that most people (apparently not you?) get from feeling they are doing things for a reason, have a plan, and have meaning in their lives.

          So I’d say that’s two rational reasons why assigning a “meaning of life” is, in fact, relevant to happiness for many people.

          • Well, I used most because I could think of several counter examples. Well my passion, strength and talent is cooking. I work in a restaurant. Is my purpose then to cook? Is that the meaning of my life. I do not think that it is. Just because you are passionate about something does not make it meaningful. But for me, something does not have to be meaningful. If something is enjoyable, why worry about how meaningful it is when you can just enjoy it. Be present in the moment and enjoy what you can while you can. If something is really bad, do what you can to change it instead of dwelling on the meaning or meaninglessness of it. Positive Nihilism.

            “This is on top of the inherent sense of satisfaction the most people (apparently not you?) get from feeling they are doing things for a reason, have a plan, and have meaning in their lives.”

            If you are worried about the purpose, or the end result, or the meaning, you are not enjoying the journey, and at the end of the journey lies annhillation, so you might as well enjoy it while you can.

            • Em, if cooking is not meaningful to you then no, it is not your purpose: bear in mind that I have repeatedly defined life-purpose as a self-identified, self-appointed concept.

              By definition, that means people who don’t see value in appointing meaning to their life will not have a set life purpose. In other words, people like yourself who don’t care about a purpose or meaning are well accounted for in my conception of life-purpose.

              On the other hand, you aren’t accounting for people like myself who do value purpose. Your argument seems to be “I, Em, do not value defining a meaning or purpose in my life, therefore it is silly for anyone to do so.”

    • As a philosopher, I want to caution us not to lump “philosophy” with “religion.”

      Formal philosophy is a system of rational thinking to attempt to understand our world, proceeding from observations in a parallel, though less effective, method to science.

      Its central question is how best to live life, and one of its main tactics is challenging and questioning one’s most dearly held beliefs.

      That’s quite different from most religions.

      • I do not equate the two, but apologists for the abrahamic religions have been trying to co-opt philosophy for centuries, so the two have some overlap. And I would like your opinion on Taoism(Daoism). Some have claimed that it is both a philosophy and a religion. Where do you stand on that issue?

        • I believe the only fair or accurate way to define religion is with an opt-in definition. Groups or movements are religions if their leaders or members call them religions. This is the only way to define what is and isn’t a religion without eroding the rights of some groups or favoring one culture’s definition of religion over another.

          Taoism is then a religion because many of its adherents consider it their religion. At the same time, if some Taoists do not consider it a religion then they need not take on that label or the legal rights it entails.

  4. “Life being meaningless is not a reason to not try to be happy, or increase the happiness of others. In other words, life having meaning is irrelevant to my worldview.”

    Would you not say that being happy and increasing happiness is the meaning you’ve assigned to your life? That’s more or less how I think of life purpose.

    “To be objective, it has to first be outside of human opinion. In other words, it has to be universal.”

    I think that meaning is objective in a weak sense. I wouldn’t claim that there are easy statements such as “the purpose of life is to maximize pleasure” which apply across the board to every living human. But there is a broad sense in which certain ways of pursuing meaning are better than others, given that consciousness is a fact, that our brains have evolved a certain way, and that our happiness is related to our relationships and the societies we’re born into.

    “I would counter with the fact that many religions disagree with each other about the meaning of life, and therefore, it is completely subjective.”

    I don’t think that follows. By analogy, I could say that religions disagree in their creation myths, ergo it is a matter of opinion as to how the universe came into being. As I said, I think human consciousness is a fact of the universe, an objective fact, and that not every use of time and attention produces happiness and meaning. Yes, I am willing to bite the bullet here and say that some people are simply wrong in how they go about trying to be happy and yes, I am a moral realist.

    • “Would you not say that being happy and increasing happiness is the meaning you’ve assigned to your life?”
      Point conceded conditionally. I would rather be correct than happy because one of my values is that the truth is better than a falsehood even if it makes you happy. But that being the case, the meaning of life is meaningless because it does nothing to advance the goals of being happy.

      Trent, I need you to clarify your terms. I have this argument with certain people about objective v. subjective morality. Objective: not a matter of opinion, something that exists independently. The air that we inhale contains oxygen is objective. Genocide is wrong is an opinion. A commonly held opinion, but an opinion none the less. Something being subjective does not mean that it is unimportant. What is my purpose in life, if it is something that we assign for ourselves, cannot be anything other than an opinion. It cannot exist as a fact outside of our point of view. Values are a matter of opinion. If you mean something else by objective, then I really need you to give me a better, explicit definition. Please keep in mind that I was a culinary arts major, not a philosophy major. I will concede that religions disagreeing about the meaning of life making it subjective is a bad arguement. I will not however concede that it is objective as I understand that term.

