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Enlightenment Town: Finding Spiritual Awakening in a Most Improbable PlaceAn excerpt from Enlightenment Town: Finding Spiritual Awakening in a Most Improbable Place by Jeffery Paine

The protagonist of Enlightenment Town is Crestone Colorado, a remote Rocky Mountain hamlet that hosts numerous religious centers, a disproportionately large number per capita, that co-exist harmoniously, even reinforcing one another.

In writing about the rungs ascended for spiritual development, Paine sites malleability and illustrates his point with the experience of "D.," a Crestonian:

Many a year D. has lived in Crestone, but her breakthrough insight occurred elsewhere, while she was vacationing in India. That country, which one supposedly either loves or hates, left her indifferent; nor was she bashful in voicing her distaste. In Rajkot, she challenged the travel agent, “Besides Gandhi’s old ashram, does this crummy town boast anything worth a second or even at first glance?”  “Most affirmative!” replied the travel agent. “The Ramakrishna Monastery…”

When D. phoned the monastery, a monk invited her for tea, surely a pro forma courtesy.  When she at last ambled over, however, the monk had been waiting for her with tea for six hours. “Esteemed Guest, does our poor country please you?” came the inevitable question. “What do you think of Holy Mother India?"

D., young and brash, thought India a nuthouse with loonies worshipping idols, even giving them — just what a god wants [sarcasm] — milk baths. The sympathetic monk explained that attending to the deity’s statue, the statue itself, was not necessary.  Divinity is, however, so beyond human comprehension, the monk went on, that it is a kindness to provide something to settle the eyes on and to give your hands occupation. Gandhi, when his countrymen gushed, “Thank you for all you’re doing for India!” would reply, “No, I’m doing it for myself.”  Likewise for religious observance, the monks said, we are doing it for ourselves.

Well, that made a little sense. India’s hocus-pocus hodge-podge of alien rites was then not a worshipping of idols (gods) but a way of activating certain latent energies in the worshipper otherwise left dormant. A great shift in the inner life occurs — it was occurring for D — when one progresses from venerating the outward form to realizing the buddha or gnostic Christ within. Ultimately all outward forms of worship, the monk told D., may be arbitrary, but they can still improve our outlook and inspire us to better actions — “proof of the pudding!”  the monk exclaimed — and in the process become necessary for us. 

Once back in Crestone, D. had a different outlook about religious rituals and practices: even if they had originated as imaginative human creations, they could be validated or experienced — and thus become felt reality — through participating in their ceremonies and celebrations.  Now when Buddhist rimpoches visited Crestone, though she considered herself Christian, D. no longer hesitated to prostrate before them.  Prostration is only a gesture, after all. Such arbitrary gestures, she now saw, give elusive meaning form, and the form becomes presence, and the presence makes the ineffable almost tangible.

Enlightement Town, Page 207-209

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