      “I will say that some people are simply wrong in how they go about trying to be happy”

      Yep, If someone is doing something to produce happiness, and does not succeed, then they are going about it wrong. I fully agree. This still does not make meaning or purpose objective.

      “I am a moral realist.”
      Again, Culinary arts major, what does that mean?

      • No worries man, for what it’s worth i wasn’t a philosophy major either. And I’m sure your fried chicken is better than mine :)

        I take “objective” to mean the universe as it actually is and “subjective” to mean how it appears to people. If we were gods, then there might conceivably be no difference between these two things. But of course we’re not, we’re evolved creatures operating with outdated software. Sense data thus travels through layers of emotion, cognitive filters, beliefs, and all manner of distorting mediums before we interact with it.

        Given this, it’s no wonder that we’re skeptical of people’s subjective evaluations of information. How someone feels about a subject is not always a good guide to the truth.

        But I think we can take a step back here, and see that subjectivity is part of the universe. If there exists a god-written book which lists every last detail of the universe, there must be some description of the contents of conscious minds. Whether subjectivity can be reduced to the brain or not, it is an objective fact that certain complex systems have an inner life.

        It is at this point I believe your definition of “objective” falters, without being outright mistaken. Objective facts are not matters of opinion, but neither they do they have to exist independently of humans. Some objective facts do, like the 2nd law of thermodynamics; but other objective facts, like that I have a headache, require subjectivity to exist at all. That isn’t quite the same thing as saying they are merely matters of opinion.

        Rather, I submit that there can be objective facts about subjectivity. Any account of the universe that doesn’t include the fact that I have a headache is simply incomplete.

        Okay, I hope I’ve cleared some of that up. “Subjective” can mean two things: 1) a matter of opinion, or 2) related to conscious experience.

        So, if we take a step back and see consciousness as something that exists objectively, we can see that there will be ways of navigating through various states, both sublime and miserable, which will be somewhat regular. Mind you I’m not saying there will be laws of consciousness like there are laws of chemistry. But I can predict with a fair degree of certainty that there will be less happiness in the world if tomorrow we wake up to find that ten category five hurricanes simultaneously ravished the European coast.

        That’s why I’m a moral realist, meaning I don’t think morality is a matter of opinion. True, there aren’t rules like “thou shalt not kill” which have no exceptions. But objective facts about how consciousness will change given other objective facts about the universe (like the presence of hurricanes)? That seems perfectly reasonable.

        If you accept this, then it’s clear that people can be right and wrong on questions of meaning, morality, and how to live.

        • 1. I’m not a man. Please do not refer to me as such.
          2.I think most of our disagreement flows from having different definitions.
          3.On morality, morals are based on values. Values are a matter of opinion. For the sake of example: If I value my tribe prospering over how much I value the life of others then my moral code would say that killing them for their land is morally good. Personally, I think that this is morally abhorrent, and I strongly disagree with a tribalistic mindset because I value life more. One of your values, and one of mine, is increasing the happiness of other people. This is not a universal value.

          • Ah, my apologies! “Man” is just generic for me, I wasn’t trying to be exclusionary.

            Do you buy my argument that subjectivity is an objective part of the universe and that its changes are not completely arbitrary?

            Also, do you agree with me that things like logic and evidence are better ways of exploring the world than their alternatives? I want to push you a little bit on the question of values, because I don’t think science is as value free as many imagine.

            • The fact that people hold opinions is an objective truth. So yes, subjectivity is an objective part of the universe. This does not mean that opinions are objective. “Grilled fish tastes good.” That is a subjective opinion. “Emily likes the taste of grilled fish.” That is a fact that can be tested and observed outside of opinion, therefore, objective. Also, subjective does not mean arbitrary. I have reasons behind many of the opinions I hold. This still does not make them objective. “Resident evil 4 was a horrible movie. The movie makers spent more time setting up special effects shots than they did telling a story.” Someone I know will use the same fact to say that Resident Evil 4 was a great movie. If I understand you correctly, then because subjectivity is an objective part of the universe, than one of our opinions can be objectively correct. How are morals any different from our opinion on Resident Evil 4?

              “Also, do you agree with me that things like logic and evidence are better ways of exploring the world than their alternatives?”

              Completely. From my blog post “Movements” http://callmeem.wordpress.com/2012/09/11/movements/

              “I hold my positions based on the evidence I have at the time. If new evidence is presented to me, I will change my position.”

              and

              “But I am willing to argue these positions based on their merits. My ideals are empathy and evidence. If your movement lacks either of those things, leave it.”

              I never said that science lacks values. Or that our positions shouldn’t be based on evidence. But what we care about is subjective, and if you value freedom over happiness, you will not have the same moral system as someone who values happiness over freedom. Even if both moral systems use evidence to justify their positions they start out with opinions on what is more valuable.

            • The bible may be useless for determining morality today, but it is good for giving us a snapshot of how morality was at a certain time period. In the bible (one example is in the book of Joshua), the hebrew people commit genocide in order to have the land (Isreal) that God promised them. According to their moral code, they are not doing something evil, and are doing something righteous. If they did not commit genocide on their god’s order, then, according to them, they would be doing something morally reprehensible. So, according to them, genocide is a good thing in certain circumstances. Does that clear up that point?

              • Sure, some peoples have made terrible ethical choices. Your original point was more categorical however. Someone can believe that their tribe’s success is more valuable than another tribe’s lives, yet still treat the outside tribe with cooperation, respect and fairness – because in the long run that strong relationship will benefit their own home tribe more than a land war ever will.

  5. Airrick Lee says:

    Hello Mr. Drew,
    My name is Airrick. Ive been coming and reading through your blog now for a couple of months. Always fascinated by asceticism, religion, god, faith, life your blog has been great.

    Several questions have come to me though,
    If one was to want to undergo a modern ascetic travel what would you reccomend if you would reccomend so at all?
    Throughout the United States where there any general safe havens? Church networks, Monastaries such?
    My other question is somewhat personal but i mainly wonder for tying into the ascestic life. You obvious have some sort of finicial income, you mentioned flying to see your sister, going to korea buddhist temples, is this all done because of purchasing your books?
    Have you ever just left out with no real goal in mind?
    Have there been any problems with law enforcement on your trips?
    What are some ways to get in contact with temples about staying during a ascetic travel?

    Thank you so much for your time,
    Airrick

    • Hi Airrick, thank you for your kind words. You have a lot of great questions and I’ll try to answer them all.

      First off I should say that I am no ascetic. (I am a minimalist though, meaning I’ve given up a lot of my material belongings, but only to make my life simpler, cheaper and more fun.) Some of the things I own, like a computer and a good bike, are rather indulgent by ascetic standards. And I’ll gladly eat the finest meals, drink volumes of wine, rut about in blissful sex, and otherwise please my senses. My spirituality is in-the-world; I’m a barbarian.

      I consider asceticism to be one of many spiritual practices that can help a person move toward spiritual fulfillment. I respect those who do it when their reasons are right. But I find no inherent value in asceticism; it is a tool for becoming a god, it is not the only such tool, and like all such tools it has a failure rate.

      If that all doesn’t send you running, I’ll try to answer your questions…

      If one was to want to undergo a modern ascetic travel what would you reccomend if you would reccomend so at all?

      I would recommend defining your asceticism carefully. If you don’t live under formal religious vows then define what you mean by ascetic. Are you allowed to earn money to spend on your travels? Are there things you won’t eat if offered?

      I would also recommend questioning the ascetic nature of your trip. Ascetic mendicants have to rely on the kindness of strangers. Why are you asking for everyone to help you? What do they get out of it? What gift or blessing do you bring to their community that makes you worth supporting?

      In my case, I was hesitant to even ask my longest-term readers to help me fund gear for my trip. And I like that I work on my travels, so that I can pay my own way and even bring gifts for my hosts and friends that I meet, instead of always asking for help.

      If you do want to be truly ascetic then the simplest way to travel will be by foot or hitchhiking.

      Throughout the United States where there any general safe havens? Church networks, Monastaries such?

      Safety is relative. What I’m doing is not safe. There is nothing safe about traveling alone and relying on strangers. However, you can develop an instinct for who to trust, and a lot of skills to make your way easier.

      The best network I know is couchsurfing.org. People who love travelers will offer their homes to you for a few days at a time in that network. You can also ask at churches but the results are mixed.

      Knocking on a door and simply asking for shelter is its own skill set, and incredibly daunting.

      My other question is somewhat personal but i mainly wonder for tying into the ascestic life. You obvious have some sort of finicial income, you mentioned flying to see your sister, going to korea buddhist temples, is this all done because of purchasing your books?

      I’m not the one who went to Korea! That is a guest post by Trent Fowler :) Since you thought it was me I should also clarify I am not an atheist (Trent is); I’m a polytheist and I think religion is dandy.

      To answer your question, I work as a freelance author. Almost none of my money comes from selling my books here on Rogue Priest. Most of my money comes from writing ad copy for corporate clients. This means my weeks are a bit jarring, with several days of meditative bike riding followed by several days of commercial writing. I sort of like the duality, but it’s hard sometimes.

      It took me 1 year to build up the clients to be able to live on the road like this. I learned how through a great website called Location Rebel. I work so few hours per week (because of the time I spend traveling) that I earn very little income, but if I live frugally it is enough to keep going.

      Have you ever just left out with no real goal in mind?

      Sometimes. For this trip, I made my goals big but vague: meet the gods, become famous and learn the meaning of heroism. I don’t even know how those goals are accomplished, I just trust my journey will take me to them.

      I think traveling without a goal is a good thing. Goals can constrict travel and blind you to your many opportunities. That’s why I like grand and long-term goals but dislike day to day itineraries.

      Have there been any problems with law enforcement on your trips?

      None. I recommend following laws! I have “stealth camped” which means camping without permission. By either skill or luck I was never caught, but I don’t like the stress of it. I also find it puts me in the position of a loner, whereas the most joyful part of travel is meeting people. I don’t want to stealth camp anymore.

      If you are in Latin America, Arica or Asia (or many other places), law enforcement may want bribes to leave you alone.

      Nate Damm recommends calling ahead to the next town each day and asking the police department if there is somewhere you can camp out. He said a lot of the time they would give permission to use a public park. I haven’t tried this yet.

      What are some ways to get in contact with temples about staying during a ascetic travel?

      The best thing is just to ask. I’m sure advance notice helps.

      I’ve heard of a network of Catholic organizations for travelers, that give a bed in exchange for chores. You’d have to google it. I’ve had pastors call ahead to other churches and make arrangements for me to stay somewhere when I arrive. I try not to lean too heavily on churches though. Often I just stay with individual people or in their yards with their permission.

      If you want to spend an extended time at a temple church or monastery, you probably will need to pay a fee.

      On to a question of my own: You seem to have a plan forming for a journey of your own. Can you tell me more about it? I want to get to know you better!

      • Airrick Lee says:

        Well to really understand the journey I have in mind I need to explain just a bit into my last 2 years.

        My senior year in highschool I lived with my grandparents. My grandmother was put into the hospital for a bone infection. My grandfather got cancer and passed away mid way through the school year. My best friend and exgirlfriend of 2 years passed away suddenly in a car wreck. So after I graduated I went to the marine corps. My grandmother had now been in hospital almost a year and half, (with my uncle nearby taking care of her) So I recieved a letter at MCRD that she had to have her leg taken off. Due to this and the general stress I decided to return home. I returned to my own job, a small town resturant I have worked at for almost 4 years off and on. My grandmother is doing better and decided to live with my uncle. Im now living with my girlfriend (a senior in highschool) at her parents house.

        So this is the facts of the story. Most of me leaving for boot lead by feelings of pain hurt loss, just wanting to get out. I realized once I got there I still had responsibilities to deal with here. But the being away and figuring myself out was a very important feeling to me…

        This being realized I plan on going to college when this school year gets out. I plan on dorming with my best friend who is a senior. So I have been contemplating leaving untill then and just really giving time to get to know myself. I have also always been “Spiritual but not religious” I say this like that because I have always studied religion, but never identified completely with any one idealogy. Questions of god divinity enlightenment have troubled me long nights of readings, and days of spending time in various religious houses, churches, mosque, pagan circles, synagagous.
        With this journey I want to take some of the worldlyness out to try and hone what I feel is right and want to believe.

        I want to spend time with nature. I want to know how it feels to be broke with very little or nothing, because part of me sees the buddhist philosophy on attachment to things as suffering very true… I would consider begging for food, not because I believe i deserve it, but because humbleness is a virtue I dont have. Because I believe my pride would stop me even in a manner where Im starving. But a realist side of me says thats very unlikely and the only way to know how you would act in those shoes is to try it.

        I find jewish mystacism and early christian monasticism with hermit life very condoning to the spirit and I think it help nurtures wisdom and evaluation of ones self, life, and the world.

        In general my journey would probably be me leaving, no real goal in destination, just in journey. goals mentioned above about self realization, spirituality, and religion. I would take the oppurtonties to meet various religious teachers and not only would enjoy but would hope, to attend several places of worship and spirituality. Money would be very little if any. It would only come from work I could possibly do along the way, I would be opposed to doing small jobs if they come through, but I dont want enough cash that it becomes a vacation instead of a retreat. If donations such as food or housing was offered (with judgment to them both) I would accept because I would hope that these actions lead to humblying, lessons of kindness and love for others.

        I could go on further but I believe this to be the main points.
        Thank you,
        Airrick

        • Airrick, I believe you have the makings of a powerful journey before you. I agree with your reasons for a mendicant style life and I believe it will indeed bring you the humbling transformation you seek, likely in ways you can never expect. I salute you sir, I hope for your wellbeing and safety along your trip, and I hope you will check in here or email me at drew@roguepriest.net once in a while to tell me how it develops (the planning, the launch, the changes along the journey).

          Whatever I can do to help you get ready, just name it and I will do my best.

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